Reading test poised to be final battle for Idaho lawmakers
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — With tax cuts passed, health care reform dead and most budget proposals finalized for the year, House Speaker Scott Bedke on Tuesday warned that the final legislative battle of the session will likely surround the state’s 20-year-old reading test for young students.
“I want to see this play out in a way where there’s buy-in on the House and Senate,” Bedke told reporters. “And it would be nice if the governor didn’t veto it.”
Lawmakers have been working behind closed doors for weeks on redesigning or replacing the so-called Idaho Reading Indicator — an early reading test for kindergarten through third-graders with the intent of identifying students falling behind. It’s been a tool used by schools for two decades, but one some critics says it’s due for retirement.
However, no proposal has yet to surface inside the Idaho Statehouse despite multiple meetings with lawmakers and stakeholders due to ongoing disagreements on the best solution.
One key battle hinges on whether Idaho should continue with a statewide approach and instead allow local schools determine the best way to test their students.
“Many of us feel that it should be up to the district to figure out what’s the best possible curriculum and then have one single reading indicator, one single measure statewide,” said House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, a Democrat from Boise. “But the struggle is how do we ensure that districts have the choice of curriculum that they want to meet the standards but then also ensure that we have a reading indicator that is accurate and actionable?”
Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter hasn’t weighed in publicly on negotiations or shown his hand what proposal he would veto, but his staff has been in attendance during the discussions.
Bedke said he’s hopeful legislation will appear before the end of the week.
“I’m trying to get there,” he said. “I think there’s some talking past each other, but we’re working toward an answer.”
In 2016, Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra announced a contract with a Dallas-based vendor to develop a new reading test. The Idaho Department of Education chose more than 50 schools to participate in the vendor’s online reading assessment, with roughly 10,500 students across the state taking both the new and old reading tests.
While teachers gave relatively strong feedback about the new test, some lawmakers said it was too early to tell if the new test is a success and cut Ybarra’s budget request to include funding for the new test for the 2018-19 school year.
“No moneys shall be distributed or expended for a contract to redesign or replace the legacy Idaho Reading Indicator at this time,” budget writers on the influential Join Finance-Appropriations Committee told Ybarra in their directive.
Yet a legislative proposal is introduced this week, budget writers may be asked to search the state’s coffers and funnel funds for the bill.
The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn March 23 and Bedke said he’s working so that the reading test proposal won’t delay them from meeting that goal.