Frequently Asked Questions

Idaho Core & Smarter Balanced FAQ's

As a district, we are striving to improve the number and ways in which we communicate with parents and the community. To that end, we have set up this page where anyone can submit questions about the Common Core or end-of-level testing. We will then research and answer those questions here so that anyone interested can get answers to the specific questions they may have. Our goal is to be as helpful and informative as possible, and we feel this is the most effective way to do so. 

To submit a question, use the form found at the bottom of this page. Please read the general information found below, as we've found that it answers the majority of questions. We will do our best to post the questions and responses as quickly as possible.

Please note: The focus of this page will only be on what we can control within our district. The larger debates that always surround decisions made at higher levels will not be addressed at a level where it will only serve to take already scarce time and resources from educators who are genuinely doing the best they can with what they have. The Idaho/Common Core Standards and end-of-level testing (SBAC) are not decisions made at our level. Our job is to educate people on what they are and aren't, and on how it affects our students. 

An Introduction to Common Core: What It Is and Isn't


The Common Core Standards, now known officially as the Idaho Core Standards, have been the center of a lot of controversy since their introduction. In order to properly discuss the standards and their implications in our schools, it helps to have some necessary background information. First of all, let's establish what the standards are and aren't:

The standards are not tests. They are not curriculum. They are not textbooks. They are not, despite a lot of misinformation available on the Internet today, anything other than what the title suggests: standards. They are intended to do nothing more than define a level of skill or performance that a student should have at any given grade level.

They are also not a mandate from the federal government. Each state was allowed to opt in to the standards, and Idaho chose to do so. Other states didn't, but they are still required by the federal government to have standards. Common Core or otherwise, every state must have a published list of standards for performance and content understanding. These standards are then used to make decisions at the state and local level about how to teach those standards, and eventually how to assess whether or not those standards have been met. The Common Core Standards website actually goes out of its way to make that clear:

While the standards set grade-specific goals, they do not define how the standards should be taught or which materials should be used to support students. States and districts recognize that there will need to be a range of supports in place to ensure that all students, including those with special needs and English language learners, can master the standards. It is up to the states to define the full range of supports appropriate for these students.

In other words, they don't do anything more than define a level of performance. Again, not how to teach to that level, how to assess that level, how to hold schools or students accountable for reaching that level, or anything other than explain what that level should be.

Is there controversy regarding the standards creation and adoption? Absolutely. Here's a page describing some common myths out there regarding the standards and the process that led to their creation. Will it do us any good as a school district to debate them? Not really. Do we want to? Again, not really. We'll have to have standards no matter what - we did before Common Core and we will if they ever go away - and the Common Core Standards themselves aren't that controversial. For example, one standard for 6th grade language arts states that students will be able to "'determine a central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.'" It's hard to imagine anyone not wanting their child to have that skill. Will they disagree about how that should be taught or tested? Absolutely. But the standards themselves are really not that exciting.

What Common Core Means for Our Schools: Where the Rubber Hits the Road

You will often hear educators use the phrase, "Shift to the Common Core," and rightly so. We had state standards before Common Core (now called the Idaho Core), but there is a definite shift in moving to the new standards for several reasons:

  • Different standards mean we need to adjust how we reach those standards - just like a new destination on a road trip would mean changing where you stop along the way.
  • A lot of other things are being bundled with Common Core that are related but don't stem from the standards themselves, ranging from how we test to how we teach, and what materials we provide to parents. For most educators, it's also been a chance to talk about best practices and why we do what we do on every level.

Has it been smooth? Not always. Remember, though, that the standards are just standards and not tests, curriculum or textbooks. If there is any valid gripe about the new standards, it's been that everyone just dove in and tried to figure things out as they happened. To a point, it's the only way to do it. However, the growing pains are starting to ease as states, districts, schools and teachers spend time with the standards and work out the parts not dictated by the standards themselves. Again, most concerns that people have actually stem from other areas and not the standards themselves (Was the process states used to adopt the standards open and fair? Should schools be held accountable for the standards already? Should they ever? Are enough resources available? Enough training? Enough practice?). Some of these questions have already been addressed and others will crop up in their place.

For us as a district, we're trying to address the questions here that relate to things we can control: resources, materials, curriculum, and - yes - how to meet the requirements put on us at the state and federal level. That said, talking about state level decisions at the district or school level yields little, and often consumes more time and energy than it's worth. Our focus has been and will continue to be on how to do what's best for students with what we can control.

Each school has put together a basic statement of how the shift to Common Core has impacted their teachers and students. Those statements should help give an idea of what specific things are changing at each building.

Preston High School
Coming soon.

Preston Junior High
Transitioning to the new standards hasn't been without its bumps and bruises. On the whole, however, it's been a good chance for us to take a look at what we do and why we do it. The standards leave a lot up to the school and teacher, and our teachers have done an excellent job of rising to the challenge. For the Junior High, the most immediate changes can be seen in Language Arts and Math. Our teachers have spent a great deal of time dissecting the standards and applying them to their instruction. For some, the changes have been subtle; for others, it's been quite dramatic. In all subjects, there is an added emphasis now on why we do what we do and in some areas, having new standards has led to the development of entirely new curriculum and the adoption of new materials. The English department, along with social studies and science, have adopted the Scope magazine, put out by Scholastic, which provides a variety of literary and informational texts on current and historical topics. Our math department has, with the help of parents, adopted a new set of textbooks published by SMc Curriculum and rewritten their entire curriculum from the ground up to better meet those standards. At the junior high, this means math classes are no longer sorted into general math, pre-algebra, geometry, etc. Instead, they are separated into three stages, with parts of those subjects pulled in at each level.  Other subjects like science have worked with our language arts department to develop cross-curricular assignments.

On the subject of testing, 7th graders will still take the ISAT in science. All students will take the SBAC, starting for some on April 14th and ending on May 15th. All testing will occur during the same class as the test. In other words, students will take the English sections during their English class, etc.

There are many other changes that have happened, with many coming as a direct result of the new standards, some from changes in testing, and others as a result of decisions made by our leadership team. We are now teaching the standards in language arts and math, and many of our other teachers are striving to incorporate the standards into their content areas as well. Because the standards don't dictate the specifics of curriculum or materials, we will always be discussing how to improve how we teach students to meet those standards.

Oakwood Elementary
The major shifts in switch to Common Core include:


  1. Regular practice with complex text and its academic language
  2. Reading, writing and speaking grounded in evidence from text, both literary and informational
  3. Building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction


  1. Focus strongly where the Standards focus
  2. Coherence: Think across grades, and link to major topics within grades
  3. Rigor: In major topics, pursue with equal intensity: conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and application  

Basically, students will understand material deeper because they are asked to analyze, categorize, and evaluate information.  Teachers at Oakwood have adjusted the pacing calendars to incorporate the Idaho Common Standards.  In addition, teachers continue to learn and use effective instructional practices to teach the standards and meet the needs of their students. 

Pioneer Elementary
State Testing:

The Pioneer Elementary School K-2 students will not be involved with the Smarter Balanced Assessment since that test is specifically for students in grades 3-11. Students at Pioneer will still take part in the Idaho Reading Indicator (IRI) which assesses reading fluency.

Learning Standards:

The Idaho Core Standards outline what students should know and be able to do at each grade level. The National PTA has put together Parent Guides to Student Success. Please check out the links below to see what students are learning at each grade level.

The learning shifts in math and English language arts support critical thinking and an increased depth of knowledge. Students make sense and meaning of information while reading material or solving math problems. Students are able to reason effectively and construct viable arguments to support their position. Students listen to others and ask clarifying questions. Students persist in solving problems. Students attend with precision to tasks.

Focus for English Language Arts:

For reading, students practice with complex text and academic language. Students carefully read and grasp information to be able to answer questions based on evidence in the text. Students build knowledge through content rich nonfiction. At the K-2, level we strive for a 50-50 balance between informational and literary reading.

Focus for Math:

Students focus on those key concepts which matter most. There is coherence in the sequential progression of leaning within and across grades. Rigorous mathematical learning provides students balance between deep conceptual understanding, procedural skills and math fact fluency, and application to real world problems.

Franklin County High School
Franklin County High School’s Curriculum and accompanying Instructional Methodologies are a focus and key component to the continued success of Franklin County High School.  As we continue to implement the Common core, we are finding that many of the concepts, have over the years, been routinely implemented in our daily instruction. We are continuing to incorporate, implement and utilize the Common Core as outline by the State Department of Education.  The staff has expressed the following comments concerning the impact of Common Core in their curriculum and instruction:

“The need to understand subject content and concepts at a basic understanding level is critical and augments a higher level of critical thinking such as; analyzing, evaluating and creating. We continually differentiate our instruction to meet the individual and unique needs of our students and school.”

The way core has affected me the most, is more collaboration with other teachers…and others.  I have been able to look at other teachers to get ideas and see from one grade to another how the students respond to certain activities, assignments and tests….Also being able to have the students think more about how science affects them from day to day.  Having the students think and evaluate how science is involved in some of the important issues in the world.  Having them think and write down what can science do to help change their world for the better, both in our community to the whole world”.

“I have used the knowledge of common core to increase the writing skills of students and how they need to be able to form an argument and support their view with facts. I have worked daily, using the paper and current events to have the students write persuasive or augmentative essays on how they feel about a certain issue. I teach the process of writing from brainstorming ideas, forming an introduction, with a thesis and body paragraphs that support that thesis, wrapping up with a conclusion that wraps up the thought process. Common Core instruction helps me to have the students be more responsible for "their" learning. I have used these concepts to have students collaborate and use each other’s knowledge and skills to solve problems and create projects as a group.” 

End-of-Level Assessment: Switching from ISAT to Smarter Balanced (SBAC)

As a teacher, it is crucial that some form of assessment be in place to measure whether or not students have learned what is being taught. It's this mentality that led to the creation of state-wide end-of-level testing to measure progress toward standards established by the state: the state wants to know if students are meeting the standards they've established. That information is also usually provided to the schools and districts to help them measure their performance.

Again, this is an area where some controversy has and probably always will exist. The new test created by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) promises to give the state, district, school and student a more accurate picture of where they stand in relation to the standards. The ISAT couldn't be used because it didn't address those new standards. The SBAC is one possible solution to the problem and many states have chosen to use SBAC. Others have developed their own assessment. For us as a district, it doesn't really matter. Idaho has chosen SBAC, and we're hopeful it will deliver what it promises.

How SBAC is a More Accurate Test
Unlike the ISAT, SBAC has three separate components.

The first is a computer-adaptive test where multiple choice questions get harder or easier depending on the responses given. The GRE uses this same method, and the idea is basically that the test keeps putting out simpler or more difficult questions until the test has enough information to definitively asses a student's ability. 

The second component isn't actually a test. It's a classroom activity meant to ensure that students have the necessary background knowledge to complete the last section of the test. If, for example, the final portion of the test dealt with roof trusses to measure a student's abilities in math, the classroom activity would provide background information about what trusses are, how they are used in construction, etc. It wouldn't cover any of the math they are testing - just the necessary background information to make things fair.

The final portion of the test is the performance task. Using the information in the classroom activity, students work through a complex, process-based problem. In math, for example, the performance task may ask 5 or 6 questions that begin with just the basic math skill, move to applying that skill in a real-world scenario, and then culminate in having the student narrate how they would change the scenario using the math skill. The objective is to observe the various stages of applying that skill to measure how well a student can connect the skill to everyday life.

Put together, these three components should provide an accurate picture of where a student stands in relation to the standards.

What's a Field Test, and Why Don't I Get Scores?
The field test is intended to serve several purposes, but the short answer is that the state wants to be reasonable. If they hold us accountable for a test the first time it's given, it could be argued that we didn't know what was coming. For students, giving scores would be unfair because the testing company needs to establish norms using enough students to be able to do so accurately. Giving scores this year would be based on best guesses, but by running a field test, they can look at data and set benchmarks in a reasonable and fair way. 

We also need to test the test, so to speak. To that end, a number of districts piloted the SBAC last year, and the field test is a chance for everyone in the state to try out the test in a non-threatening environment. Do we have enough computers? Enough bandwidth? Enough time? There are a million smaller questions that come up along the way, and the field test gives us a chance to figure it out. Yes, it's frankly annoying to not get any data from the test. But better to be annoyed than to get scores and have them count against us the first time we ever saw the test.

Again, we are hopeful that the SBAC will provide us with a better picture of where we are as a district, and will help us improve instruction once we get results. 


Submit a Question, Get an Answer

Who Answers?

Questions will be sent directly to school administrators, and they will generally be the ones to provide an answer. If questions require outside knowledge or expertise, the outside authority providing the answer will be listed along with the response.

Take a Practice Test

Nothing helps you see what it's all about like seeing the actual test. Click below to take a practice test.


Read the Standards

The first step to discussing the Common Core Standards is to actually read them. Click below to access the standards.