A bill, HSB 578, making the University of Iowa’s Iowa Testing Programs the vendor who develops and administers Iowa’s statewide student assessment passed the Iowa House Education Committee 21 to 1 on Wednesday afternoon. This is the latest stage in the years-long debate over assessments in Iowa. The Iowa Testing Programs developed and administered the Iowa Assessments (previously known as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills that was a standard for many schools nationwide for many years).

In 2010, Iowa joined the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium as a participating member and later as a governing member. The assessment was pilot-tested in several school districts, and the Iowa State Board of Education eventually approved the assessment even after the Joint Administrative Rules Committee unanimously dissented.

The Iowa Legislature in 2016 voted to delay the implementation of Smarter Balanced, and former Governor Terry Branstad issued a line-item veto for that since it was in an appropriations bill.

In January, Branstad decided to delay the assessments anyway, and the Iowa Legislature passed SF 240 that required the department to issue a new RFP by July 1 which they did.

In September, the Iowa Department of Education announced the winning bid was American Institutes for Research (AIR). Their assessment proposal called Independent College and Career Readiness Solution scored highest overall in a competitive-bidding process that followed criteria set by Iowa lawmakers in 2017 when Branstad signed Senate File 240 into law.

(See: Five Concerns With Iowa’s Winning Student Assessment Vendor)

Pearson filed a lawsuit against the Iowa Department of Administrative Services and Iowa Department of Education to halt the implementation of the state’s $31 million testing agreement with AIR. In their petition, Pearson argues that scoring of bids was riddled with “preferential treatment and bias.”

State Representative Sandy Salmon (R-Janesville), who was designated as the floor manager for the bill when it comes up for debate, told Caffeinated Thoughts that many of her colleagues wanted an Iowa-based assessment.

There is a desire to end the assessment debate and move on as well.

“Superintendents, principals, teachers, and parents are tired of the process to pick a statewide assessment, and realize that ongoing judicial decisions may make the process longer,” State Representative Walt Rogers (R-Cedar Falls), sponsor of the bill and chairman of the House Education Committee, told Caffeinated Thoughts. “This is why my committee, in an almost unanimous way, passed HSB 578.”

Salmon said while it is a small step, passing the bill through committee is progress in the fight against Common Core.

She said this bill is “the first time that the committee has passed any legislation striking back at Common Core.”

Salmon acknowledged that the Iowa Assessments align with the Iowa Core whose math and ELA standards are the Common Core Math and ELA standards. She added that the assessment tests Iowa-specific standards, however, and the Next Generation Iowa Assessments will cost taxpayers $11 million less than the state’s tentative contract with AIR.

She also stated she does not have the same data privacy concerns with the Iowa Testing Program that she has with AIR. AIR has contracts with the U.S. Department of Education to provide research, and they have been student data mining pioneers. Should the bill pass Salmon said the legislature “has to be diligent to protect student privacy.”

She plans to introduce a student data privacy bill this year.

Salmon also said there was concern about AIR’s ties with Smarter Balanced, an assessment the Iowa Legislature has rejected, and the fact they do not have a science test ready to unlike the Iowa Testing Progam. She also said the Iowa Assessments and the Next Generation Iowa Assessments come in pencil and paper format for school districts who are not ready for computer-adaptive tests.

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