Third Grade Reading

Last month The Gazette published Between the Lines, an article with reporting on Iowa’s third grade retention law by Andrew Phillips.

One of the hardest things for me to grasp is what exactly defines a proficient third grade reader.

In Iowa, it is a third grader who can meet or exceed the benchmark or cut scores on the universal screening assessment (not the Iowa Assessments or whatever end of year accountability assessment ends up being used). These benchmark or cut scores have been set based on a prediction that a child meeting at least that score will meet a proficiency cut score on a statewide assessment. Presumably these predictions are state specific, but that isn’t entirely clear.

Iowa’s current proficiency cut scores on the Iowa Assessments are equivalent to a 41st percentile rank in the 2000 national sample. So (possibly) an Iowa third grader is a proficient reader, for purposes of the retention law, if the third grader’s performance on the universal screening assessment predicts that the child would score in the 41st percentile or higher on the Iowa Assessments as compared to the 2000 national sample. That would explain the results reported in The Gazette article Almost one in four Iowa third-graders failed new reading tests, data show. [Consider what the retention numbers might look like pegged to proficiency cut scores on the Smarter Balanced assessments. Yikes.]

If that still seems a bit abstract (and perhaps, arbitrary), The Gazette offers a look at the fluency portion of the universal screening assessment in another article, Quiz: Are you smarter than a third grader? Note that the orange, blue, and green lines mark the words a third grader would have to read to or beyond to earn a passing score on the assessment in the fall, winter, and spring assessment periods.

FAST Fluency

Are you confident that a third grader only reaching the word “blue” should be headed for retention, while a third grader reaching the word “with” shouldn’t be? I’m not.

To be fair, I don’t see any claims to the effect that the cut scores on the universal screening assessments are valid for the purposes of determining retention in third grade. See here, here, and here. And yet, we are poised to use them for retention purposes anyway. Consider what that says about state-level education leadership in Iowa.

ADDED: Current Iowa benchmark scores on universal screening assessments.

SBAC Adoption: A Few Links

It’s old news by now that the State Board of Education adopted rules to adopt the Smarter Balanced assessments as the accountability assessments for Iowa.

News Coverage:

From Diane Ravitch: Iowa Goes Backward

Rules as proposed and rules as adopted. Note that the rules as adopted show an effective date of January 13, 2016. It’s not clear why this date was chosen, but apparently the DE is still looking at spring 2017 as the first administration of the Smarter Balanced assessments in Iowa.

Here’s the summary of the comments on the proposed rules provided to the State Board of Education:

A public hearing on the revisions to Chapter 12 was held on November 3, 2015. Seventeen persons attended the public hearing, and nine spoke at the hearing. Of those persons speaking, six supported the adoption of this rule, and three opposed its adoption.

Public comments were allowed until 4:30 p.m. on November 3, 2015. Twenty written public comments were received regarding this rule. Of those written comments, 13 supported the adoption of this rule, and six opposed its adoption. One individual expressed some concerns about the assessment developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, but did not articulate opposition to the Noticed rule.

In many cases, individuals spoke or wrote on their own behalf. In many other cases, individuals spoke or wrote on behalf of an organization. Those organizations formally expressing support for the adoption of this rule include the following: The School Administrators of Iowa; the Iowa Association of School Boards; the Urban Education Network of Iowa; the Rural School Advocates of Iowa; Reaching Higher Iowa; the Cedar Rapids Community School District; and the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance. The only organization expressing opposition to adoption during the public comment period was the Iowa City Community School District.

Did you notice that the comment summary focused on numbers and not at all on the substance of comments in either opposition–or support, for that matter–of the proposed rules?

Guidance to districts from the DE: Assessment: Frequently Asked Questions and Assessment Talking Points.

SBAC Adoption: No Fiscal Impact

. . . to the state, that is, “but there is a fiscal impact to school districts by increasing expenditures an estimated $6.0 to $7.0 million.”

“[T]he total estimated cost for SBAC [for the 2016-2017 school year] is between $8.3 million and $9.3 million.” [Note that the DE provided just the low estimate number to the Legislature earlier this year.] Note that these cost estimates do not include the costs of science assessments, which are required by law but not included in the SBAC assessments, or the costs to districts for building and maintaining the technology infrastructure required to administer the SBAC assessments. These costs to districts are still unknown. The DE estimates districts may save some money by choosing to use SBAC interim and formative assessments in place of other district-selected assessments

But wait, there’s more. The intensive summer literacy program, which is part of the third grade retention law, also has no fiscal impact to the state, but, again, there is a fiscal impact for districts. The DE is estimating a first year cost to districts between $6.6 million and $9.9 million.

Before too long, all these millions are going to add up to real money for school districts. Question: will the benefits (if any) for students outweigh the costs?

ADDED: A few relevant links to The Gazette:

Timeline for Proposed Rules

The latest Iowa Administrative Bulletin was published yesterday, but the State Board of Education’s proposed rules adopting the Smarter Balanced Assessments were not published in it, as the State Board met after the September 11th submission deadline for inclusion in the September 30th bulletin. I believe this means that comment period for the proposed rules has not yet opened.

If the proposed rules are published October 14th, the comment period would open and run until November 3rd. The earliest possible adoption date would be November 18th, which happens to be the date of the State Board’s November meeting.

If the proposed rules aren’t published on October 14th, look for a new comment period and hearing date, with adoption no sooner than the January 21, 2016 State Board meeting.