Legislative Update 4/30 [updated]

Surprise! After several quiet weeks on assessment, the issue may be debated as part of the HF 658 Education Appropriations bill being debated this evening.

The Iowa Association of School Boards sent out an Advocacy Alert today, somewhat ridiculously sub-titled “Contact Your Legislator ASAP–Future of Student Assessment Being Threatened“.

I have written previously about the Assessment Task Force process and recommendations, but it apparently needs to be repeated that the Task Force identified not just one, but TWO assessments that meet the minimum legislative requirements: the Smarter Balanced assessments and the Next Generation Iowa Assessments.

I hardly think that the Iowa K-12 students and taxpayers will be short-changed by using the less expensive of the two adequately good assessment options. But they will be short-changed by shifting scarce resources of money and instructional time away from instructional programming and to the more expensive of the two adequately good assessment options.

You would think that the day many of us are wearing pink in support of adequate funding for public education might be a day for supporting efforts to keep more of that money in the classroom, but I guess you’d be wrong.

In any case, the amendment doesn’t prevent the Legislature from adopting the Smarter Balanced assessments, perhaps next year, but in the event the Legislature actually takes that vote, let’s hope they also vote to fully fund both the assessments and the necessary technology infrastructure to administer them.

It’s hard not to enjoy the irony of professional lobbyists sending out advocacy alerts warning of the danger of professional lobbyists trying to influence the Legislature. But there’s another really interesting part of this sentence:

It short­-changes each Iowa student, and every Iowa taxpayer, to pull back now and have this decision made by the legislature, especially when assessment vendors have hired professional lobbyists to influence the decision in their favor.

Arguably the decision was already meant to be made by the Legislature. I’ve got more to say on this in a lengthy post I’ve been meaning to finish. But for now, I’d characterize amendment H-1294 as reaffirming legislative authority over this decision rather than pulling it back.

So, watch for amendment H-1294 during tonight’s debate. I will have to catch up later as I am off to enjoy an elementary performance music concert while we still have elementary performance music programs at our local public schools.

Update: While I was out, amendment H-1294 was withdrawn but amendment H-1298 was adopted by voice vote. H-1298 would add the following new paragraph to Iowa Code 256.7(21):

d. The state board and the department shall not enter into an agreement with any entity that has or has had an agreement with any federal governmental agency or with a third party that has or has had an agreement with any federal governmental agency, to share personally identifiable student data, or that is working with any federal governmental agency to develop a strategy to make available, on an ongoing basis for research, personally identifiable student data that results from services provided by the entity to the state.

I believe this is aimed at being a roundabout prohibition on ever working with SBAC, but I will have to rely on people more knowledgeable about the specifics of SBAC’s agreements with the with the federal government. Hopefully some of them will weigh in with an opinion.

HF 658 was passed, as amended by multiple amendments, on a 55-42 vote.

Update: H-1294 included the language above, but also this language that would have been added to 256.7(21)(b)(2):

However, if the state board proposes rules providing for a statewide assessment other than the assessment approved pursuant to subparagraph (1), the state board shall submit its proposed rules to the general assembly and shall not adopt such rules unless the proposed rules are specifically authorized by a constitutional majority of each house of the general assembly and approved by the governor.

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