ATF: A Report and a Dissent

The Assessment Task Force report is out and is now available at the Assessment Task Force page of the Iowa DE website.

I was privileged to serve on this task force and to work with a group of knowledgeable and dedicated Iowans trying to make the best recommendations we could to the Iowa Legislature. It took a lot of time, by my count 74.5 hours of meetings, not including small group/subgroup work, but it was worth it as I found the whole experience to be very interesting. I plan to write a few posts about my task force experience now that our work, at least for now, is done.

Ultimately, I was not able to join in the task force’s recommendation that the Smarter Balanced assessments be adopted. The task force report includes a dissent written by yours truly which I have copied below to save you the trouble of turning to page twenty-two in the report to read it:

The Smarter Balanced Assessments are by far the costlier of the two assessment options in front of the Task Force. Whether the Smarter Balanced Assessments are worth the additional costs cannot be determined without quantifying all of the costs involved. This has not yet been done.

The information reviewed by the Task Force shows that the Smarter Balanced Assessments will take more than twice the amount of time to administer as the equivalent portion of the Next Generation Iowa Assessments and do not include a required science assessment. Science and social studies assessments can be added to the Next Generation Iowa Assessments for a total test administration time that is still 2 to 3.5 hours shorter than the Smarter Balanced Assessments alone.

The information reviewed by the Task Force shows that the Smarter Balanced Assessments will cost more per student, at an estimated $22.50 for the summative assessment only, and that those costs do not include a required science assessment. The Next Generation Iowa Assessments can include a science assessment for an estimated total cost to Iowa schools of $15 per student.

However, the Task Force lacks adequate information about the costs for school districts and the state to build and maintain the necessary school technology infrastructure to administer the Smarter Balanced Assessments. No comprehensive survey of the current state of school technology infrastructure has been conducted yet; consequently, these costs have not been quantified and are unknown at this time. The limited evidence in front of the Task Force suggests that these costs will be significant and ongoing. Even if the Legislature were to appropriate money for these costs, the appropriation would likely come at the cost of reduced supplemental state aid and thus would be in effect an unfunded mandate.

At the outset of our work, task force members agreed that our recommendations should be guided by what is best for Iowa’s children. Accountability testing is something we do for the adults, great instructional programming–including high quality art, music, world languages, and extra-curricular programs–is what we do for the children. Ultimately, it is best for Iowa’s children to obtain the accountability data required with the least impact on instructional programming possible. The Smarter Balanced Assessments divert more time and money from instruction than necessary for accountability purposes, and for these reasons, I respectfully dissent from the task force’s recommendation to adopt the Smarter Balanced Assessments. Based on the evidence currently in front of the Task Force, I would recommend adoption of the Next Generation Iowa Assessments instead.

Comments related to the task force, the report, or the recommendations are welcome here or on posts to follow in the next few days:


3 thoughts on “ATF: A Report and a Dissent

  1. Jeff Moorman

    Karen, thank you for the work you did while serving on the Iowa Assessment Task Force. Speaking on behalf of Iowa for Student Achievement, Iowa parents and teachers I fully support your position and arguments against Iowa implementing Smarter Balanced assessments in favor of Next Generation Iowa Assessments. Iowa for Student Achievement welcomes your support in educating Iowa legislators, Iowa DOE and the Governor on why they should reject the recommendation of the Task Force to use Smarter Balanced assessments for the reasons you stated in this article and past articles you have written on this topic. Jeff Moorman –

  2. Michael Tilley

    Karen, great letter. What were the arguments in favor of adopting the SBA? Could you summarize them?

    As a self-described Burkean conservative (that is, I’m skeptical of undermining institutions that serve us and our communities well, and I’m skeptical of something working out well just because it seems to work in my, or our, minds), I’m struck by how this decision is not very conservative!

    1. Karen W Post author

      Thanks, Michael.

      The arguments for SBA are laid out on pages 17-19 of the report:
      –better aligned with Iowa Core
      –nationally and internationally benchmarked
      –proven to accurately assess students’ ability
      –can add Iowa Core specific items
      –computer adaptive measures highest and lowest performers with less measurement error
      –results available more quickly to educators, students, and parents
      –performance tasks require application of learning to real-world problems
      –formative and interim assessments, lesson resources, professional development, and ongoing data collection
      –should allow districts to reduce or eliminate some other locally written/selected assessments [replace them with SBA assessments]
      –shared system allows for powerful collaboration that has the potential to transform teaching and learning
      –compare performance of students at local, multi-state, and international scale (important in a global economy)
      –federal money plus 27 states = expertise of an impressive array of experts
      –cost is small compared to overall state and local spending on education
      –technology costs likely not to be overly burdensome, state should pay for them
      –future of assessments, teaching and learning is online
      –if there are added costs, worth the benefits for Iowa’s children

      Obviously, I don’t agree that these are all necessarily true, necessarily benefits, or are necessarily exclusive qualities of SBA compared to NGIA. I have an upcoming blog post planned to address some of my thoughts on this.

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