Legislative Update 2/25: Assessments

The first funnel deadline, March 6th, is just about a week-and-a-half away. The Assessment Task Force report was supposed to be presented to the House Education Committee this afternoon, but that presentation has been postponed, and it is still unclear what action, if any, the Iowa Legislature will take with regard to adopting an assessment for the 2016-2017 school year.

HF 269 by Staed (D-Linn) relating to academic indicators for students. This bill would add writing and social studies to the list of subjects (mathematics, reading, and science) required to be assessed. [Note: the Smarter Balanced assessments do not assess social studies or science.] [Subcomittee: Stanerson (R-Linn), Gassman (R-Winnebago), and Staed (D-Linn).]

HF 312 by Salmon (R-Black Hawk) and ten co-sponsors relating to statewide assessments of student progress administered by school districts for purposes of the core academic indicators. This bill would fix “the Iowa assessments developed by Iowa testing programs” as the statewide assessment of student progress on the core academic indicators. [Question: would this language allow for the Next Generation Iowa Assessments developed by ITP to be used?] This bill would also prohibit the State Board of Education and the DE from adopting, administering, or approving the administration of assessments developed by SBAC.

This bill would also strike the following subparagraphs:

  • 256.7(21)(b)(2) which expands the grades assessed on the core academic indicators to grades three through eleven for the school years beginning with 2016-2017 and includes some of the minimum legislative requirements used by the task force to evaluate assessments.
  • 256.7(21)(b)(3) which established the assessment task force, which recommended adoption of the Smarter Balanced assessments, and includes some of the other minimum legislative requirements used by the task force to evaluate assessments.
  • 256.7(21)(b)(4) which directed the State Board of Education, which also recommended adoption of the Smarter Balanced assessments, to submit recommendations to the Iowa Legislature about assessments.

[Subcommittee: Highfill (R-Polk), Forristall (R-Pottawattamie), and Winckler (D-Scott).]

HSB 172 proposed Committee on Education bill relating to a statewide assessment of student progress on the core academic indicators on the core academic indicators in mathematics, reading, and science administered by school districts. The entirety of the bill is a statement that it is the intent of the general assembly to address during the 2015 legislative session the administration by school districts of a statewide assessment of student progress which, in accordance with section 256.7, subsection 21, paragraph “b”, at a minimum assesses student progress on the core academic indicators in mathematics and reading in grades four, eight, and eleven, and the core academic indicators in science in grades eight and eleven. [Subcommittee: Forristall (R-Pottawattamie), Jorgensen (R-Woodbury), and Steckman (D-Cerro Gordo).]

This bill was recorded today and is scheduled for a subcommittee meeting at 8:00 am tomorrow (2/26). My best guess, for whatever that’s worth, is that at some point a strike and replace amendment will be offered for this bill, with the amendment containing language to adopt the Smarter Balanced assessments and perhaps other task force recommendations.

HSB 173 proposed Committee on Education bill relating to core content standards, assessments, and curricula relating to student academic progress, and to the collection of and access to student data. This bill changes “core curriculum”, “Iowa core curriculum” and “Iowa common core” to “Iowa core content standards”, and makes some other terminology changes. This bill clarifies that the Iowa core content standards shall not dictate curriculum or prescribe a particular method of instruction to school districts and accredited nonpublic schools. This bill makes use of the Iowa core content standards technical assistance and implementation strategies developed by the DE and AEAs by Iowa school districts voluntary rather than mandatory. This bill also directs the DE to establish data collection, data privacy, and data sharing policies for data relating to students. [Subcommittee: Jorgensen (R-Woodbury), Forristall (R-Pottawattamie), and Winckler (D-Scott).]

I don’t see any other bills related to assessment in either chamber, though I’m happy to be corrected if I have missed something.

Bottom-line, with eleven Republicans co-sponsoring the anti-SBAC bill, Smarter Balanced assessments won’t be adopted unless some Democrats in both the House and the Senate vote for it. Anyone have any idea where the Democrats stand on Smarter Balanced assessments?

Bully Free Iowa

The Governor’s proposed Bully Free Iowa Act of 2015 was scheduled to be considered by legislators in the Iowa House (HSB 39 subcommittee) and Senate (Senate Education Committee–SSB 1044) earlier today.

Radio Iowa reported yesterday that the main issues under discussion are the provision allowing for a student veto of parental notification of bullying incidents and the anti-bullying pilot projects (a legislator wants to ensure rural schools participate too). Apparently not being discussed? Limitations on school authority over student social media use outside of school.

Education Week reported last week on issues popping up in other states related to efforts to combat cyber-bullying, detailing controversies that have erupted as schools have attempted to take action, including the interpretation of Illinois law that school districts can require disclosure of student social media passwords previously blogged about here.

In the past two years, similar controversies have erupted around the country. In Minnesota, a student won a $70,000 settlement in March of last year from the 1,100-student Minnewaska Area school district after being forced to give school officials access to her Facebook account; in California, the 29,800-student Lodi Unified district came under harsh criticism for a policy that allowed school athletic coaches to suspend athletes for inappropriate postings made via social media; and in Alabama, the 23,000-student Huntsville City schools came under scrutiny following reports that it paid a security firm to monitor students’ public social-media posts.

Sonja H. Trainor, the director of the Council of School Attorneys for the Alexandria, Va.-based National School Boards Association, said schools should be wary of stepping onto a slippery legal slope.

“This is generally not an authority that school districts want to have, or that school attorneys would advise them to use very often at all,” Ms. Trainor said.”

Interestingly, the Urban Education Network of Iowa is registered in favor of HSB 39, the School Administrators of Iowa is registered in favor of SSB 1044, and the Iowa Association of School Boards is registered as undecided on both bills.

More from Education Week:

For school lawyers, the concerns extend beyond just possible infringements on students’ privacy and constitutional rights, said Ms. Trainor of the Council of School Attorneys.

“Once you get into the business of monitoring, then you’re potentially taking on liability for the things you might see,” she said.

“Any policy around student social media needs to be very, very cautious.”

I appreciate that legislators want to do something to protect Iowa students, but it seems to me that we need more debate on these issues and that if a bill is passed this year, it should include clear limits on what school administrators can and cannot do with regard to monitoring and accessing student social media accounts.

Online Learning

During the debate over HF 204, an act relating to open enrollment of students in online learning programs [virtual academies], on the House floor, Representative Staed tweeted:

Apparently he hasn’t heard that the future of teaching and learning is online.

Question: at what point of ed tech integration is there essentially no real difference between attending a brick and mortar school and a virtual academy? When all students are working through individualized computer-based, 21st century versions of WHIMP instead of participating in teacher-led, whole-group instruction? When a student in Iowa is more likely to be discussing a book with a student in Australia than with any of the other human beings sharing a physical space with him, because, 21st century?

I am completely aware that I am a broken record on the subject, but why can’t we aim for Montessori for all (or at least for all who want it) instead? Where kids are actually interacting with real, physical objects, and the human beings sharing space with them, rather than interacting with screens all day?

Thoughts on State Assessments [updated]

Update: Jay P. Greene makes a case for norm-referenced tests.

Matt Townsley posed a question to me and blogger Chris Liebig on Twitter last weekend: What are your thoughts about state assessments that are norm referenced versus criterion referenced?

My first thought: wow, that’s too much question to respond to 140 characters at a time.

My next thought: there’s a really good question in there, the answer to which ought to be central to every conversation we have around state (accountability) assessments but won’t be. Because the answer to that questions depends upon the purpose of the state assessment (how’s that for a foreseeable lawyerly answer). Why are we administering them? What question are we trying to answer?

When we know what the question is, we will know whether norm referenced or criterion referenced is the better choice.

It seems to me though, that we have a very real problem with a while-we’re-at-it mentality when it comes to state assessments. If we are going to be testing for student proficiency, we might as well get a growth measure while we are at it. And results we can use to evaluate teachers. And results we can use to inform instruction. And results we can use to identify gifted students. And results we can use to determine if students are ready for college, without remediation. And results that tell us how our students are doing compared to students in other schools, states, and countries. And the tests shouldn’t just measure, but should help students learn. And so on. And the longer the assessments, the more it seems to make sense to do all of these things while we are at it.

However, it is my understanding that assessments should be designed and used for a single purpose. And if that single purpose is to determine proficiency, I think a criterion referenced assessment would make sense.

This is all assuming, of course, that the standards make sense in terms of reasonable grade level expectations which is, really, an enormous conversation in and of itself: what is grade level and how much of it do you have to be able to do to be proficient?

I have no idea what the specific answers to those questions are, by the way (and I like to think that I have been paying attention), which may be why it seems that more than knowing that our students are proficient as measured against the standards, we (a general we, not necessarily me or Matt) want to know that our students are performing at a higher level than students in other schools, other states, and/or other countries. If we aren’t sure what grade level proficient means (or that the bar is set high enough), we can at least take comfort in our students ranking higher than others–at least as long as our students aren’t the ones ranked at the bottom, of course. Hence all the anxiety about global competitiveness and wanting to take the same assessments as other states so that we can directly compare scores. In which case, a proficiency cut score on a norm referenced assessment might make more sense.

That being said, someone needs to do a better job limiting the use of state assessment scores to the purpose for which the state assessments have been designed.

Century Labeling

I appreciate Superintendent Carver’s cheerful enthusiasm, as well as his cheerful morning Twitter greetings, so this post isn’t meant to single him out. This just happens to have caught my eye–and my ire too, I suppose–yesterday morning:

It seems century labels are only used as shorthand to denote that some things are woefully outmoded (19th and 20th century) and other things are of obvious modern goodness (21st century).

I can’t get all that worked up about whether kids get tested on 13th century arithmetic on 21st century tablets (using 19th century QWERTY keyboards and 19th century standardized spelling) or using pencil and paper answer sheets (which will be scored using 21st century computers) except for the fact that those 21st century computer-based tests aren’t all that much different than the familiar multiple-choice bubble tests, just much more expensive.

For my children, I’ll gladly stick with the 20th century testing on the right to leave time and money for, say, 16th century instructional programs like these:

And I’ll happily support local control that allows Superintendent Carver’s district to make a different choice.

Broadband Matters

The Iowa Communications Network has been running an awareness initiative, Broadband Matters, to advocate for high speed broadband throughout the state.

The Governor’s proposed Connecting Iowa Farms, Schools, and Communities Act was filed this week. The bill is numbered HSB 104 in the House and has been referred to the Commerce Committee. [Subcommittee: Cownie (R-Polk), Hall (D-Woodbury), Oldson (D-Polk), Sands (R-Louisa), and Soderberg (R-Plymouth).] The bill is numbered SSB 1146 in the Senate and has been referred to the Economic Growth Committee. [Subcommittee: Sodders (D-Marshall), Breitbach (R-Clayton), Chelgren (R-Wapello), Hart (D-Clinton), and Mathis (D-Linn).]

From the Business Record:

House Study Bill 104 creates a $5 million grant program, provides property tax breaks and establishes an expedited permitting process for the installation of broadband infrastructure.

. . . .

Dustin Miller, general counsel for the Iowa League of Cities, said the property tax relief would be similar to tax abatements already offered by many municipalities. He believes the communications industry would need extra incentives, however, to expand service in areas where they have not found a sound business purpose to do so.

The DE, among others, is registered in favor of this bill. While the awareness initiative is focusing on 1:1 initiatives and initiatives that allow smaller schools to survive and thrive through cooperative efforts to use technology to share teachers, broadband upgrades will also be needed to support statewide online assessments if the Legislature adopts the Smarter Balanced assessments or otherwise requires computer-based administration of assessments.

Update: From the Gazette coverage of the HSB 104 subcommittee meeting:

Former Democratic lawmaker Phil Wise, now with the Department of Education, said the department doesn’t believe it will be possible to deliver a first-class education–the content and new generation assessments “regardless of ZIP code” without a broadband network covering all of Iowa.

The cost will be substantial, lobbyists said. Cell towers can cost $100,000 each, [Mark] Lewellen [of Deere and Co.] said, but the real cost is connecting them to the fiber optics network.

Putting fiber-optic cable in the ground can cost as much as $5,000 a mile and more depending on terrain and time of the year, [Michael] Sadler [of CenturyLink] said. [Dave] Duncan [of the Iowa Communications Alliance] estimated the cost can be $2,000 to $4,000 per connection or customer in cities and as much as $10,000 per connection in rural areas.

From the Annual Condition of Education Report 2014 (page 96) [Note that the STEM Advisory Council is recommending a goal of 1 Mb per student]:

bandwidth 2014

There are eight schools in Iowa with no internet available and 543 schools with bandwidth between 1.5 Mb and 50 Mb.

Broadband Matters is on Twitter as @BroadbandIowa

Legislative Update 2/3

The House Education Committee is scheduled to meet today at 1 pm. On the agenda is a presentation from Amy Williamson from the DE regarding the Online Learning Report, which I assume is actually this Virtual Schools in Iowa Annual Report. This report covers surveys of students enrolled in the Iowa Connections Academy (CAM Community School District) and the Iowa Virtual Academy (Clayton Ridge Community School District). The DE recommends “continued delivery of instruction primarily over the internet be permitted to the extent legislation allows.”

The House Education Committee is also scheduled to consider HF 97 by Jones (R-Clay). This bill would strike the repeal provisions that would end the exception that allows open enrollment into the CAM and Clayton Ridge districts for purposes of enrolling in the virtual school programs, but would maintain the limitations on participation in the programs. This bill is the same as SF 4.

Connections Education, K12 Inc., and the Iowa Association of Christian Schools are registered for this bill. The Rural School Advocates of Iowa, the Urban Education Network of Iowa, the School Administrators of Iowa, the Iowa State Education Association, and the Iowa Association of School Boards are registered against this bill.

There are four new bills in the House Education Committee:

  • HF 126 by Salmon (R-Black Hawk) relating to the time period over which payments are made under the all Iowa opportunity scholarship
  • HF127 by Dolecheck (R-Ringgold) relating to the eligibility of school districts to receive professional development supplement funding. This bill would make schools receiving teacher leadership supplement funding ineligible to also receive funding from the professional development supplement for the same budget year, beginning with the 2016-2017 school year.
  • HF 132 by Steckman (D-Cerro Gordo) relating to school district funding for at-risk pupils and dropout prevention programs.
  • HF 140 by Fisher (R-Tama) and eight co-sponsors relating to student discipline and student conduct policies adopted by school districts. This bill would require school district policies to provide that simulating a firearm or weapon while participating in play with other students, or wearing clothing or accessories depicting a firearm or weapon, or expressing an opinion regarding a right guaranteed by the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution is not grounds for disciplinary action or referral to the criminal justice or juvenile justice system. It includes examples of simulating a firearm or weapon while participating in play and allows for disciplinary actions under certain circumstances.

There are nine new bills in the Senate Education Committee. Four of these bills relate to setting state percent growth and categorical growth at 4% for both FY 16 and FY 17 (2.75 and 1.55% higher than the Governor’s proposals of 1.25% and 2.45%). This falls short of the 6% and 6% proposals some had hoped for. These bills are numbered SSB 1140, SSB 1141, SSB 1143, and SSB 1144. [Subcommittee (for all four bills): Bowman (D-Jackson), Hart (D-Clinton), and Sinclair (R-Wayne).] There are no lobbyist declarations registered on any of these four bills as of yet.

  • SF 116 by Zaun (R-Polk) authorizing a school district to adopt a mandatory uniform policy. The ACLU of Iowa is registered against this bill.
  • SSB 1137 proposed Committee on Education bill establishing a nine-member fine arts standards task force to review and make recommendations relating to the inclusion of fine arts in the statewide academic standards for K-12 students, including music, visual art, drama and theater, and other fine and applied arts. [Subcommittee: Quirmbach (D-Story), Wilhelm (D-Howard), and Johnson (R-Osceola).]
  • SSB 1138 proposed Committee on Education bill raising the maximum compulsory school attendance age to eighteen years of age. [Subcommittee: Quirmbach (D-Story), Dvorsky (D-Johnson), and Schultz (R-Crawford).]
  • SSB 1142 proposed Committee on Education bill relating to school district property tax replacement payments. [Subcommittee: Bowman (D-Jackson), Hart (D-Clinton), and Sinclair (R-Wayne).]
  • SSB 1145 proposed Committee on Education bill relating to school district property tax replacement payments for certain budget years. [Subcommittee: Bowman (D-Jackson), Hart (D-Clinton), and Sinclair (R-Wayne).]