Second round of SBAC scores show improvement, but raise questions

New test gives kids the chance to explain their answers instead of just picking from multiple choice. (KBOI Photo)

The Idaho Department of Education reported the latest Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) scores this month.

SBAC shows how Idaho students are performing in Math and English Language Arts (ELA). The test found they did well overall, but the results have sparked more questions for one education researcher.

In the second round of SBAC testing, K-12 students in Idaho made across the board improvements in Math and Language Arts.

In 2010, Idaho joined 28 other states in the Smarter Balanced Assessment. The purpose: To align with Common Core state standards.

The superintendent of public instruction, Sherri Ybarra, says the state is seeing more gains in ELA than math. Not just in Idaho, but nationwide.

The test results are reported as "percent proficient" statistics. This means the percentage of students who performed at the advanced, or proficient level.

Approximately 53 percent of students scored advanced or proficient in ELA this year, which went up two percent from 2015.

Only 42 percent of students scored advanced or proficient in math. But that's still up three percent from 2015.

Ybarra says the Department of Education suspected math was an issue, which is why they not only put more resources into that department. They also changed the standards and testing.

The Department began phasing in the new test several years ago, and parts of the new test are getting praise from the STEM Action Center.

"I think what's important about that particular assessment is that it really needs to be aligned to what students are learning in the classroom," said Angela Hemingway, the executive director of the STEM Action Center. "What we're hearing from educators is that the test does match what they're asking students to know and be able to do."

But Bert Stoneberg, a K-12 researcher in Idaho, released a study breaking down the SBAC test results and reports the data into percentiles which is not done by the department or Board of Education.

Stoneberg calls percent proficient scores a "measurement and accountability nightmare."

His study found that some students who performed in the bottom ten percent in ELA actually did worse this year compared to last. But when looking at math scores, the bottom ten percent improved in grades third through tenth.

"The question I would have is what are the populations in those lowest ten percent? Are they some of our English language learners or some of our students with disabilities? If so, I would say, as a former educator, that would give me additional information so that I could understand how to support those students in the classroom," Hemingway said.

Stoneberg provided some additional information in his study that suggests there are some issues with looking only at percent proficient statistics versus breaking down the scores by percentile.

Though critics say the SBAC isn't perfect, Superintendent Ybarra says it's helpful when making sure educators are giving resources to those who need them.

"That is a snapshot in the day of the lives of our students," Ybarra said. "We need a motion picture of growth over time to make sure that we are headed down the right path and make sure we have resources placed in the right spot."