Wednesday, April 16, 2014

IDAHO SCHOOLS CAN APPLY FOR $3 MILLION IN TECHNOLOGY PILOT PROJECT GRANTS

For the second year, schools across Idaho will have the opportunity to submit their ideas for what the next-generation classroom looks like and put them into action. It’s all part of the Idaho Technology Pilot Program, which received a second year of funding from the Idaho Legislature.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna announced today that Idaho’s public schools can begin submitting their ideas for funding today. Applications are due Wednesday, June 11, 2014.

“The demand for advanced technology in the classroom has become organic and only continues to grow. Everywhere I go, every school I visit, students, teachers, and parents are demanding more technology to help keep students engaged in the classroom and to increase academic achievement,” Superintendent Luna said. “I encourage Idaho’s schools to apply for the Technology Pilot Program to help the state identify the most effective classroom technologies that can be fully integrated at any grade level and scalable and sustainable in schools across Idaho.” 

Superintendent Luna added, “While I celebrate the continued funding for the Technology Pilot Program this year, I hope that we all recognize our efforts to expand technology in Idaho’s public schools cannot end with pilots. Our efforts will never be enough if we end up with a situation where a parent has to hope that their child is lucky enough to attend a school that was fortunate enough to receive a grant. We must find a solution where every child has access to advanced technology in the classroom, no matter where they live or go to school.”

The Idaho Legislature appropriated $3 million in funding for the Idaho Technology Pilot Program in K-12 public schools this year. The goal is for schools to pilot ways that the effective use of technology in elementary and secondary schools can help improve student achievement. Eleven schools were awarded Technology Pilot Project grants last year, and these schools have two years to utilize the funding. 

To be eligible this year, a pilot project must use innovative technologies designed to improve student academic growth and financial efficiencies throughout an entire school. The project must be scalable to other schools in Idaho and sustainable statewide after the technology pilot period ends. The grant funding for the pilot projects will be for one fiscal year. Local school districts can plan to implement the pilot projects over a one-year or two-year period.

Each application must include a research component that shows how the school will evaluate student achievement and other measures. At the end of the technology pilot period, the state will evaluate the pilot projects and identify best practices for how the state can improve education for every child by providing the necessary instructional technology in every classroom in the state.

Only one application per school is permitted. The state will accept multiple applications from a district. The eleven schools awarded last year are not eligible to apply again.

Grant proposals must be submitted via e-mail to the Idaho State Department of Education before midnight (MST) on June 11, 2014. Awardees will be announced the first week in July, when funding becomes available.

If you are interested in applying, please visit our website to download the grant application or to register for an upcoming informational webinar.

To learn about the current Technology Pilot Project grants, check out our blog posts on Sugar Salem High School and Beutler Middle School or read the Idaho Education News series about all the grants.

Monday, April 7, 2014

SUPERINTENDENT LUNA VISITS SCHOOLS, TALKS WITH STUDENTS ABOUT NEW TEST


On March 25, schools across Idaho began administering the new Smarter Balanced Field Test to students in grades 3-8 and 11. To date, we have heard overwhelmingly positive comments from schools across the state. (Learn more about the Smarter Balanced Assessment or why Idaho is conducting a field test this spring.)

As of Friday, 66,634 tests had been started in Idaho.

The reports the State Department of Education has received have been overwhelmingly positive. A fifth-grade student in Blaine County walked out of the testing room last week and said, “That test was fun!”

Jerry Hutchins, the district’s testing director, said, “I never heard a student say anything like that after taking an ISAT.”

He’s not alone.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna has been traveling across Idaho since April 2, visiting schools large and small.

During his visits, he met with students and teachers about the new Smarter Balanced Assessment and heard similar positive comments.

Some schools have faced a few technical difficulties. At Oakley Elementary, for example, the voice that was supposed to read a few of the questions out loud was giving an error message before it would then read the question. On some of the questions, students also said they thought the instructions could have been a bit clearer.

These are all things the state-appointed Smarter Balanced Advisory Committee will take into account as it evaluates how to improve the new test before it becomes fully implemented next year. The Committee developed questionnaires for students, teachers, test proctors and school administrators.

Despite these few challenges, Superintendent Luna heard largely positive feedback about the new test – no matter where he traveled.

On Wednesday, he ate lunch with elementary students in Teton County. Students said the test is more challenging than the ISAT, but even with more difficult questions, they liked it more than the multiple-choice-only test because they could show their answers and explain their work.
Supt. Luna ate lunch with students in Teton County and asked them about the new test.
On Thursday, Superintendent Luna visited Rockland School. The students there said they really enjoyed the writing portions of the test and that they could pause the test, which was not possible under the ISAT. When asked if they had more anxiety about taking this new test because it is more difficult, the students said no. They felt the same as they did on the ISAT.
Students in Rockland offered Supt. Luna their feedback on the Smarter Balanced Field Test.
On Friday, Superintendent Luna was in Cassia County where students at Oakley Elementary were taking the mathematics portion of the new test. Students said they enjoyed the different types of questions because they were able to show their work. One student even went as far as to say, “I loved it! I like using the computer to enter the fractions.”

Another student said the test is good because there’s not as much multiple choice and “I have more to say.”
Supt. Luna heard lots of great comments from students at Oakley Elementary about the new test.
Even though the test is more difficult and is estimated to take more time, school administrators said the majority of 3rd and 4th grade students at Oakley Elementary finished the mathematics portion of the test in an hour or less.

Superintendent Luna will continue to visit schools next week and hear direct feedback from students and staff. He will be in Coeur d'Alene on Wednesday and in the Lewiston area on Thursday as part of the Department's 2014 Post-Legislative Tour.

SCHOOLS CAN APPLY NOW FOR FRESH FRUIT AND VEGETABLE GRANTS

Idaho elementary schools can apply now to implement the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) for the 2014-2015 school year.

The goals of the program are to increase students’ consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, to expand the variety of fruits and vegetables that children experience, to positively impact their present and future health, and to create healthier school environments by providing healthier choices for students.  FFVP schools are required to provide free fresh fruit and vegetable snacks throughout the school day.

In order to be eligible for the FFVP, schools must meet the following criteria:
  • Be an elementary school (eligible students are pre-K through 6th grade),
  • Operate the National School Lunch Program,
  • Have more than 50 percent of students eligible for free/reduced priced meals, and
  • Submit a complete application.
Elementary schools with the highest free and reduced-price enrollment will be given priority during the selection process. Schools are awarded between $50.00 and $75.00 per student for the school year in order to purchase fresh fruit and vegetable snacks.

For more information on the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program requirements or for a copy of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Grant Application, please visit our Child Nutrition Programs website, or contact the Department’s Child Nutrition Programs at (208) 332-6820.

FFVP applications must be mailed or e-mailed by Wednesday, April 30, 2014

STATE BOARD APPOINTS COMMITTEES TO CONTINUE WORK ON TASK FORCE RECOMMENDATIONS

The recommendations of the 2013 Governor's Task Force for Improving Education have received broad support from stakeholder groups across the state, and the 2014 Legislature enacted laws to some of the specific recommendations.

However, many of the recommendations require further study and development of plans for implementation.

This year, the Governor asked the State Board of Education to create special committees to continue this work. Two committees have been established to develop proposals, including implementation strategies, timelines and required funding. In addition, a third working group is being established to address reading proficiency and literacy.

The first meeting of the two committees will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday, April 7, 2014 at Boise State University.

The committees will meet jointly for organizational purposes and will then break and meet separately to begin their work.

The meetings of the committees will be open to the public. 

For more information on the Education Improvement Committees and the Task Force recommendations, visit the State Board’s website.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

HELP IDAHO NAME THE NEW ADVANCED OPPORTUNITIES PROGRAM FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS

Beginning next school year, Idaho high school students attending will get financial help as they work to earn college credit or professional-technical certifications while still in high school.

We need your help in naming this new, exciting program!

“This new program builds on the progress we have already made to ensure all Idaho students not only graduate from high school but go on to pursue their education and do not need remediation once they get there,”
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna said. “Today, we have a menu of options to help students as they prepare for education after high school and to help reduce the cost of earning their postsecondary degree or certificate. Whether they want to earn college credit while they are still in high school or graduate early, we are making these opportunities available to every student in Idaho’s public schools – no matter where they live.”

Under this new program, which passed the Legislature with bipartisan support as part of Senate Bill 1233, each high school junior will now have access to up to $200 a year and each high school senior will now have access to up to $400 a year to help cover the costs to take:
  • Dual credit courses,
  • College-bearing exams (such as Advanced Placement), or
  • Professional-technical exams to earn a certification or license.
To learn more about this program, students can visit our website or talk to their high school counselor.

Right now, the Idaho State Department of Education needs your help to name this new program! We have heard several ideas already, such as Jump Start or the Pathways Program. But we want to hear directly from Idaho’s creative students and parents. What should this new program to expand advanced opportunities to all high school juniors and seniors be called?

Send your ideas to mrmcgrath@sde.idaho.gov with subject line “Naming Contest” by April 25, 2014.

This new program will work in parallel with other programs the state continues to offer students, such as the Dual Credit for Early Completers Program, 8-in-6 Program and Mastery Advancement Program.

Learn more about all of these opportunities on our Advanced Opportunities website.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Fact Sheet: What is the Smarter Balanced Field Test?

Idaho is committed to making sure every student is prepared to succeed in college and the workplace. That’s why public schools are implementing the Idaho Core Standards, which are consistent guidelines for what every child should know and be able to do at each grade level. New assessments aligned with the Idaho Core Standards will measure real world skills like critical thinking and problem solving.

Administered online, these assessments will adapt to each student’s ability, providing parents and teachers with more accurate and meaningful information about what students are learning. While the previous ISAT was a stagnant, multiple-choice-only test, the new Smarter Balanced Assessment will use different types of questions to measure a student’s true ability in each subject area.

To date, more than 100 Idaho teachers have been involved in developing the new Smarter Balanced Assessment for Idaho.

Quick Questions

Q: What will happen to the current ISAT?
A: A Field Test is a “dress rehearsal” of the test to make sure it is valid, reliable, and fair for all students and to give schools the opportunity to test their technology and logistics.

Q: What is the timeline for phasing in the new test?
A: Idaho is phasing in the new test over three years. In Spring 2013, 124 Idaho schools piloted the test. This year, all public schools will participate in the Field Test. Next year, the new Smarter Balanced Assessment will be fully implemented and scores will be given.

Q: What is a Field Test?
A: The Smarter Balanced Assessment will replace the ISAT in mathematics and English language arts. Idaho will still use the ISAT to measure students’ performance in science.

Smarter Balanced Is a Better Test

The Smarter Balanced Assessment will be different from Idaho’s previous ISAT in several ways:
  1. The questions will challenge students. Because this test is aligned to the new Idaho Core Standards, students now are learning at a higher level in mathematics and English language arts, such as critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. Students will be measured against these higher expectations on the year-end test.
  2. The new test will have different types of questions. Instead of a multiple-choice-only test, students now will be asked to explain their answers, write essays, and more.
  3. The new test is more than a year-end test. The state also will provide assessment tools for Idaho’s teachers to use in the classroom throughout the school year to monitor each student’s progress and make sure every child is on track to reach academic goals.
Tips for Parents
  • Visit www.smarterbalanced.org and take a practice test with your child.
  • Because the new standards emphasize critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, you should ask your child more open-ended or “why” questions. Encourage your child to think critically in everyday life. Let them know it is okay if they don’t answer right away. Problem-solving takes time.
  • Encourage your child to take the Field Test seriously. While this is essentially a practice round, we want every child to try their best. Make sure your child eats a healthy breakfast, gets a lot of rest and comes to school prepared and comfortable to take this test.

IDAHO STUDENTS TO BEGIN TAKING SMARTER BALANCED FIELD TEST THIS WEEK

Beginning this week, students in public schools across Idaho will get to experience the new test that will replace the ISAT next year.

While Idaho will not officially transition to the new Smarter Balanced Assessment until next year, the state is conducting a Field Test of this new assessment for all students in grades 3-8 and 11 this spring.

A Field Test is an extended pilot, or “dress rehearsal,” that helps the state measure the validity and reliability of test questions. It also gives schools the opportunity to test their logistics in administering the new assessment and gives every student the opportunity to experience the new assessment.

Because it is just a Field Test, no scores will be given this year. Next year, the test will be fully implemented in all public schools, and scores will be given.

The state is implementing the new assessment because Idaho has transitioned to higher academic standards – known as the Idaho Core Standards – in mathematics and English language arts. Any time the state changes standards, it also must realign its year-end test to measure students against these higher standards.

“I am excited about the new Smarter Balanced Assessment because it is a better assessment tool to help measure a student’s critical-thinking and problem-solving skills,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna said. “For years, parents and teachers have demanded more than a multiple-choice test. Whereas the ISAT was a stagnant, multiple-choice-only test, this new assessment provides multiple question types to better measure what a child knows and is able to do at the end of each grade level. This will greatly benefit students, parents, and teachers by providing a more accurate measure of how Idaho students are performing each year.”

Most school districts will begin administering the Field Test April 1, but some are starting as early as March 25. The state granted additional flexibility in the testing window this year to any school that wanted more time in scheduling the Field Test.

Idaho has collaborated with more than 20 other states to develop this year-end assessment, as well as assessment tools teachers can use in the classroom throughout the school year to monitor student progress. More than 100 educators from Idaho have participated in the development and review of assessment items, achievement level descriptors, and test specifications since 2011.

In addition, Superintendent Luna appointed the Smarter Balanced Advisory Committee, a group of superintendents, principals, teachers and other educators, to advise the State Department of Education throughout the Field Test.

Idaho has been phasing in the new Smarter Balanced Assessment to replace the ISAT over three years, including a pilot in 2013 and the Field Test this year.

Check out the Department’s Idaho Core Standards website for more information on Idaho Core Standards or the new Smarter Balanced Assessment.