Blaine County School District Superintendent Lonnie Barber said Tuesday that the Idaho State Department of Education’s new Five-Star Rating System remains confusing to educators across the state because it makes it difficult for them to know what academic areas need more attention.
“The problem is it was written by statisticians and not educators,” Barber said in a report on the system at Tuesday’s school board meeting. “No superintendent in the state really understands the system. They’ve given us something to live with but it takes a statistician to come in and tell the superintendents how to use it.”
The Five-Star Rating System is now in its second year and has been approved by the U.S. Department of Education as a replacement for the Adequate Yearly Progress system, typically referred to as AYP, as a way of measuring school academic performance.
Results for Idaho schools were released by the State Department of Education on Aug. 1. Wood River High School and Silver Creek High School each received five stars, the highest rating for the system.
Four stars were awarded to Carey School and Wood River Middle School. Three stars went to Bellevue, Hailey and Hemingway elementary schools while Woodside Elementary School only received two stars.
“As you know, that’s the most challenged population of all,” Barber said regarding Woodside, noting that many of its students fall into what the state designates as “subgroups,” which includes economically disadvantaged, minority, special education and students not proficient in the English language.
Unlike AYP, which measured school performance based only upon student achievement tests, the Five-Star Rating System also takes into account individual student academic growth from year to year for both the normal student population and for those in subgroups.
All four of the district’s elementary schools lost points with the new system because of lower student academic growth in subgroups. Barber said he finds that confusing because special emphasis has been made in the district in helping subgroup students. Nonetheless, he said the rating system shows that even more resources need to be used to help subgroup students if the district wants to achieve higher ratings.
In response to a question from the audience, Barber said the district has no choice but to take the star ratings seriously.
“Every school has to pay attention to it because there’s media; there’s people who really don’t know what it means. We just need to learn how to us it.”
Barber said a problem with the system is it takes into account student progress at schools throughout the state and establishes a median. Even if a school’s students demonstrate academic growth, the system gives the school a lower score if the academic growth is below the median.
Barber said the system was intended to be a “growth model, but is it really a growth model because we can’t really see actual growth or lack of growth?”
“We always say the money should follow need, but this doesn’t help us know where the need is. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Barber said another problem with the system is that it doesn’t take into account the district’s emphasis on “educating the whole child,” a concept wherein the district strives to not only provide students with a good education, but tries to help them develop in sports and the arts and to become socially conscious of becoming good citizens.
“I think most of our teachers have the right idea about whole child education,” Barber said.
Terry Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org