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.

: Key Challenges and Solutions for Iowa Schools

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  1. Hi Shane. I am an Iowan and in education and came across your blog. I though I’d add a perspective on your RTI commentary. From the meetings I’ve been a part of as well as the reading I’ve done on RTI, the assessments used to monitor student learning are usually a local decision. Director Glass has mentioned this as well. From a Cedar Rapids Gazette article, “As a case in point, Glass made clear during his Tuesday announcement that although the state was going to make sure that teachers were giving assessments at least three times a year to all students, the department didn’t dictate what assessments needed to be offered or how long those assessments needed to take.” (Source:

    I believe the Smarter Balanced Assessments have a better chance of replacing the Iowa Assessments as an annual accountability measure than they do serving as a part of the RTI formula during the school year itself.

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the state of education in Iowa.

  2. Hi Shane –

    I always appreciate your point of view.

    Three points to set the record straight from the get-go…

    1. The department is not simply advocating for more assessments in this report. We are
    advocating that formative assessments be used to determine where students are
    struggling in learning and that instruction adapt accordingly. You are
    generally confused about “Response to Intervention,” something I will
    address in a moment.

    2. Regarding the Iowa Core, our positions on this are pretty well staked out
    and I respect your view. However, your statement that there is no evidence or
    field testing around core standards is off-base. Educators have been developing
    and implementing standards for nearly 100 years, much of this done at the state
    level. The common core is simply a scaling of this well-defined and refined effort. Virtually all
    high performing systems in the world have a well defined, high quality set of
    expectations that instruction and assessments are aligned with. None of them
    arrived at high quality and low variability levels of performance using the
    sort of “let a thousand flowers bloom” local control model for
    standards your espouse. You should visit some of our 348 school districts
    and see if they uniformly have the capacity to develop internationally
    benchmarked standards and curriculum. Let me spoil it for you – most of
    them don’t. If you want more varied performance, opt for gonzo local
    control on this point. You are letting your ideology get ahead of
    pedagogy. Good for politics – bad for kids.

    3. A minor point, but “merit pay” (meaning a simplistic
    cash-for-test-scores scheme) was never in our education reform plan and never
    will be.

    Now on RtI. You are mistaken that RtI is an assessment program. RtI
    stands for “Response to Intervention” and is, at its core, a high
    reliability method (or procedure) that relies on the following basic parts:

    a) Using high-quality and proven core instructional approach for all students
    b) Using a formative assessment (which can be classroom-based) to determine if
    the core instructional approach is working
    c) Applying student-specific interventions, differentiated to each kid
    d) Checking (using formative measures again) to see if the intervention is
    working and further adapting the instruction if it is not.

    Schools that are effective at closing the achievement gap all apply some version of
    this procedure. Internationally, this method is at the core of the instructional approaches used in Finland and other high performing systems.

    I’d be happy to set up some visits in Iowa where this is already being used with
    fidelity and having an impact. It might be constructive for you to see,
    experience, and learn more about this before you opine further.

    On a more personal note, a happy Thanksgiving to you and your family – I look
    forward to reading your response.


    1. Hi Jason, I made a couple of edits to this post which I just published based on Matt’s comment. I will write a follow up post with your response and any counter points I’d feel like making (if any) tomorrow. Happy Thanksgiving to you as well!

Comments are closed.

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