Category Archives: assessment task force

Smarter Balanced Assessments in Iowa Update

Since my last post on Smarter Balanced assessments, the two legislative funnel deadlines have passed and an assessment bill, SF 240, has survived.

SF 240, as amended and passed by the Iowa Senate, would strike subparagraphs (2) and (3) of Iowa Code 256.7(21)(b), which are the paragraphs creating new assessment requirements and authorizing the Assessment Task Force. It would also amend subparagraph (1) to allow the State Board of Education to approve a new assessment for the school year beginning July 1, 2018. It would also amend subparagraph (1) to change the required assessment grades to grades three through eleven for math and reading and grades five, eight and ten for science. The amended language also includes the requirement from subparagraph (2) that the statewide assessments be administered in the last quarter of the school year, but not the other requirements, which included alignment to the Iowa Core and valid, reliable, and fair measurement of student progress toward college or career readiness.

Some of the requirements from subparagraph (2) are included in section 3 of the bill, which outlines a request for proposal (RFP) process for a new assessment to be conducted by the Iowa Department of Education. Section 3 also outlines how the Department of Education must evaluate RFP responses.

The Legislative Services Agency has issued a fiscal note including a chart with estimated costs for the Smarter Balanced assessments, the Next Generation Iowa Assessments (with and without centralized scoring), and the ACT Aspire. A few things to note:

  • Districts are required to provide multiple measures (an additional assessment beyond the statewide assessment). The inclusion of multiple measures here helps to reduce the gap between the costs of the Smarter Balanced assessments and the other assessments.
  • The costs for the Next Generation Iowa Assessments and ACT Aspire already include a science assessment. Note that the cost for an additional science assessment exceeds the cost for the complete Next Generation Iowa Assessments.
  • I’m not certain if LSA is aware that ACT Aspire does not offer an exam for grade eleven students. If ACT Aspire were chosen, the ACT or another grade eleven assessment would be needed, the costs of which may not be accurately reflected here.

The Des Moines Register has published several articles recently about statewide assessments (links to the articles on the Press-Citizen website here, here, and here). In “Lawmakers take plan for statewide exam back to square one“, reporter Mackenzie Ryan describes the statewide assessments debate as “the slow-moving squabble over which test to use” and asserts that SF 240 could undo four years of work toward new statewide assessments. I would argue that SF 240 could undo almost seven years of work by the Department of Education to implement Smarter Balanced assessments in Iowa, though see Shane Vander Hart’s commentary on SF 240 at Truth in American Education (in short, don’t count Smarter Balanced assessments out just yet).

In a follow up article, State Board of Education member Mary Ellen Miller expressed frustration at the delays in implementing the Smarter Balanced assessments.

The Iowa Board of Education is so frustrated by the delay in adopting new state exams that at least one member called for ending the tests altogether.

Emphasizing her dissatisfaction, Mary Ellen Miller told the lieutenant governor Thursday that Iowa should “do something outrageous” and declare a moratorium on state testing. The move could save millions of dollars while nixing tests that are no longer relevant, she said.

“Political roadblocks” to implementation of the Smarter Balanced assessments were a foreseeable possible consequence of the decision of the State Board of Education to unilaterally move ahead with rules adopting the Smarter Balanced assessments after failing to convince the Iowa Legislature to take action.

Meanwhile, with the State Board having acted unilaterally to adopt the Smarter Balanced assessments, the Department of Education Director Ryan Wise is now left to take great pains to assure that the RFP process will be fair to all vendors.

If passed into law, the Department of Education would seek test proposals. It would take steps to ensure that “people don’t point at the department (and say) ‘You were in the bag for X vendor from the beginning,'” said department director Ryan Wise.

“Our whole objective is to run a fair process,” Wise said, explaining that officials should expect it to be ‘heavily scrutinized.”

If SF 240 is passed without substantial amendment, I would expect RFP responses for ACT Aspire, the Next Generation Iowa Assessments, and Smarter Balanced assessments (with a proposed companion science assessment) to be submitted. See the Assessment Task Force’s evaluation of the math and English language arts portions of these exams here.


Implications of an Assessment Delay [updated]

The big assessment news yesterday is that the Iowa Legislature has finally taken action on statewide assessment through SF2323 (education appropriations bill). Whether or not the Senate concurs with the House amendment to suspend the rules adopted by the State Board of Education, both houses have agreed to language that would delay new assessments by one year, to the school year beginning July 1, 2017 (instead of the school year beginning July 1, 2016).

The most obvious question is what’s the test for the 2016-17 school year, but the subparagraph contains a number of other assessment changes that will be delayed as well (assuming no veto by the Governor).

Here’s the relevant portion of current Iowa Code section 256.7(21):

b. A set of core academic indicators in mathematics and reading in grades four, eight, and eleven, a set of core academic indicators in science in grades eight and eleven, and another set of core indicators that includes but is not limited to graduation rate, postsecondary education, and successful employment in Iowa.

(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.

The delay will also delay a change in state law requirements to test math and reading in grades 3-11 instead of grades 4, 8, and 11 (note federal law requires testing in grades 3-8 and 11).

It will also delay a change in state law requirements to test science in grades 3-11, instead of grades 8 and 11 (note federal law requires testing at least once in each of three grade spans).

It will also delay the requirement for statewide assessments to be administered in last quarter of the school year. And it will delay the additional alignment requirements.

Although it has received little attention, the Assessment Task Force made recommendations last month for ACT Aspire science to be used as the statewide science assessment starting in 2016-17, in grades 5, 8, and 10. [Smarter Balanced assessments do not include a science assessment.] These recommendations seem to be rendered, at least temporarily, obsolete by the delay, which should leave us assessing under the requirements of subparagraph (1) which references, in a roundabout way, the Iowa Assessments or successor assessment by the Iowa Testing Programs.

So, again assuming no veto, what’s the statewide assessment for the 2016-17 school year? It probably depends upon whether the Iowa Assessments are still an option (if anyone knows the answer, please share). My guess is, if the Iowa Assessments are an option, they would be the preferred option for a number of reasons, for example, relatively low costs and schools already know how to administer the tests and interpret the results.

If not, it would seem that the Next Generation of Iowa Assessments would be the only option that satisfies subparagraph (1). Question: if the Next Generation Iowa Assessments are administered statewide in the 2016-17 school year, how does that affect political support for administering the Smarter Balanced assessments/ACT Aspire science assessments in 2017-18?

Update: Matt Townsley shared with me an from Iowa Test Programs dated April 14th, confirming that the Iowa Assessments will be available for the 2016-17 school year:

Iowa Testing Programs (ITP) will continue to offer the Iowa Assessments in the 2016-17 school year.  We plan to support fall, midyear and spring testing and to maintain the current price of $4.25/student if schools opt to partner with ITP.   This price includes paper-based assessments in reading, mathematics, science, English, social studies, computation and other skills-based areas.  Online testing in all areas also remains an option.

ATF: Report and Recommendations on Science

The Assessment Task Force wrapped up our review of statewide science assessment options March 11th, adopting five additional recommendations:

  • ACT Aspire science assessment to be used in the short-term (no longer than the 2019-20 school year), and administered once in each of three grade spans (3-5, 6-8, and 9-12). [One dissenter–not me this time–wrote a dissent, which is included at the end of the rationale section. In short, an objection to using an assessment not aligned to current standards, even for the short-term.]
  • Science assessments to be administered in grades 5, 8, and 10.
  • State to appropriate funds to pay for the statewide science assessments.
  • The Task Force to meet annually to review science assessment options.
  • The DE to pursue additional options for accessing a statewide science assessment aligned with the Iowa Science Standards (NGSS performance expectations). [I was the sole dissenting vote on this recommendation, but did not write a dissent this time. This recommendation seems overly broad, lacking any useful guidance–and potentially very expensive.]

The recommendations for assessing science in only three grade levels and for a state appropriation will require legislative action. For those tracking costs, ACT Aspire provided estimated costs for the science assessment only (rather than the complete ACT Aspire) of $8.00 per student (computer-based administration) or $13.00 per student (paper-and-pencil) plus an additional $1.20 for student score reports.

The ACT Aspire science assessment was the only currently operational assessment submitted for Task Force review. ACT Aspire does not offer an assessment for grade 11, so it isn’t clear what science assessment would be used for that grade level if the Legislature fails to act. The ACT exam is one, obvious option, but that would be expensive to add on top of administering the Smarter Balanced assessments to grade 11 students.

The Task Force report was presented to the State Board of Education yesterday, and is now available on the Assessment Task Force page. The introduction to the Task Force report, which was part of the report when approved by the Task Force, was omitted. I am still waiting to hear back, but hope the DE will be publishing an amended version of the report with the Introduction soon.

Update: The report has been removed from the Task Force page and will be reposted with the Introduction.

Smarter Balanced Assessments 39

I had no idea that Legislative Services did this sort of thing, but here’s a thirty-four minute Fiscal One-On-One interview with DE Deputy Director Dave Tilly on Smarter Balanced Assessments:


Topics include statewide technology readiness, data security, costs, assessment funding sources, and science assessment.

The DE is planning the following actions for implementing the Smarter Balanced Assessments in Iowa.

  • Technology audit
  • Request for Proposal
  • Professional development and communications activities

Look for these to get started once the rules process is completed with a final review of the rules by the Administrative Rules Review Committee in January 2016.

ATF: Science Assessment Work Update

The Assessment Task Force met on Tuesday to continue work on recommendations for a statewide science assessment.

Among other work, two important recommendations were adopted by the Task Force, which will guide our current work.

  1. The Task Force will recommend a short-term assessment that will be used no longer than the 2019-20 school year.
  2. The Task Force will recommend that the science assessment be administered once in each of the three grade bands (grades 3-5, 6-8, 9-12) in the short-term.

Implementation of the second recommendation will require legislative action, as Iowa Code currently requires that science assessments be administered to students in grades three through eleven, beginning in the 2016-17 school year.

Proposed Rules and the Iowa Code

As expected, the State Board of Education reviewed a notice of intended action for proposed rules, meant to implement Iowa Code 256.7(21), last week.

The complete text of the proposed rules:

ITEM 1. Amend subrule 281—12.8(1) by adding the following new paragraph “h”:

h. Designation of “at least one districtwide assessment.”

(1) For purposes of Iowa code section 256.7, at least one of the districtwide assessments used to measure student progress in core academic indicators in reading and math shall be the assessment developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (“SBAC”).

(2) The department shall select a vendor to administer SBAC through a request-for-proposal process.

(3) The assessment task force shall review SBAC administration and make a recommendation pursuant to Iowa code section 256.7, subsection 21, paragraph b, subparagraph 3, on or before June 30, 2020.

I have two initial thoughts. One is that the proposed rules appear to be in direct conflict with the Iowa Code subsection they are meant to implement. See subparagraph (1) which reads as follows:

(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.

The other is that the proposed rules, which are presumably meant to provide guidance, are incomplete with regard to other requirements specified in subparagraph (2), in that they don’t specify a required science assessment, don’t specify the grade levels required to be assessed, don’t specify timing of the assessment administration (last quarter of the school year), and don’t specify an effective date (the school year beginning July 1, 2016).

It may be of interest to revisit discussion that the State Board had, or didn’t have, regarding costs, technology readiness, and implementation experiences in other states. Some of my observations from the August meeting can be found here or here.


If you are so inclined, please take the time to comment. In my experience, rules are sometimes changed–or even withdrawn to be rewritten and renoticed–in response to comments. In addition, the comments will at least be summarized and presented to the board (and thus the public) when the rules are in front of the board for adoption and filing. Finally, consider the following from a document posted on the Iowa Legislature’s website outlining the elements of the rulemaking process:

In a rulemaking preceding [sic] the public is not entitled to a decision based on the evidence in the record, but the public can demand that the agency create a record, based on its decision. Any interested person {meaning literally anybody} may request that the agency prepare: “A concise statement of the principal reasons for and against the rule it adopted, incorporating therein the reasons for overruling considerations urged against the rule.” This provision requires a synopsis of the most important arguments for and against the proposal. The request may be made at any time during the rulemaking, up to 30 days after the final adoption. The statement must be completed with 35 days of the request. [Emphasis in the original changed to bold.]

The comment period is open until November 3rd at 4:30 pm, which is also the date set for the public hearing, which will be held in the State Board Room of the Grimes Building from 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm. Find details for submitting comments (from the first page of the notice of intended action) below or try your luck with the new administrative rules site (though as of right now, the proposed rules are not yet posted). Find the LSA Fiscal Update News Article here.

Comments on the proposed amendments should be directed to Phil Wise, Administrative Rules Co-Coordinator, Iowa Department of Education, Second Floor, Grimes State Office Building, Des Moines, Iowa 50319- 0146; telephone (515) 281-4835; e-mail ; or fax (515)242-5988.

If you end up commenting and are inclined to share what you said, please leave a comment.

New Science Standards and Implications for Assessment

The Assessment Task Force is getting back together this fall to make recommendations for science assessments now that the State Board of Education has adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, as modified and recommended by the Science Standards Review Team, as the new Iowa Core science standards.

As part of my preparation for this next stage of our work, I’m reading the Science Standards Review Team Report 2015 and trying to make sense of the implications of the new standards for statewide standardized (accountability) assessment. I was also fortunate to have been able to sit down this week with Solon’s Matt Townsley, a knowledgeable, thoughtful, and patient local administrator and assessment enthusiast, who graciously agreed to talk over the new science standards and some implications for assessment with me.

Here’s where I am at in my understanding so far (and, note, that any misunderstandings are my own–if you see any, please leave an explanation in the comments):

The Next Generation Science Standards are made up of Disciplinary Core Ideas (what to teach), Science and Engineering Practices (how to teach), and Crosscutting Concepts (?). These (what and how to teach) have been combined into model Performance Expectations. These Performance Expectations are what have been adopted as Iowa’s science standards with, at least, two modifications.

First, the Science Standards Review Team organized the middle school grade band performance expectations into Iowa specific grade level standards for grades six, seven, and eight. Second, the Science Standards Review Team recommended adoption of the performance expectations without adopting the assessment boundaries and connection boxes.

The Science Standards Review Team did not organize the high school grade band performance expectations into specific grade level standards.

Implications for Statewide Standardized Assessments [more questions, than answers]

As I understand it, there are no NGSS-aligned large-scale standardized assessments currently ready for use and that it can take four or five years to properly develop new standardized assessment. Thus, it seems likely that statewide science assessments will not align with the new science standards for several years or more. [Question: because the Iowa Core standards are required to be implemented already, are changes to the standards required to be implemented immediately?]

Iowa Code 256.7(21)(b)(2) requires, beginning in the 2016-2017 school year, all students in grades three through eleven to be assessed annually in core academic indicators, which include science. In any case, some school districts may be assessing science annually to evaluate effectiveness of curriculum and/or to monitor annual student progress (are students making a year’s worth of progress each year?).

If other states are only assessing students in science in grades five, eight, and eleven, what are the prospects for Iowa working with other states to develop a large-scale science assessment aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards? Surely other states won’t want to share the costs of developing assessments at other grade levels they won’t be using.

Without specific grade level standards for grades nine, ten, and eleven, how should the assessment developer determine which standards to assess on each grade level assessment?

Conversely, if the Iowa Legislature were, for instance, to determine that science should only be assessed statewide at grades five, eight, and eleven after all, does that undermine the work of having made Iowa-specific changes to the NGSS? [Questions: should we make changes in Iowa for the purpose of working with other states? If we don’t, does that affect comparability of state assessment results? How much does that actually matter?]

Where does that leave Iowa districts in evaluating science curriculum and tracking annual progress of students? Possibly with non-aligned standardized science assessments? Locally created assessments? [Questions: is it essential or important to track annual student progress in science or is it qualitatively different than math and reading? What does that mean for statewide STEM initiatives–does not measuring annually devalue science in any important respects? How many data points are needed to effectively evaluate curriculum?]

The assessment boundaries, not required in Iowa, are apparently meant to guide the development of large scale assessments. See, for instance, this example used by NGSS in the document linked in the preceding sentence [click to make larger]:

NGSS example

As the assessment boundaries are not required (not adopted as part of the standards), should they still be used to guide development of statewide assessments? If they are used to guide statewide assessments, does that make them, in effect, required anyway? If they aren’t used to guide development of the assessments, then what?

What is (or should be) the purpose of statewide assessment in Iowa–accountability for what to teach or for what and how to teach? If students are content proficient, how much does how they were taught matter from a statewide, rather than local, perspective?

Performance assessments are significantly costlier in time to administer and money (particularly in human scoring of constructed responses). That suggests assessment at grades five, eight, and eleven rather than annually–unless school districts suddenly receive a state funding windfall that covers all assessment costs plus added time in the year to make up for instructional hours lost to statewide assessment. Assuming no funding windfall, do we gain enough from performance assessments to justify either the diversion of additional time and money from instruction or the loss of annual data?

What am I missing–or misunderstanding? What else should I know–or should I be reading up on–for this next round of Assessment Task Force work?

Added (9/24): If we assess only grades 5, 8, and 11, what do we assess? Just grade level content (leaving grade level content for grades 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, and 10 unassessed) or assess grade bands (perhaps spending only 1/3 of each assessment on each grade level and covering fewer of the grade level standards)? What are the “teaching to the test” implications of either of these decisions?

One question answered: full K-12 implementation of the new science standards is expected for the 2018-2019 school year. Question: what to use for science assessment until that year and can an NGSS-aligned assessment be properly developed in time to be used beginning in that year (roughly three years out, and assessments may take four to five years to develop).