A week before Blaine County schools opened for the year, the district got a mixed report card in a new State Department of Education accountability metric, which ranks 652 schools in Idaho on a weighted formula of academic and school quality indicators.
Every school in the district ranked above average for its grade range. The Carey High School paced the district’s eight schools with 78th highest overall score in the state, good for 87th percentile among high schools. The Ernest Hemingway STEAM School and Hailey Elementary both scored within the top 100, too, ranking above the 90th percentile in kindergarten through eighth-grade schools. And, Silver Creek High School topped all of Idaho’s alternative high schools.
On the other end, Wood River Middle School and Bellevue Elementary fell closer to the median, ranking 329th and 354th in the state, approximately the 56th and 53rd percentiles among K-8 schools. (The state only officially ranks lower-income schools that receive Title 1 money from the federal government—here, Carey, Hailey, Alturas and Bellevue. Other percentiles are approximate, based on raw scores provide by the state.)
In an email to the Idaho Mountain Express, district Communications Director Heather Crocker pointed to the district’s most recent results on the Idaho Standards Achievement Test, or ISAT, in which Blaine County students consistently beat state averages.
“We don’t find that [ranking] data to be very helpful, because it masks our success, and our areas for improvement,” Crocker said. “Subgroup data helps us more.”
Those subgroup statistics show a significant difference in test scores between richer, white students and poorer, Latino ones—especially if they come to the district speaking English as a second language. Addressing the so-called “achievement gap” remains one of the district’s chief concerns.
“We have very diverse students and student needs,” Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes said in a written statement. “We are becoming a ‘whatever it takes’ district as we learn to meet each individual student’s needs. Our teachers and staff are radically changing their practices to meet individual student needs, and should be thanked and supported for their incredible work.”
This is the first year the State Department of Education packaged its accountability data into a single metric, 90 percent of which is based on a set of academic indicators like standardized test scores, graduation rates and, for students learning the language, growth toward English proficiency. There’s no historical data here, and no telling how much results might swing from year to year.
Still, Trustee Rob Clayton said he sees value in the metric. He considers it the first lap in a long race: Line everyone up at a starting line, and have them run for a year. To Clayton, these ranks are where they stand.
“Clearly, there’s room for improvement,” he said. “Everybody went through the same ringer. I was moderately surprised to see where we were—I expected a higher level of performance.
“We have some work to do—to see where we’re coming up short in the metric, and also what we’re doing well. We need to know that, sooner rather than later.”
For board Chairwoman Ellen Mandeville, the composite score is one piece of information among many—worth considering, as part of a larger mosaic.
“The board constantly looks at student progress and achievement data to encourage and support our hardworking staff who are changing Blaine County educational systems to meet the needs of all students rather than just a segment,” she said in an email. “Addressing the opportunity gaps and seeing all student achievement rise has been of ongoing importance to the school board.”