Cure Worse Than The Disease?

There has been quite a bit of talk lately about the need for a waiver from NCLB requirements.  So, inspired by this comparison of NCLB versus the Connecticut waiver request (HT @daskmartin), I thought I would write a quick overview of Iowa’s waiver request.

College- and Career-Ready Expectations for All Students

  • Adoption of the Common Core Standards
  • Statewide implementation of Response to Intervention and PBIS
  • Implementation of Smarter Balanced Assessments by 2014
  • “Model” curriculum by July 2013
  • Art, music, and world languages standards
  • End-of-course of assessments aligned with the Iowa Core by 2014
  • Required college entrance exam by 2014
  • Optional career readiness assessment by 2014
  • Switch to InTASC teaching standards
  • Teacher career pathways

State-Developed Differentiated Recognition, Accountability, and Support

Performance goals:

  • 100% of school buildings will have at least 80% of students proficient in math and reading.
  • 100% of students will make at least a year’s growth in a year’s time

Current Annual Measurable Objectives:

  • Make or miss AYP (based on reading scores, math scores, participation in accountability testing plus graduation and attendance rates).
  • Subgroups must include at least 30 students (at the school level?).
  • All schools are expected to meet the same targets.

Waiver Proposed Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO):

  • The DE will calculate AMO trajectories for each school and each eligible subgroup in each school that will depend upon current distance from the statewide performance goals, such that all schools will meet statewide achievement score target of 85 at the end of ten years.  [Note page 57: only 25 of over 1300 schools currently have an achievement score at 85 or higher.]
  • Eligible subgroups must include at least 10 students at the district or school level (more subgroups will have reportable results than under the NCLB 30 student rule).

All schools will be classified under a new classification system (and all schools and districts, regardless of classification, would be required to complete Continuous School Improvement Plans):

  • Distinguished (Exceptional for three or more consecutive years)
  • Exceptional
  • High Performing
  • Commendable
  • Acceptable
  • Needs Improvement (Focus)
  • Priority
  • Unacceptable (Focus or Priority for three consecutive years)

Schools will be classified according to a Performance Index Score (0 to 100 points possible), a Closing Gap Score (percentage of subgroups meeting AMOs), participation in accountability testing of at least 95% for all students and each subgroup (n=20), and a graduation rate of at least 60% for all students and each subgroup (n=10).  [See page 51 for a chart showing numbers required to fall into each classification category.]

The Performance Index is made up of two parts, an achievement score based on reading and mathematics assessments (with equal weighting for proficiency and growth for all students) worth up to 80 points and Other Academic Indicators (OAI) worth up to 20 points.

OAIs by type of school (see pages 60-62 for charts showing how points will be awarded in each category):

  • High School: graduation rate (10 points), college ready rates (5 points), attendance rates (5 points).  [Note college ready is calculated from Iowa Assessment scores at each level that track to earning a college ready score on the ACT.]
  • Middle/Junior High School: college ready rates (10 points) and attendance rates (10 points).
  • Elementary Schools: attendance rates (10 points) and 3rd grade reading proficiency rates (10 points).

The DE proposes to add more measures to this accountability system in the future including, Smarter Balanced Assessments, end-of-course exams, college entrance exams, post-graduation data, career readiness exam, safe and supportive schools indicators (suspension and expulsion rates, parent satisfaction, levels of students engagement, staff working conditions), and Response to Intervention measures.

Reward schools (Exceptional/Distinguished): will get state recognition (including special logos), will have to write CSIPs but will have some autonomy in identifying areas for improvement, and can apply to become Studio Schools to mentor other schools.

The DE plans to seek administrative law changes to apply interventions and sanctions to non-Title I schools in addition to the Title I schools affected by NCLB.  Interventions and sanctions for Focus/Priority/Unacceptable schools may include: parent notification, charter options, a state review panel, and set aside of 20% of Title I funds for implementing turnaround principles, extended learning opportunities (tutoring or summer school), and professional development.

Supports for all schools in the state include implementing Response to Intervention, PBIS, and anti-bullying programs; and implementing the Iowa Core and universal constructs.

And, a quote from page 105, just because it made me laugh: “Since Iowa is a local control state, the selection of professional development providers is a local district decision.”  Is this what school board elections are all about–choice of professional development providers?

Supporting Effective Instruction and Leadership

This section includes the teacher/administrator evaluation changes, including requiring the use of “student outcome measures” as part of the evaluations.  The DE plans to develop measures of student achievement for “untested subjects” for use in evaluating teachers of those subject areas.

Note that in an article about Senator Harkin’s decision not to run for re-election, Education Week notes that Harkin’s ESEA reauthorization bill would not require student achievement to be used as part of evaluating teachers.

Is the cure worse than the disease?  I think so for several reasons.  First, it incorporates accountability by high stakes testing into state law–if the ESEA reauthorization substantially changes the worst parts of NCLB, we’ll still be stuck with it until state law is also amended/repealed–not necessarily an easy thing.  Second, it seeks to apply NCLB accountability interventions and sanctions to all schools in the state, not just the ones receiving Title I funds (except required SINA transfers, which may be the only thing a successful waiver application actually rids us of) which is a pretty high price to pay for accepting roughly ninety million dollars of Title I funds per year.  Third, tying student test scores to teacher evaluations is controversial and is not required by either NCLB or Harkin’s ESEA reauthorization bill.  Finally, because I still believe that the route to better schools is political accountability at the local level (ie. local control) rather than top down, high-stakes-testing-driven accountability.

If we are desperate enough to pass bad law this session to escape NCLB requirements, let’s just refuse the ninety million dollars instead–surely we can find state money this year to replace those funds.  Otherwise, why not wait and see what relief ESEA reauthorization might bring?


One thought on “Cure Worse Than The Disease?

  1. Nicholas J

    Very compelling. I didn’t realize how scary the waiver was. There’s no good solution: either deal with mandates and sanctions or create our own system of them in state policy. In many ways agree with you that the former is the least bad option.
    It seems the only way to get out of this dangerous cycle of ridiculousness is an ESEA reauthorization that actually works ASAP.

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