BOISE, Idaho — Idaho's K-12 curriculum is about to see significant changes, as Gov. Brad Little signed new legislation that will remove the state's academic standards in math, science and English into law.
A variation of Common Core and Next Generation Science guidelines, the Idaho Content Standards, were adopted by state officials in 2011. According to a 2011 statement by the State Department of Education, the goal was to "develop more rigorous college- and career-ready standards ... comparable with any country around the world."
The standards are grade-level benchmarks that guide curriculum acquisition and instruction in math, science and English language arts.
The Idaho Content Standards have increasingly drawn the ire of lawmakers over the past decade. The legislature has attempted to remove or revise the guidelines several times.
Republican Rep. Ryan Kerby from New Plymouth said the biggest complaint he heard from stakeholders was about math instruction.
"People so upset because kids would learn all these different approaches to solving math, and then they'd get home with homework and not know how to do it," he said. "Then the parents would get mad because they don't know how to help them."
Tom Kerby, the solution was simple — removing complex Common Core techniques and replacing them with traditional methods.
"Long division is still OK," he said. "Long multiplication, writing it out, is still OK."
With Little's signature of House Bill 716 on Wednesday, the multiyear debate over the Idaho Content Standards has ended.
An action that lawmakers and state education officials celebrated Thursday during a briefing on the statehouse steps. Republican Rep. Dorothy Moon from Stanley said she got involved in removing the standards during her first campaign for House in 2016. Moon, a former teacher, said Common Core became less appealing in her district after seeing no improvement in test scores.
"I think after the chance was given and things flatlined, those rigorous standards were not as rigorous as we thought," she said.
New benchmarks will replace Idaho's current K-12 content standards through the legislation. For Moon, the science standards were the most concerning. She said the previous curriculum "didn't promote the industries that founded this state," like logging, mining or ranching.
"When I'm teaching in a community where our major employers are, we need to promote them and not demine them," Moon said.
According to the bill sponsors, a group of state officials, educators, and parents developed the updated standards through an interim committee last year. Links to the most recent revisions of Idaho's academic standards are available here.
Idaho Education Association's Director of Communications, Mike Journee, said the education union supports the new standards. He added that several members were involved in rewriting the benchmarks.
"Whenever you're dealing with education issues, we always think it's best to have educators involved," Journee said.
However, there is a growing worry about the cost of implementing the new standards — which includes purchasing a new curriculum for all Idaho school districts, professional educator training and amending the state's standardized assessment.
"We're hearing a lot of variables about how much this is could end up costing. Anywhere from $9 million to $60 million are the numbers that we've heard so far," Journee said. "That's a considerable amount of money to invest in this change. We want to make sure that it's done well and that money is well spent because there are a lot of other needs in our education system that that money could go to."
Officials plan to evaluate how best to implement the new standards when students return to school in the fall. The state superintendent of public instruction, Sherri Ybarra, said part of that evaluation would be conducting an alignment study comparing the new standards with the ISAT.
"It depends on what changes to the test Idahoans want," she said. "Do we want a brand-new test? Do we just want to make the changes to questions necessary?
"I love to give the analogy that it's much like when you go onto a car lot and buy a car. Do you want power windows? Do power seats? Do you want a four-wheel drive? Do you want a sports car?" Ybarra said. "It's just going to be about what bells and whistles folks will want on that test."