One Step Closer to SBAC in Iowa

With the assertion of the State Board of Education yesterday that the Board has the authority to select the next statewide assessment for accountability purposes, we are now one step closer to the end of the long and winding road to the Smarter Balanced assessments in Iowa.

The only thing (slightly) surprising about this assertion is that the Des Moines Register actually sent a reporter to cover the meeting. Here is the explanation for the assertion of authority from the Des Moines Register coverage:

David Tilly, deputy director of the Department of Education, told board members Thursday that he reviewed Iowa law, Board of Education minutes and other documents dating back to the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 as part of the analysis.

In 2003, minutes show that the Board of Education had the authority in selecting the Iowa exams. That changed in 2012, when legislation gave lawmakers the authority. Then in 2014, legislation passed that Tilly says allows the authority to revert back to the board.

“It appears that unless the legislator exercises that authority, the authority reverts back to the state board,” Tilly said.

The most obvious question is why would a deputy director conduct a legal analysis rather than assigning the task to one of the DE staff attorneys? Either this is an error in reporting or something that should have prompted follow up questions by the reporter.

It isn’t clear from the reporting, but the argument is apparently that subparagraph (2) of Iowa Code section 256.7(21)(b) acts to sunset subparagraph (1) for the 2016-2017 school year.

(1) Annually, the department shall report state data for each indicator in the condition of education report. Rules adopted pursuant to this subsection shall specify that the approved district-wide assessment of student progress administered for purposes of the core academic indicators shall be the assessment utilized by school districts statewide in the school year beginning July 1, 2011, or a successor assessment administered by the same assessment provider.

(2) Notwithstanding subparagraph (1), for the school year beginning July 1, 2016, and each succeeding school year, the rules shall provide that all students enrolled in school districts in grades three through eleven shall be administered an assessment during the last quarter of the school year that at a minimum assesses the core academic indicators identified in this paragraph “b”; is aligned with the Iowa common core standards in both content and rigor; accurately describes student achievement and growth for purposes of the school, the school district, and state accountability systems; and provides valid, reliable, and fair measures of student progress toward college or career readiness.

Please see this blogpost for a more complete explanation, but it isn’t at all clear that the Legislature intended subparagraph (2) to operate as a sunset provision as to parts, really, of subparagraph (1), as no one seems to be arguing that DE’s annual reporting requirement will also be sunset by paragraph (2).

There is no factual conflict between the subparagraphs as the Iowa Testing Programs (the assessment provider referenced in subparagraph (1)) is in fact developing a successor assessment for the 2016-2017 school year that meets the minimum legislative requirements enumerated in subparagraph (2). In which case, the Legislature would not need to take affirmative action unless the Legislature wanted to adopt an assessment from a different assessment provider (the Smarter Balanced assessments, for example) or wanted to grant the State Board the authority to select the statewide assessment.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that subparagraph (2) does in fact operate as a sunset provision as described above–that unless the Legislature affirmatively exercises the authority to select an assessment, that the authority reverts to the State Board of Education. Why is now, rather than the end of the 2016 legislative session, for example, the legally appropriate time to determine that reversion of authority to the State Board has occurred? The Des Moines Register article offers this explanation:

The 2014 law also says the tests should be implemented for the 2016-17 school year. And Tilly reiterated that school districts need time to implement the new exams, such as training staff and ensuring computers and technology are in place to support computer testing.

No doubt this is all true, though note that Assessment Task Force materials provided to the Legislature have minimized technology readiness concerns (see here, here, here, or here). See also Board member Mary Ellen Miller’s comments in The Gazette:

Supporters of the status quo will use misleading cost estimates or technology concerns to argue against the Smarter Balanced assessments. In reality, these cost estimates don’t include the dollars our school districts are already spending on additional tests to get the ongoing feedback that Smarter Balanced’s assessment package would provide. Additionally, results from a survey of district readiness shows 99 percent of our public schools meet the minimum bandwidth requirements and have adequate computer resources to administer the Smarter Balanced assessments.

So, it is interesting to see this used as a reason for the Board to take action immediately. Perhaps these issues, and the need to issue a Request for Proposal for any new assessment, might have been emphasized more strongly to legislators when Rep. Forristall asked if it would be harmful to push off this decision a year. However, it isn’t obvious that these issues would trigger a reversion of authority based on failure of the Legislature to act now, rather than just prior to the 2016-2017 school year.

Of course, the question of authority is an academic one at this point as the State Board appears prepared to move forward without further legislative action. The next steps toward the use of the Smarter Balanced assessments in Iowa should be through the administrative rules process in upcoming months. Find an overview of the administrative rulemaking process here and watch for notice of intended rules on the DE page here.*

*The administrative rules website isn’t running well at the moment, but hopefully will be operating properly soon.


4 thoughts on “One Step Closer to SBAC in Iowa

  1. Mary

    Does the legislature have the power to reduce funding to the Iowa DOE? It would be interesting to see what organizations and/or conferences key Iowa DOE have participated in and who has provided funding.

  2. Karen W Post author

    Mary, the Legislature sets the budget, so they could reduce future budgets. I’m not sure that they can do anything about the budget already passed this session.

    Chris, good question. The latest Homan v. Branstad might have been interesting on several points, including a discussion of standing, but for the Legislature acquiescing resulting in the case being dismissed as moot.

  3. Pingback: Iowa State Board of Ed Decides It Can Select New Assessment | Iowa RestorEd

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