11/20/12 – **Edited** in response to a reader comment yesterday (reflected in the last three paragraphs, mainly I note that the SBAC assessment is unrelated to what the Iowa Department of Education suggests).
There is nothing earth shattering in the Iowa Department of Education’s latest report (embedded below) entitled “Overcoming the Achievement Divide: Key Challenges and Solutions for Iowa Schools.” It’s main goal is to address the news that Iowa is stagnant in seeing growth in math and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). They are using the following qualifiers for the selection of programs at the state level: “focused on instruction, proven effective and scalable.” Based on that they are focusing on three clusters of activities to support improvement.
1. Teacher quality (“the who”): Focuses energy on ensuring that the best and brightest teaching candidates are recruited and supported, and ensuring that those who do enter the profession have the highest-quality learning experiences that result in highly skilled professionals.
2. The Iowa Core (“the what”): Defines objectively what students need to know and be able to do to be successful in school and beyond.
3. Response to Intervention (“the how”): Supports teachers in differentiating instruction to maintain progress for each learner.
First off one observation regarding their qualifiers. On page 13 of the report it says, “It is critical that we only spend time, money and effort on solutions that are supported by evidence.”
Then why in the world are we investing so much into implementing the Common Core State Standards? Iowa aligned the “Iowa Core” (Digression the legal name is “Iowa Core Curriculum” – l love it how the Iowa Department of Education dropped the word “curriculum” even though that is how it is identified in the Iowa Code) with the Common Core ELA and Math Standards, and so to be developed Science standards. The Common Core State Standards have not been field tested. Evaluations of the Common Core were hardly independent (funded by the same groups pushing the Common Core).
Anyway, I had a good laugh from that as it is an asinine remark when you reflect on what they’re focusing educational policy on.
They don’t really get into detail regarding teacher quality or the Iowa Core. Those were battles they fought in the Iowa Legislature last year. Merit pay for teachers, teacher evaluations, expansion of the Iowa Core and alternative licensure are all things that were tabled last year. Frankly I don’t see progress being made (which in my mind is good) this legislative session either.
The report goes into further detail with “Response to Intervention.” This is an assessment program. All students will be assessed three times a year. Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass said that local schools can choose what assessments they use and how long they take. I’m sure there will be an expectation that they are aligned with the Iowa Core however. The RTI assessments are not the only assessment kids will be taking however. The report doesn’t mention Iowa’s involvement with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium of which Iowa is a governing state. These assessments are based on the Common Core State Standards and if this plan is passed by the Legislature, at least I assume this is going to come to us in the form of a bill, will require all public school districts and I can assume state-accredited private schools to implement.
The report, which I encourage you to read below, discusses further steps to be taken with struggling students and youth with learning disabilities which will include more assessments.
I see three basic problems with this plan. 1. Assessments don’t solve problems. They may diagnose a problem, but they don’t provide the solution. 2. Since assessments don’t solve problems they are a drain on resources. 3. These assessments which don’t solve problems and will drain resources will further entrench standards which are not field tested and have been found to be substandard compared to some of the state standards they have replaced. Bonus concern – will our students get a well rounded education or will this lead to more teaching to the test? With this many assessments I’m inclined to believe the latter.
It will be interesting to see what form this takes in a future bill, but at the moment I’m not encouraged.