by Madison Hardy
Idaho Public Radio State Capitol Bureau
UI McClure Center
“We can’t seem to get beyond this place for whatever reasons. We have supporters, we have opponents, and we circle around this conversation,” said Idaho State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield. “Not much has changed, as far as the talking points are concerned.”
Consuming the better part of the last two weeks, the House Education Committee has finished reviewing Idaho’s Content Standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics. A Common Core adaptation, the standards prompted dispute in late 2019 during hearings held by the S.B.O.E which allowed educators, parents, and agencies to voice their opinions on the guidelines.
Drafted in the early 2010s, the Idaho Content Standards were intended to aid the state’s longstanding problems in education.
“There is not a teacher in Idaho that starts their day wanting to underserve a student, they just don’t,” said Critchfield.
Prior to the standards, public education was less detailed and lacked unity across school districts. In aligning with Common Core, lawmakers formed guidelines for districts that developed skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, and other higher education concepts vital for the competitive workforce.
In the two committee meetings, Rep. Dorothy Moon (R-Stanley), who has opposed the standards throughout her time in office, was first to testify. Moon said that many of her constituents expressed negative opinions on not just one guideline in the Idaho Content Standards, but the entire package – particularly the standardized testing.
“[There was an] alarming number of people who just didn’t like the content, the testing, and large hours spent in testing,” said Moon.
Common Core revised the Idaho Standards Achievement Test, which compares data with K-12 programs nationally. Dissenters argue the ISAT forces educators and school districts to conform their lessons to produce test results, rather than focus on student knowledge.
It became apparent after the two days of hearings that most of the standards opposition came from rural districts and areas with less available funding for academic resources or training. Speakers against the content guidelines came from Idaho counties like Boise, Custer, Valley, Madison, Lemhi, Bingham, and Gem.
“One of the things that ran through my mind as we heard from people from the same school district, [is] how we make sure that our teachers are supported outside of our urban areas,” said Critchfield. “Making sure that the professional development is equal to the needs of our smaller districts who have less resources and have less opportunities to collaborate with other districts.”
Dissenters argued children began hating English and Math courses because of the Idaho Content Standards. However, supporters say this is part of transitioning from teaching memorization to conceptual understanding and problem-solving.
“Are there kids that hate math? Math is hard, the core [standard] is hard, it’s rigorous,” said Peggy Hoy, an instructional math coach in Twin Falls. “There may be students that don’t like math but I had students that didn’t like math before.”
The Idaho Content Standards were officially implemented in 2013, making the guides barely seven years old. While the programs have not yet seen a full cycle of K-12 students graduate under the guidelines, Idahoans are remiss not to see more positive growth in national statistics. Since 2009 NAEP, also known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” reported Idaho’s achievement level percentages for Grade 4 reading has remained stagnant. Below basic at 31 percent, Basic dropped from 36 to 32, Proficient increased 26 to 28 and Advanced from 6 to 9 percent.
“It is difficult for me to say that we need to change them or get rid of them or let’s let them bake a little bit longer,” said Critchfield. “What I do believe is that there are more immediate changes that can be made to the system that leave the standards in place.”
Another point of concern for ELA standards was the appropriateness of the Common Core curriculum. The opposition referenced borderline pornographic passages in books on recommended content lists, and sources for reading comprehension with dark undertones.
While there are suggested curriculum lists, alternative options are available that meet state requirements. Guided by the standards and state education agency recommendations, the curriculum is ultimately chosen by local level directors, community members, and teachers. This allows rural and urban students to learn the same skills-based on regional values and expectations, regardless of housing or school district.
“It is important to understand that the standards are not curriculum, that is put into the hands of local teachers,” said Erin Marrello, an English teacher in Fruitland. “We depend on these standards to guide our curriculum, [they] do not dictate content.”
Removing the Idaho Content Standards is a present fear for the Idaho School Board Association, who made protecting the standards a legislative priority. Without a plan to replace the standards school districts could be thrown into chaos, negatively impacting achievement scores.
“As a state [we] have got to get to a place where we are not in a constant exercise of reviewing the standards every year to the level and the detail that we are now,” said Critchfield. “We have a review process, which we need to have, and we undertake on a regular schedule so that we don’t get into these cycles of taking time away from other things.”
The total score of those who testified in support versus opposed Idaho ELA and Math standards were 29-10 by the end of last week.
Committee Chairman Rep. Lance Clow (R-Twin Falls) said the House committee will not vote on the standards until a later date. Senate officials have abstained from discussing the standards pending House deliberations. If lawmakers decide to remove or alter the rules, both committees must agree to the revisions, otherwise, they will remain unchanged.
Posted January 25, 2020