K-12 Idaho Content Standards to stay and garner improvements

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After over a month of back-and-forth deliberation by lawmakers and hours of public testimony, the Idaho Content Standards are to remain in place for the upcoming educational year. 

The Idaho Content Standards were adopted in 2010 in accordance with the national Common Core initiative. The content standards apply to English language arts, math and sciences for K-12 students. 

In January, the House Education Committee voted to repeal the Idaho Content Standards. However, the Senate Education Committee countered the movement and unanimously voted to retain the current content standards. 

“The importance of the standards for us as teachers is that it guides us day to day,” said Eric Thies, a high school science teacher and president of the West Ada Education Association. “It doesn’t tell us how to teach or what kind of relationships to have with kids, but it tells us what to teach fundamentally and that allows for alignment.”

Thies explained that “vertical and horizontal alignment” is essential to fostering the growth of students within the school districts. Horizontal alignment refers to the standardization of content across classrooms within the same grade, while vertical alignment refers to the schoolwide standardization of content that would allow all students to progress to the next grade with the same knowledge as their peers that may be coming from a different school or different class. 

Thies said he had difficulty with his freshman classes before the Idaho Content Standards were in place because his students were funneling in from three different middle schools. This resulted in all students having varied knowledge and skills, as they were all coming from different teachers that had been teaching different content.

“I don’t know what they know and what they don’t know. And there’s not a single thing that I can count on all of them knowing,” Thies said, referencing the students he had in his classroom prior to the implementation of the Idaho Content Standards. “So as a result, I have to go back into things [that]they need, fundamental things [like]lab skills and knowledge and definitions.”

In addition to maintaining the current content standards, the Senate also approved a resolution proposed by Senate Education committee chairman Dean Mortimer that would initiate an interim committee focused specifically on evaluating the standards and will potentially suggest replacements and/or improvements. 

“I think there is still some work to be done as far as teacher clarity on what the standards are actually asking of us to teach students,” said Courtney Kelly, a Boise State graduate with her bachelor’s in K-8 Education who now works as a third-grade teacher at Desert Sage Elementary. 

Theis believes there is room for improvement, but that most of the issues are a matter of perception. Referencing the example that Rep. Dorothy Moon used on the House floor, Theis explained that the House was concerned about certain hot-button words like “deforestation” that have a negative connotation because of the word’s association with climate change. 

Rep. Moon had discussed with the committee that the usage of this “negative” wording would discourage children’s’ relationship with the Idaho logging industry or cause them shame at school if they had a parent involved with logging.

“I think that there’s something we can do with the standards to correct it, but that’s literally like three words in a set of rules that’s almost 100 pages long,” Thies said. 

According to Jennifer Snow, dean of Boise State’s College of Education, providing adequate resources will be crucial in creating and implementing any improvements to the current standards.

“Teachers need support, we need resources, we need extra personnel, all those kinds of things just to support students in meeting the [current]standards,” Snow said. “[With] the new standards, I suspect the State Department of Education will maintain the need for more resources in public education.”

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