Teacher Leadership System Grants

The Iowa Department of Education has released the list of one hundred twenty-five Iowa school districts awarded teacher leadership system grants for the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years.

Districts that apply to start teacher leadership systems are required to set a vision and goals for what they plan to accomplish. They also must address “must-haves,” such as setting a minimum teacher salary of $33,500, improving entry into the profession through efforts that include mentoring new teachers, and a rigorous selection process for leadership roles.

The teacher leadership system will cost nearly $50 million in fiscal year 2015. That amount is expected to grow to about $150 million annually by fiscal year 2017.

Local districts winning grants for the 2015-2016 school year include Clear Creek-Amana, College Community, Iowa City, and Solon. Marion and Mid-Prairie won grants for the 2016-2017 school year. These schools will join thirty-nine school districts that won grants teacher leadership system grants for the 2014-2015 school year, which include Cedar Rapids and Linn-Mar.

In case you missed it, the ICCSD school board discussed the district’s teacher leadership system grant application at the October 14th meeting. At least one-quarter of ICCSD teachers are expected to serve in leadership roles each year.

Questions: How will we know whether this is an effective use of $150 million per year? If at least one-quarter of your teachers are qualified for leadership positions, how much need is there for this program? Are the leaders just leading other teachers who were also quite capable of being leaders themselves? Would a smaller mentorship program aimed at new teachers be just as effective?

Ed Funding Wish List

The 86th General Assembly’s first legislative session opens January 12, 2015 and the education funding wish list is already adding up:

  • ISEA supports six percent supplemental state aid (formerly known as allowable growth–about $200 million)
  • DE requests an additional $50 million for the Teacher Leadership and Compensation system, $1 million to implement the system, and another $1 million for the school principal support system.
  • DE requests $13.7 million for various reading programs, including $2 million for the Iowa Reading Research Center.
  • Legislators are talking about the need to address school funding inequities related to districts with relatively high transportation costs and districts with relatively low property values.
  • Connect Every Acre broadband initiative, while being couched in terms of connecting farmers, will be needed to ensure every school is ready for online assessments if the Legislature adopts the Assessment Task Force recommendations.

And for 2016-2017:

  • The Assessment Task Force recommends new assessments and professional development (millions).
  • Full funding of the Teacher Leadership Compensation system ($150 million annually).

From The Gazette:

Branstad was non-committal on how much money the state could afford for state supplemental aid to schools beyond the money already earmarked for education reform and higher education.

“We’ve got to look at the whole big picture and we’ve got to look at all of education and what we’re doing for both K-12 and higher education,” he told reporters.

“Education is an important priority,” the governor added. “But we have to look at the whole picture and what is affordable and sustainable for the long term. We’ve already projected significant additional money going into the education program as well as property tax relief and I want to make sure those commitments are maintained” before deciding how much new money can be spent.

A Few Links

Too many tabs open, too little time to blog:

Save Hoover is preparing for the 2015 ICCSD school board election.

Smarter Balanced Assessments

Matt Townsley on implications for Iowa school leaders if the Iowa Legislature adopts the Smarter Balanced Assessments.

From EdWeek: Michigan plans to blend state generated test items with Smarter Balanced Assessments items.

From EdWeek: Washington State Universities Will Use Smarter Balanced Test Scores for Placement.

From EdWeek: SBAC challenged as an “illegal interstate compact” in Missouri, challengers win a temporary restraining order to stop SBAC membership payments.

Common Core Assessments

Peter Greene on common core assessments: “when reformsters say that test results tell us how students are doing on these standards, they are big lying liars who lie large lies.”


Andrew Campbell on Five Reasons You Shouldn’t Use Technology In The Classroom.

Palisadesk commenting at Joanne Jacobs’ post All teachers are not the same:

I’m pretty fast and efficient at a lot of the paperwork but it doesn’t do itself. Ironically, instead of tech tools making it easier to do, they have just multiplied the number of “accountability” and assessment and reporting obligations to a prodigious extent, so that instead of spending less time, we are spending exponentially more on tasks that have marginal relationship to teaching students and helping them learn.

@stepfordTO at Parenting is Political on The Debate about Digital Literacy: Moral Panics, Contradictions and Assumptions.

From EdWeek: Federal Study Probes Readiness of 4th Graders for Computer-Based Writing Tests.

From EdWeek: FBI Seizes Records of Los Angeles District’s Massive iPad Purchase.

School Policing

From EdWeek: Obama Order May Result in More Training for School Police Who Get Military Gear. EdWeek had more details about the military surplus program in September, reporting that:

Surplus equipment provided to police in districts as large as the 654,000-student Los Angeles school system includes M-14 and M-16 rifles, extended magazines, automatic pistols, armored plating, tactical vests, SWAT gear, Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected, or MRAP, vehicles, and grenade launchers, which are used by police agencies to deploy tear gas and smoke in crowd-control situations.


From The Gazette: Branstad expects a ‘challenging’ state budget cycle.

[N]early $500 million in built-in and anticipated spending increases could drive net state appropriations to $7.43 billion in fiscal 2016. That figure does not include new money in state aid for K-12 school beyond teacher upgrades under education reform commitments or increased compensation for state employees.

From the Iowa DE: Iowa’s Teacher Leadership and Compensation system is expected to have an annual cost of $150 million when all districts are participating.

Iowa Supreme Court on Harassment

The Iowa Supreme Court recently decided a juvenile delinquency case, In the Interest of D.S., involving comments made by one student to another as they were getting off a school bus. The Iowa Supreme Court reversed the juvenile court, finding that there was insufficient evidence to support the finding that the juvenile committed harassment, without addressing the juvenile’s First Amendment claims.

Eugene Volokh discusses the case at the Washington Post (HT: @RyanGKoopmans) and offers a link to his law review article on the First Amendment and “harassment” statutes, which may be  of interest if the Iowa Legislature takes up anti-bullying legislation again in the upcoming session.

Smarter Balanced Assessments 30

Cut scores and proficiency labels.

SBAC announced cuts scores for each of the four achievement levels that will be used for reporting student performance on the Smarter Balanced Assessments earlier this week.

Education Week has coverage of the cut score announcement, the process used for setting the cut scores, and concerns raised about whether cut scores should have been set using only field-test data (PARCC will set cut scores after administering the operational test).

“It’s really bizarre to set cut scores based on field-test data,” said one state education department psychometrician. “You can’t possibly project” accurately what proportions of students will score at the four levels of the test. He and other assessment experts said that field-test data are not good predictors of performance on the operational test because students are unfamiliar with the test, and often, teachers have had less experience teaching the material that’s being tested.

And students might lack motivation to do their best on a field test, experts said.

Education Week also has coverage about the debate over use and reporting of test scores, particularly reporting test scores in performance (achievement-level) categories as opposed to reporting scale scores. Vermont abstained from voting to set SBAC cut scores and outlined concerns about the use of performance categories, and the lack of empirical evidence for the cut scores, in a memo to SBAC governing states. SBAC covered similar ground in a document titled Interpretation and Use of Scores and Achievement Levels.

Even though the predictions about student performance on the operational assessments may be flawed (based on field-test data only, Iowa students may outperform–or underperform–the multi-state averages), I thought it would be interesting to compare predicted performance on the Smarter Balanced Assessments to reported proficiency data from the Iowa Assessments.

I used SBACs performance predictions for Levels 3 and 4 (proficient) and Level 4 (college content ready at 11th grade) and Iowa Assessments intermediate and high performance levels (proficient) and the high performance level from the 2011-13 biennium (the most recent data reported by the state of Iowa). I chose grades four, eight, and eleven because those are the levels reported in The Annual Condition of Education Report (see pages 176-181).

Here’s how reading proficiency rates could change (predicted SBAC performance versus 2011-2013 Iowa Assessment performance):

Reading 2

Here’s how math proficiency rates could change (predicted SBAC performance versus 2011-2013 Iowa Assessment performance):

Math 2

Have Iowa proficiency standards been set too low? Are the Smarter Balanced Assessments proficiency standards set too high? Are the predictions grossly inaccurate? Who knows, but if the Iowa Legislature chooses the Smarter Balanced Assessments we had better be prepared for much lower reported proficiency rates, at least in the early years.

Just for fun: draft assessment tasks for the Next Generation Science Standards from Achieve (HT: Education Week). Iowa is expected to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards. If the Iowa Legislature chooses the Smarter Balanced Assessments, Iowa will need to choose a separate science assessment.

Just for fun 2: the State Board of Education will be submitting a recommendation about assessments to the Iowa Legislature. In a demonstration of minimal transparency, the State Board agenda for the November 19th meeting lists “assessment” as an agenda item. Tab M adds the following helpful background description:

This is a continuation of the conversation on the State Board’s priority on assessment. Possible ideas for Board positions and recommendations on assessment will be provided. Opportunities for interaction around these topics will be provided throughout.

I guess we’ll just have to wait for the minutes to be posted following the January 22, 2015 meeting to learn more.

Smarter Balanced Assessments 29

The Assessment Task Force issued recommendations last week, including a recommendation that the state adopt the Smarter Balanced Assessments as the statewide assessment of student progress in mathematics and reading.

The Gazette, Radio Iowa, and Ed Week have covered the recommendations.

Today, Matt Townsley asks:

Before I take a stab at answering Townsley’s question, some background clarifications might be in order.

First, contrary to Ed Week’s coverage, the Assessment Task Force reviewed the Next Generation Iowa Assessments, in addition to the Smarter Balanced Assessments, not the current Iowa Assessments.

Second, Iowa schools are required to assess science as well as mathematics and reading. The Smarter Balanced Assessments do not include a science component. The Next Generation Iowa Assessments, like the Iowa Assessments, will offer a science and social studies component.

Third, the Smarter Balanced Assessments are expected to take more than twice as long as the Next Generation Iowa Assessments (excluding science and social studies):

-                    Smarter Balanced     NGIA (ELA/Math only)     NGIA (plus science/social studies)

grades 3-5           7 hours                      3 hours                                  5 hours

grades 6-8           7.5 hours                   3 hours                                  5 hours

grades 9-11         8.5 hours                   3 hours                                  5 hours

Which brings me to my first suggestion for possible reasons other than cost to reject the Smarter Balanced Assessments:

Time to Administer

The Washington Post published a guest column earlier this month (HT: McLeod) comparing the length of required assessments for New Jersey 4th graders to the length of the New Jersey bar exam. Spoiler alert: the New Jersey bar exam, at only eleven hours and fifteen minutes, is actually fifteen minutes shorter than the 4th grade exams.

I suppose Iowa can afford to more than double the amount of time spent testing mathematics and reading because our bar exam clocks in at twelve hours or so. And perhaps third grade students should get to work on developing the assessment stamina to be on track to acquire the career readiness to sit for the bar exam, but questions remain. Is data from Smarter Balanced Assessments so much better than NGIA to justify requiring students, some as young as eight years old, to sit for such lengthy assessments? (This question could take years to answer, assuming anyone even bothers to look for the answer.) Are the Smarter Balanced Assessments a better use of instructional time than other instructional programming?

In any case, if seven hours to eight-and-a-half hours doesn’t seem like too much testing, remember that it doesn’t include the required science assessment and, if your school decides to administer the practice exams, you can double those times to fourteen to seventeen hours.

Technology Readiness

Some of the news coverage hints at this issue, but the evidence suggests that Iowa is not ready for statewide online assessments. The Iowa field tests went well but, with only an eight percent participation rate and many schools only testing one or two grade levels, some in only one subject area, they could hardly be said to have put Iowa’s school technology infrastructure to the test.

In 2013, it was estimated that “a need exists for greater bandwidth in about one-third of Iowa school districts.” In addition, some 1:1 districts were already exceeding ICN bandwidth capacities. Remember that the Legislature did not pass the broadband bill and it is unclear whether any progress has been made.

It might also be worth considering Michigan’s experience with Smarter Balanced Assessments, recently reported in an Ed Week article on waivers of state requirements for online testing:

In Michigan, a report released earlier this year found that while nearly 80 percent of schools did meet the “minimum” technology-readiness standards put forward by Smarter Balanced—one of the two main consortia creating online assessments aligned to the common core—far fewer school systems met the consortium’s “recommended” specification.

And even the recommended standards represented a lower tech threshold than what state officials believed would be necessary, director of the state’s office of standards and assessment Vince Dean told Cavanagh in an interview following the report’s release.

Over the past two years, Michigan has spent more than $100 million to support district technology improvements and professional development efforts, including those surrounding the transition to online testing.

So, we don’t know with any certainty how close to or far from being ready for statewide online assessments we are and we are running short of time to prepare. If the Legislature takes action in the upcoming session (spring 2015), we would essentially have just over one year (to fall 2016) to prepare all Iowa schools for online assessments–assuming that we want all schools to have an equal opportunity to use the Smarter Balanced Assessments interim assessments throughout the 2016-2017 school year in preparation for online administration of the summative assessments in spring 2017.


If we can’t resolve the technology readiness issues, students across the state could have very different testing experiences, perhaps to the point that results can’t fairly be compared. Consider the following possibilities:

  • Some students must take a longer, non-adaptive, paper-and-pencil format of the assessment in the spring of 2017 while other students take the computer adaptive version.
  • Some students are bused to the community college or other locations and must sit for the assessments in one or two sessions while other students take the assessments in their own classroom or school computer lab in shorter sessions spread out over two weeks.
  • Some students experience slow loading times or interruptions of the test due to insufficient bandwidth while others students take the assessments without interruption.

How about some other possible inequities?

  • Some students experience cuts in art, music, world languages, and other instructional programming and/or larger class sizes to pay for the assessments and the technology required to support them while others students see no changes in instructional programming or class sizes.
  • Some students experience reductions in art, music, or recess to make time for technology instruction to prepare them for typing in constructed responses and otherwise navigating the assessment software while other students, with better access to technology outside of school, see no changes in instructional programming.


Those last few possible inequities are in some sense really about priorities. There are some eager to see statewide online assessment force districts into 1:1 computing environments or at least offering much more technology in the classroom. However, not everyone agrees that this should be a priority or that more technology is the answer to the question “what is a good (or great) education?” See any number of articles about Steve Jobs not giving his own children iPads. Or see StepfordTO’s thoughtful blogpost The Debate About Digital Literacy: Moral Panics, Contradictions, and Assumptions. Here’s a taste (but please go read the whole thing):

My own anxiety as a parent has to do with what the anxious rhetoric surrounding digital literacy can lead us to do. And by us, I mean parents and schools and governments. One thing that it has led us to do is to spend a lot of money on technology for schools, even though the research to date has failed to show a significant impact (good or bad) on learning. I’m not opposed to technology in schools, but when the provincial government announces that it will be spending 150 million dollars to put iPads in classrooms, while it’s making cuts elsewhere in education, it gives me pause.

If seven and eight year olds are going to be pushed to learn how to type, not because it has any value to the seven or eight year olds, but simply to prepare them for the Smarter Balanced Assessments, count me out.

Ask me to choose between higher percentage of Supplemental State Aid or money to pay for the Smarter Balanced Assessments, I’ll pick the Supplemental State Aid to support the art, music, and other great instructional programming that makes for a great education.

Ask me to choose between long-needed air conditioning upgrades and building projects to finally retire portable classrooms in use for decades and technology for assessments, I’ll pick the air conditioning and the building projects.

Which I suppose brings us right back to cost as a reason for rejecting the Smarter Balanced Assessments, but in the end there’s no avoiding the choices the costs will force us to make.

New Iowa Core Website

The Iowa Department of Education has launched a new Iowa Core website.

The website includes a series of parent’s guides to the Iowa Core for kindergarten through grade eight, and high school.

The educator resources page includes links to Iowa Core mathematics support materials, which include documents explaining the Iowa Core mathematics content shifts from prior practice for high school and grades six through eight, and content and practice shifts for kindergarten through grade five. At first glance, these documents look more accessible than reading the standards themselves, at least for understanding how things might be changing under the Iowa Core, as well as for understanding how the Iowa DE is interpreting the the common core standards.

The educator resources also include a link to the IowaLearns digital library of teaching and learning resources, thousands of which are available to the general public through a guest login.

With the inclusion of an Iowa Core Spotlight containing statements from Iowa Core supporters, the new website is clearly intended to promote a positive view of the Iowa Core, but it does seem to be an improvement over prior websites in terms of pulling Iowa Core resources together, in a way that they may be more easily found.