State Representative Ron Jorgensen (R-Sioux City) authored HF 2439.

(Des Moines, IA) The Iowa House yesterday afternoon passed HF 2439 in bipartisan fashion 96-0.  The bill is the successor to HSB 592 and was authored by State Representative Ron Jorgensen (R-Sioux City) who chairs the House Education Committee.  “What this bill does is that it assures us that we have a transparent and open review process in setting and reviewing statewide academic standards and assessment systems,” Jorgenson told Caffeinated Thoughts shortly after the vote.

The bill is response to concerns addressed over Iowa’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards.  The Iowa State Board of Education adopted the Common Core Math and English Language Arts standards on July 29, 2010.  Upon adoption the Common Core became the foundation of Iowa’s math and English Language Arts standards, Iowa added up to 15% additional standards to the Common Core.

Those expressing concerns state that the legislature was bypassed in the process of adoption and that the state board of education was rushed in making their decision.  The minutes from State Board of Education on May 13, 2010 state, “As part of the RTTT (Race to the Top) application, Iowa must adopt the Common Core Standards by August 2.”   The final draft of the Common Core State Standards were released on June 1, 2010.

The bill if passed by the Iowa Senate and signed into law by Governor Terry Branstad would periodically beginning January 1, 2015, direct the state board shall review, accept public comment regarding, and revise as necessary, the Iowa core content standards and the assessment standards.  The Department of Education is also directed to maintain a website where persons may access up-to-date information regarding the Iowa core content standards and the assessment standards that have been adopted.  This echoes an executive order signed by Governor Branstad last October.

The bill also directs the Department of Education to submit an annual report regarding activities, findings, and student progress under the Iowa Core content standards and the assessment standards that have been adopted.  The bill states that report shall include findings and recommendations, including but not limited to recommendations relating to any proposal to amend or modify the Iowa core content standards and the assessment standards adopted by the state board.

The bill also states that any revision or modification of the Iowa Core content standards or assessments standards adopted by the board after January 1, 2014 shall not be implemented by the director of the Department of Education until the annual report has been submitted to the Iowa Legislature while they are in session or until the director appears before the standing House and Senate Education Committees.

“This bill allows not only adequate public input, but also legislative input before any changes are implemented.  This is important from a control stand point,” Jorgensen added.  He told Caffeinated Thoughts that if the Legislature was concerned about any new standards or modifications made to existing standards they would then be able to address that through appropriate legislation or the appropriations process.

There are also concerns regarding the quality of the standards and the federal government’s role pushing the Common Core onto the states through Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind flexibility waivers, as well as, their funding of two assessment consortiums.  Iowa is a governing member of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium one of the two consortiums.  There is concern about the cost related possible adoption of the Smarter Balanced Assessments.  Currently Iowa pays $3.50 per student per assessment for the Iowa Assessments.  The Iowa Department of Education states they would plan on implementing the full suite of assessments offered by Smarter Balanced that would cost $27.30.  This cost estimate does not include the cost of scoring the assessments or the technology upgrades needed to conduct the assessments.

Last year the Iowa Legislature through the education reform bill that passed directed the Iowa Department of Education to establish an assessment task force to study several options, as well as their fiscal impact, and report back to the Legislature on January 1, 2015.  Jorgensen stated that he and others feel that process should take place and then the Legislature will address whether or not to approve Smarter Balanced, if that what the task force recommends, next session.  The Iowa Code states that the only assessment that can be mandated by the state are the Iowa Assessments.  Any new assessment will require legislative approval.

State Representative Sandy Salmon (R-Denver) said she supports the bill that it was a “good first step,” but that the Legislature may have a choice to make if the assessment task force and State Board of Education recommends the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

Salmon pointed out in her comments during debate that the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is funded with federal dollars and the U.S. Department of Education has already announced they will be conducting quality reviews of their products.

“It is difficult to imagine that with the federal government funding the creation of the Smarter Balanced test and also reviewing it, that it will not also be controlling the content and the structure of that test. So in spite of the fact that our federal laws explicitly state that the federal government may not establish a national test our federal administration keeps the letter of the law while violating its spirit so that the effect of their actions is to do exactly what the federal law explicitly prohibits. In addition our United States Constitution is totally silent on the role of the federal government in education; it has none,” Salmon stated.

Others have expressed concern about the Memorandum of Understanding that Iowa has with Smarter Balanced that the state will cede its sovereignty in education if it adopts Smarter Balanced.  Then there are data concerns.

Jorgensen pointed out that this bill addressed concerns about data privacy.  It orders the department of education “shall annually conduct an inventory of and categorize the data collected on students and the purposes for which the data is collected, and shall report to the general assembly by November 1, 2014, and by November 1 each succeeding year, the department’s findings and recommendations.”

It also orders the department to create a student data security plan.  It also attempts to limit the type of data that can be collected.  The bill states, “Except as otherwise provided in state or federal law, the department, school districts, and accredited nonpublic schools shall not include biometric, health, family or student voting status, family or student political affiliations, family or student religious affiliations, telephone information other than contact phone numbers, and criminal or juvenile justice records in student data files.”

The bill also states, “Student data shall be kept confidential by the department, a school district, or an accredited nonpublic school unless otherwise ordered by a court, by the lawful custodian of the records, or by another person duly authorized to release such information, and except as necessary to carry out the duties and responsibilities of the state board or the department.”  One exception listed in the bill is the release of information necessary for students transferring to a different school.

The bill requires that department shall not publish student data except in aggregate form.  Some contend that if Iowa adopts the Smarter Balanced Assessments that may be difficult to accomplish as Smarter Balanced in their agreement with the U.S. Department of Education promise to make student-level, not aggregate-level, data available for ongoing research.

The bill also states that the “department shall establish and maintain a policy relating to the sharing, security, and confidentiality of student data in compliance with the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).”

The bills reference to FERPA and other mentions of federal law some believe makes the data privacy aspects of this bill meaningless.

“FERPA is dead. State lawmakers admittedly have a busy life, but it’s their duty to research legislation before passing it. In this case, the oversight may be from listening to “the usual suspects” when writing the bill, as the tech and education sectors are only too happy to further the delusion that FERPA protects students, because this allows them to quietly collect more than parents would be comfortable with if parents knew. Perhaps lawmakers should check with consumer and family advocates rather than special interest groups more often,” Joy Pullmann, a research fellow with the Heartland Institute and managing editor of School Reform News, told Caffeinated Thoughts.

Jane Robbins agreed.  Robbins, senior fellow with American Principles Project who recently testified in the Iowa House, told Caffeinated Thoughts, “Any language that merely requires compliance with FERPA not only is useless (the agencies and schools already have to comply with FERPA) but also offers a false sense of security. After the amendments of January 2012, FERPA no longer protects the privacy of student data. State legislatures should be enacting the protections that were cut from FERPA, not just citing that statute as a pretense of strengthening student privacy.”

Jorgensen added the the whole intent was to create a bill that addressed some of the concerns, but one that would also be taken up by the Senate.  He told Caffeinated Thoughts that he spoke with members in the Senate and encouraged them to act on the bill.  Jorgensen stated they indicated to him that they will consider it.

Photo credit: Iowa House Republicans

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