With a week to go before public school starts, the Blaine County School District received a report card of its own on Tuesday, when staff presented the school board with the latest breakdown of 2019 results from the Idaho Standards Achievement Test, or ISAT.
Whether the marks are positive depends on where one looks. Compared to the average score of results from 2016 through 2018, the district saw increased proficiency in both math and language arts among low-income students, and those learning English as a second language. But students with disabilities did worse during spring testing. And Hispanic students showed little progress against white peers, according to state results analyzed by Testing and Data Coordinator Marcia Grabow.
“It’s going up—it’s just not going up as fast as we would like,” Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes said of proficiency among Hispanic students. “The only way to close the achievement gap is to raise all students. Everybody has to make it.”
Holmes was referring to the difference in outcomes between white and Latino kids. Trimming the difference is a stated goal of the School District, and a pressing one: Last year, 42 percent of students identified as Hispanic, compared to 54 percent white. Thirty-one percent of students qualified for free or reduced lunch, 20 percent were identified as “English learners,” and 11 percent were enrolled in Special Education programs.
In spring testing, 73 percent of white students were proficient in literacy, compared to 43 percent of Hispanic ones—a gap of 30 percentage points, down from an average of 31 percentage points over the past three years.
In math, the gap grew one percentage point, with white students more than twice as likely to reach the benchmark. In all, 60 percent of white students were proficient, compared to 27 percent of Hispanic test-takers.
Overall, all students saw a slight year-over-year uptick, and continued to beat state averages, according to July results released by the state.
Across all grades tested, 60.5 percent of Blaine County School District students were proficient in English language arts and 46.1 percent were in math, increases of 1.3 and 1.2 percent year over year, Grabow said at the time. Statewide, 55 percent of Idaho students were proficient in English and 44.4 percent met the mark in math, boosts of 1.4 and 1.1 percent.
The ISAT, which was revamped to more rigorous standards in 2015, is taken annually by students in third through eighth grades and by 10th-graders. This year marks the high-water mark for state students in both subjects, and for Blaine County students in math.
In 2019, the gap between white and Hispanic students remained higher than the state average in all but three of the total 14 tests.
The district’s goal has been to trim the difference by three percentage points a year, according to Grabow. So far, it’s been closer to one.
“It’s a very ambitious goal,” she said—about twice the rate the state expects.
Breaking down students into these categories presents a problem, though. Kids often fall into multiple subgroups. Locally, Hispanic kids are more likely to be economically disadvantaged. And, about half of the district’s Hispanic students are classified as English learners. Scores in that group will always be difficult to raise, because of how the state accounts for them: once a student is deemed to have learned the language, he or she stays part of the cohort for two years before graduating out of the classification. That means success stories aren’t counted for long, and are replaced by new Spanish-speaking students unlikely to be proficient in English.
Those kids have been a focus area for BCSD staff—particularly by using a bilingual pair of “co-teachers” to tackle elementary reading—and there are reasons for optimism, Grabow said.
The largest jump in proficiency came in literacy among English learners, up to nine percentage points to 22 percent compared to previous years.
Another one: the figure suggests that Hispanic students who already speak English are likely much closer to their white classmates.
On Tuesday, Grabow didn’t have that data isolated. The board asked to see it at a later date.
“We don’t write off any students,” she said. “We have appropriately ambitious goals for all of them.”