ATF: Education Committee Presentations

The big news Wednesday was the announcement that DE Director Brad Buck will be the next superintendent of the Cedar Rapids Community School District.

Much less newsworthy on Wednesday, apparently, was the Assessment Task Force report presentations to both the Senate Education Committee and the House Education Committee (in separate meetings) by State Board of Education member Mary Ellen Miller, and task force members Tammy Wawro (president of ISEA) and Jane Lindaman (superintendent of Waterloo Community School District).

Ten of twenty-one task force members attended the presentations, as did three DE employees, who supported the work of the task force, and a woman, unknown to me and not introduced or identified to me, who was obviously coaching the presenters. The words of the day were “research-based”, used in reference to the task force process, and “piecemeal”, used to describe the assessment system in use by Iowa’s schools. The basic narrative of the presentation is summed up in the final slide:


The presenters really had four major issues to deal with: whether the task force followed the legislative charge, cost, technology readiness, and time needed to administer the Smarter Balanced assessments, and legislators asked questions about all four issues.

The legislative charge issue was dealt with by pointing to the criteria of the screening rubric plus showing how the first two recommendations cover all three subject areas required to be tested.

The cost issue was dealt with in a couple of ways. The first argument was that the costs will be equal to what we spend now if we buy the full Smarter Balanced assessments suite of assessments and districts stop using other assessments that they have chosen to meet multiple measures requirements or for other district purposes (compare SBAC assessment system to piecemeal assessment (non)system to compare apples to apples costs). [Note: this argument skirts the need for a science assessment for accountability purposes plus a second science assessment for multiple measures purposes (remember SBAC does not offer science assessments) and the cost of technology required to administer the Smarter Balanced assessments.] The second argument was that we are wasting money on assessments that provide NO useful information at all, so better to spend it on the Smarter Balanced assessments instead which will provide great information for parents and for improving instruction. [More on this issue later in a separate post, for now I’ll note that Miller left the distinct impression that she is unaware that the Iowa Assessments are administered to meet the assessment reporting requirements of NCLB and that other assessments are administered to meet Chapter 12 multiple measures requirements, an impression that I hope is incorrect.]

The technology issue was dealt with with assurances that ninety-nine percent of districts have enough bandwidth.

The time issue was dealt with by explaining that we get NO useful information now, so the additional time is worth it to get actually useful information for parents and for improving instruction.

Next up: some of my notes on the question and answer portions of the presentations. Most questions and answers are paraphrased as the conversation was moving too fast for me to record exact quotes for the most part. Both meetings ended without all legislators being able to ask their questions due to scheduling constraints.

Sen. Quirmbach (D-Story) asked about concerns he’s heard about security of test data (I think, particularly concerns that identifiable student data will be shared with the feds). Wawro: outside the scope of our charge. He also asked whether it was a close contest or a clear winner. Lindaman: clear winner.

Sen. Johnson (R-Osceola) commented that there might have been better geographic balance on the task force (Western Iowa is different) and noted that costs weren’t clearly covered in the report. Wawro: not our job to look at costs, just provide information, also argued that costs are only for deciding between two otherwise equal options, which was not the case here. He also commented that he is hearing from classroom teachers that the information provided by Smarter Balanced assessments isn’t helpful.

Sen. Bowman (D-Jackson) questioned the quality of the Smarter Balanced assessments. He had two legislative pages take the Smarter Balanced assessments [this elicited laughter] and reported both had technology issues and some of the questions were confusing. He also cited Steven Rasmussen’s critique of Smarter Balanced assessments mathematics items (car question) and said that as a classroom teacher “I’ve seen our technology really let us down.” Lindaman: the point of a pilot is to find problems and improve, problems with bad questions on Iowa Assessments/ITBS for years.

Sen. Hart (D-Cllinton) observed that not every child does well on standardized tests and that while kids might respond better to the computer-based test, it comes with challenges: time and costs. Lindaman: it could replace other tests. She said time is one of the biggest problems, spending too much time testing. Lose instructional time and may be causing test anxiety. Lindaman: too much testing happens because districts are trying to piecemeal together an assessment system.

Sen. Dvorsky (D-Johnson) led with an observation that “we sell things around here by saying we put a lot of work into this even if it’s wrong.” Just because the task force worked hard doesn’t mean the recommendations will be followed. ICCSD reported that the Smarter Balanced assessments take too much computer time and are not getting good results. The actual numbers on cost in the report are not good. [Missing some comments in my notes here.] Wawro: we looked at computer-adaptive assessments. “Did we ask you to do that?” Wawro: it describes student achievement  [one of the legislative requirements]. Was ITP asked to provide a self-leveling test or is it just the task force interpretation? Wawro: we understand this is a recommendation and not the decision, the legislature makes the decision. Lindaman: reflects a philosophical difference between the vendors. “You didn’t really answer my question. You’re saying all other testing costs will go away?” Wawro: that’s up to individual districts. “Costs being equal then goes out the window.”

Sen. Zaun (R-Polk) asked about the point of all students getting different questions and how students could be expected to pay attention for 8.5 hours. He also asked whether all schools have sufficient technology to administer the test and where the $22.50 cost came from.

Sen. Kraayenbrink (R-Webster) made comments that perhaps the task force was charged with the wrong task and that Iowa should be developing our own assessments.

Rep. Salmon (R-Black Hawk) asked about costs. Lindaman: look at costs for all assessments given throughout the school year, not just summative. Lindaman: we want a system of assessments to predict performance on the summative assessments because “we want our scores to be better, we want our scores to improve.” [Note: I doubt Lindaman meant it quite like it sounds, but it struck me as sad that the focus in this formulation is on higher test scores rather than more learning or more curious and independent students or anything else you think we might want to improve about the school experience for kids.]

Rep. Winckler (D-Scott) mentioned a huge concern about the demand for technology that hasn’t been thoroughly answered. She was not impressed with the professional development, especially the self-paced modules. She asked what information the teachers receive. She stated that ongoing assessment is a local control issue, she’s just interested in the one time standardized assessment.

Rep. Mascher (D-Johnson) asked where is it coming from that SBAC is all we’d need? What about DIBELS (and other assessments I didn’t catch). We don’t want just one, we want multiple assessments throughout the year. Lindaman: other districts may continue to give other assessments. Wawro: districts will still have to do FAST and some other assessments. She mentioned horror stories about the SBAC pilot including computer problems and predicted they will occur again. She asked if we have the funding to do it adequately. She also noted the amount of time eats into student learning; the important thing is the student learning, not the assessing. She also noted the amount of time computers would be tied up in school.

Rep. Jorgensen (R-Woodbury) asked them to explain the time differences between the tests. [Note: this sounded to me like it was meant to be a softball question.] Lindaman: agrees with Rep. Mascher but learning and assessing go hand in hand, can’t be separated. Lindaman: the times are averages, an untimed test administered in chunks (not all in one sitting). Talk about the performance tasks. Lindaman: they show what students know. Lindaman: we heard technology concerns but we didn’t hear horror stories, but remember that pilots are about finding out what works and what doesn’t. Rep. Mascher: those were my words, it was a horror story.

Rep. Steckman: explain the timing, how it would work for a classroom. [Not clearly answered.] Lindaman: testing for testing sake is a mistake. She asks again, how does it work to give untimed tests to say thirty kids in one classroom? [Again, not clearly answered.] Lindaman: the time is worth it. She then asks about the self-paced professional development modules. Colleen Anderson, DE staff: describes the SBAC digital library in some detail (she is part of the group putting it together. [Note: no one mentions the digital library already paid for and part of the Iowa Core website.]

Rep. Forristall (R-Pottawattamie) asked if it would be harmful to push off this decision a year. Miller: if it gets to the right decision and the time is well spent but does leave less time for schools to get ready. Wawro: the delay is a problem because current assessment is not aligned and is already being used to judge schools (Attendance Center Rankings website).


3 thoughts on “ATF: Education Committee Presentations

  1. Chris

    “Lindaman: agrees with Rep. Mascher but learning and assessing go hand in hand, can’t be separated.”

    Really? I guess Lindaman thinks no one learns anything once they’re not in school?

    1. Karen W Post author

      I missed it in my notes, but I seem to recall some additional comments along the lines of we can’t know they’re learning if we don’t assess for the learning. Of course, you and I might think that classroom teachers could check for learning in a variety of ways that don’t involve standardized assessments. I have no idea what Lindaman thinks about the possibility of life-long learning without assessment 🙂

      By the way, I think that was the speediest blog comment EVER, at least at this blog.

  2. Chris

    How can Wawro possibly say that it was not the task force’s job to look at costs? The legislature’s charge to the task force was: “the task force shall consider the costs to school districts and the state in providing and administering such an assessment and the technical support necessary to implement the assessment.”

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