High School Students In Classroom Wearing Protective Face Mask

The Idaho Standards Achievement Test is returning to schools across the state this spring after the annual tests were canceled last year at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Districts are attempting to walk a fine line with their approach to the state assessment this year. While the exam will help show how student learning has been affected by the pandemic over the last year, district officials don’t want the stakes to feel especially high for individual students and teachers.

Jason Lords, the director of curriculum for Bonneville Joint School District 93, compared the testing environment to high school sports.

“We practiced all week long, and we’ll see what happens during the game,” Lords said. “We just don’t want to miss all the other little improvements.”

The window for taking the ISAT is longer than normal, and the test itself is shorter. Idaho’s State Department of Education opened the testing window for schools March 15. Districts have until May 28 to hold the exam for students.

State Director of Accountability and Assessment Kevin Whitman estimated the test will take about 30 minutes less than in previous years, though it’s still expected to cover the full range of required material.

“The important thing for us is the opportunity to collect this information and help local stakeholders target strategies to mitigate learning loss,” Whitman said.

Sophomores and juniors in Idaho Falls School District 91 are taking the SAT and ISAT exams April 13. Renee Nelson, who leads the D91 Online Academy and is helping to oversee ISAT testing throughout the district, said the schools will do what they can to get as many students tested as possible but that it will be more challenging this year

“It helps us to look at the instructional model and the curriculum by seeing how students performed on state standards,” Nelson said.

Online testing for the Idaho Reading Indicator had been widely available during the fall for younger online students. For the ISAT and other spring tests, Nelson said the remote versions will only be available for extenuating circumstances.

The State Department of Education plans to submit an accountability waiver from the U.S. Department of Education to reduce the potential impact of low test participation or scores. The waiver would prevent schools from being penalized if they aren’t able to test 95% of their students this spring.

Whitman said the ISAT scores and participation rate are a piece of the accountability metrics that determine which schools receive targeted funding to address testing disparities between different demographics. The schools which had been identified for the targeted support before COVID-19 will keep the same classification during the 2021-2022 school year.

Brennen is the main education reporter for the Post Register. Contact him with news tips at 208-542-6711.