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An Idaho High School Calls State's New Ranking System Unfair

Idaho's been trying to get a waiver from the federal education law called No Child Left Behind. In it, schools get a pass or fail designation based on standardized test scores. That's something Idaho wants to change and the state isn't waiting for the waiver. It's already created a new rating system. The first results were released a month ago, and one school says the system isn't fair.

Before we get to that school you have to know that this new system is based on stars – like a restaurant review or the gold stars you'd get in grade school. Except this five star rating system hands out stars based on things like standardized test scores, participation in advanced placement classes, and graduation rates.

One of Blaine County's high schools received three stars this year. They expected better. 

“The rating is not an accurate reflection of Wood River High School," says Heather Crocker with the Blaine County School District. She says Wood River High in Hailey should have gotten five stars. The problem she says is how many students took the state’s standardized math test. 

“There were 31 tenth graders with disabilities who should have been tested," Crocker says. "Wood River High School missed testing three students, which was one student too many.”

The state’s new system requires schools to test at least 95 percent of students with disabilities. State Department of Education Chief of Staff Luci Willits says Wood River could have appealed if the state got the data wrong, but… “The criteria are the criteria. If they didn’t test enough students there is a consequence and that’s not appealable.”

Crocker says the criteria are not fair. “If you are a four star school and the exact same situation happens you get a deduction of only one star and not two stars. And yet if you’re a five star school and you miss the participation requirement you’re deducted two stars," she explains.

Willits says in Idaho’s original application to get a waiver from No Child Left Behind, five star schools that didn’t meet participation requirements lost one star.

“The federal government came back and said this is really important to us. If you want a waiver from No Child Left Behind, you need to have those schools go down by two stars," Willits says.

As a three star school Wood River High has to submit an improvement plan. But that’s not what bothers Heather Crocker and others in the Blaine County District. From the school’s perspective the ranking damages its reputation for excellence.

Crocker says the new five star rating system has potential, because it looks at measures of success beyond test scores. But she says Blaine County wants the state to make changes. Luci Willits says this is a conversation most states are having as they transition from the old pass/fail system of No Child Left Behind into new ways to measure schools.

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