Category Archives: CommonCore

New Leadership for the House Ed Committee

The Speaker of the Iowa House released the list of chairs and vice-chairs of House committees today.

The House Education Committee will have new leadership, with Walt Rogers (R-Black Hawk) to serve as chair, with Greg Forristall (R-Pottawattamie) to serve as vice-chair.

Rogers is an interesting choice. The 87th General Assembly will be Rogers’ fourth term in the Iowa House, only one of which–the 85th General Assembly–included an assignment to the House Education Committee. Bills previously co-sponsored by Rogers relating to standards and assessment include:

  • HF 2140 [85th GA] which would have renamed the Iowa statewide academic standards as “Iowa content standards”(removing “common core” designations, among others) and made the statewide academic standards voluntary. [Bill did not advance out of subcommittee and was subsequently withdrawn at the request of Jorgensen (R-Woodbury), current chair of the House Education Committee.]
  • HF 2141 [85th GA] which would have struck Iowa Code 256.7(21)(b)(2) and required the Director of the Iowa Department of Education to take action to exit the Smarter Balanced Assessments Consortium. [Died in subcommittee.]
  • HF 2053 [86th GA] which would have prohibited the State Board of Education from adopting rules to adopt a statewide assessment other than the Iowa Assessments without legislative approval. [Died in subcommittee.]
  • HF 2054 [86th GA] which would have prohibited the State Board of Education from adopting the Next Generation Science Standards and would have required legislative approval of proposed changes from the Iowa Core science standards in use during the 2014-15 school year. [Died in subcommittee.]
  • HF 2290 [86th GA] which would have delayed the implementation of new assessment requirements by one year. [Died in subcommittee, but the one-year delay became part of SF 2323. The Governor signed the delay, but vetoed the portions of SF 2323 that would have suspended the rule adopted by the State Board of Education to adopt the Smarter Balanced Assessments.]

The 87th General Assembly will be Forristall’s sixth term in the Iowa House. Forristall has served on the House Education Committee during all of his tenure in the Iowa House. Forristall served as Chair of the House Education Committee during the 84th General Assembly which passed SF 2284, fixing the Iowa Assessments as the statewide assessments for Iowa.


DE and State Board Links

The State Board of Education is scheduled to meet next week, Thursday, August 6th. The agenda items include the minutes of the June meeting (see the assessment discussion notes beginning here) and a recommendation to take action on the assessment recommendations of the Iowa Assessment Task Force. The exact nature of the recommended action for this particular meeting is unclear, as there currently is no further explanation, and no attachments or notices of intended action.

The Legislative Services Agency released an audit report on the DE today.

Two former directors of the Iowa DE were featured in an EdWeek article on state chiefs leaving to work as school district superintendents, Old Hands, New Hurdles: State Chiefs Who Take Local Reins. Readers may be interested in Jason Glass’s description of how his views shifted during his time in Iowa or Brad Buck’s reasons for leaving the DE, including these comments:

Iowa’s decision to decommit from giving the Smarter Balanced exam aligned to the common core, as well as Gov. Terry Branstad’s shifting public pronouncements on the common core itself, bothered Mr. Buck.

Smarter Balanced Assessments 37


Journalists have been getting an inside look at the process for hand scoring common core exams in recent months:

  • EdSource, on Educational Testing Service’s work scoring SBAC exams in California.
  • EdWeek, on scoring PARCC and SBAC exams, and Pearson’s work scoring PARCC exams in Columbus. [Note the Pearson’s scoring speed expectations: “Those reviewing 3rd grade math, for instance, are expected to score 50 to 80 answers per hour, while raters for 3rd and 4th grade English/language arts responses are expected to complete 20 to 40 per hour, and those scoring high school English/language arts responses are expected to complete 18 to 19 per hour, Pearson officials said.” ]
  • The New York Times, on scoring PARCC and SBAC exams, and Pearson’s work scoring PARCC exams in San Antonio.

In scoring related news, see The Seattle Times on unexplained delays in SBAC scoring, resulting in student scores not being available three weeks after completion of testing as promised (HT: Truth in American Education).


Here is what SBAC reports might look like, courtesy of the California Department of Education, by way of EdSource:

The graphic above shows a sample pre-SBAC report, with sample SBAC reports shown below. The Iowa Assessment reports I receive contain more information than any of these sample reports. College and career readiness information won’t be available until eighth grade (see SBAC models here, HT: Joanne Jacobs).

Technical glitches and participation rates.

EdWeek reports that following technical glitches this spring, only 37% of Nevada students and 76% of Montana students completed computer-based SBAC tests in ELA and math, and only 88% of North Dakota students completed paper or computer-based SBAC tests.

As for participation by states in SBAC, EdWeek reports that Missouri and Maine are dropping the Smarter Balanced assessments, and Connecticut may no longer require high school juniors to take the Smarter Balanced assessments.

The Long and Winding Road to the Smarter Balanced Assessments

The second funnel deadline for the Iowa Legislature is today and neither of the assessment bills (HF 446 or SF 429) will survive it. So despite the zealous advocacy of the Assessment Task Force, the State Board of Education, and the Education Coalition (Iowa Association of School Boards, School Administrators of Iowa, Iowa Area Education Agencies, Iowa State Education Association, Urban Education Network of Iowa, and Rural School Advocates of Iowa) and who knows who else, it appears that the Iowa Legislature will take no action regarding statewide assessments this session.

How did we get here: the executive branch loves SBAC, the legislative branch loves it not (apparently).

Governor Branstad, then State Board of Education President Rosie Hussey, and then DE Director Jason Glass signed off on making Iowa an SBAC governing state in June 2011. The letter requesting the change in status updated the SBAC MOU originally signed by Governor Chet Culver, interim DE Director Kevin Fangman, and Rosie Hussey in June 2010. The MOU contains the following language with regard to the Smarter Balanced Assessments: “The purpose of [the SBAC MOU] is to . . . (h) Bind each State in the Consortium to every statement and assurance made in the application . . . ” and “Each State that is a member of the Consortium in 2014-2015 also agrees to the following: . . . Fully implement statewide the Consortium summative assessment in grades 3-8 and high school for both mathematics and English language arts no later than the 2014-2015 school year, . . . .”

Thus, it would appear that the executive branch had committed Iowa to implementing the Smarter Balanced assessments during the 2014-2015 school year.

However, 2012 brought SF 2284, Division II of which fixed the Iowa Assessments as the statewide assessments for Iowa.  The state board was permitted to submit recommendations for modifying the assessment, but legislative action would be required to adopt the Smarter Balanced Assessments.  [SF 2284 is found in Chapter 1119 of the 2012 Acts and Joint Resolutions, which begins on page 434.  Division II of SF 2284 is on page 435.]

2013 brought further changes with HF 215, Division V of which allowed for a successor assessment administered by the same assessment provider (Iowa Testing Programs) and modified the assessment requirements as follows:  Beginning with the 2016-17 school year, districts will be required to administer assessments to all students enrolled in grades three through eleven.  The assessments shall be administered during the last quarter of the school year, must be aligned with the Iowa common core standards, must accurately describe student achievement and growth for accountability purposes, and must measure student progress toward college or career readiness. [HF 215 is found in Chapter 121 of the 2013 Acts and Joint Resolutions. Division V begins on page 13.]

HF 215 also directed the director of the DE to establish an assessment task force to review and make recommendations for a statewide assessment of student progress. The task force began working in October 2013.

Meanwhile, some Iowa schools participated in SBAC pilot tests in spring 2013 and SBAC field tests in spring 2014.

In July 2014, Governor Branstad and DE Director Brad Buck sent a joint letter to SBAC, stating in part:

How to best measure the academic performance of Iowa students is an important conversation under way in Iowa. The Iowa Assessment Taskforce established by the 2013 Iowa Legislature has been studying the state’s academic assessment needs, including past, present and future options for accountability. Taskforce recommendations are expected by Jan. 1, 2015.

To honor the work of the taskforce, Iowa will not sign a new Memorandum of Understanding with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium as requested.

The Assessment Task Force submitted a report and recommendations, including a recommendation that the Smarter Balanced assessments be adopted as the statewide assessment of student progress in mathematics and reading, on December 31, 2014.

In February 2015, the State Board of Education endorsed the Assessment Task Force recommendation to adopt the Smarter Balanced assessments.

Senate and House assessment bills (HF 446 and SF 429) were passed out of respective education committees earlier this session so that the assessment issue would survive the first funnel deadline. Meetings about the statewide assessment issue were held by the Senate Education Committee and the House Education Committee on March 18th and 25th.

And then, somewhat unexpectedly, though questions about the effect of a delay had been raised, legislators have taken no further action and the assessment bills, as noted above, are effectively dead for this session. One might assume that legislative support was insufficient to assure passage of a bill adopting the Smarter Balanced assessments at this time.

What happens now: your guess is as good as mine.

It is too soon to despair or rejoice (depending upon your preferred assessment outcome) as there may yet be a path to Smarter Balanced assessments in Iowa. (District IT staff may want to go ahead and despair the uncertainty and lack of additional funding for school technology infrastructure). Here are a few scenarios to consider:

One: After time to think, twist arms, or otherwise make sausage, legislators return in January 2016 and vote to adopt the Smarter Balanced assessments–either for the 2016-2017 school year or with a delay to give districts more than a few months notice to get prepared for computer-based assessments.

Or two: The State Board of Education adopts the Smarter Balanced assessments through the administrative rule-making process–either in 2015, risking a legislative backlash that undoes the adoption of the Smarter Balanced assessments in January 2016, or after the 2016 session.

The (unsubstantiated) word is that there is a legal theory being floated that the State Board of Education or the DE has the authority to choose a new assessment if the Legislature fails to act.

I haven’t yet heard the details of the theory, so I won’t comment on the quality of it, but I do think there is an argument to be made that the Legislature has acted on this issue. The Legislature directed the State Board of Education to adopt rules to make the Iowa Assessments or a successor assessment administered by the same assessment provider (ITP) the statewide assessment of student progress on the core academic indicators of mathematics, reading, and science. The successor assessment that will be administered by the same assessment provider (the Next Generation Iowa Assessments) meets the minimum legal requirements that take effect for the 2016-2017 school year. No conflict, no further action by the Legislature needed.

A Few Links

Too many tabs open, too little time to blog:

Save Hoover is preparing for the 2015 ICCSD school board election.

Smarter Balanced Assessments

Matt Townsley on implications for Iowa school leaders if the Iowa Legislature adopts the Smarter Balanced Assessments.

From EdWeek: Michigan plans to blend state generated test items with Smarter Balanced Assessments items.

From EdWeek: Washington State Universities Will Use Smarter Balanced Test Scores for Placement.

From EdWeek: SBAC challenged as an “illegal interstate compact” in Missouri, challengers win a temporary restraining order to stop SBAC membership payments.

Common Core Assessments

Peter Greene on common core assessments: “when reformsters say that test results tell us how students are doing on these standards, they are big lying liars who lie large lies.”


Andrew Campbell on Five Reasons You Shouldn’t Use Technology In The Classroom.

Palisadesk commenting at Joanne Jacobs’ post All teachers are not the same:

I’m pretty fast and efficient at a lot of the paperwork but it doesn’t do itself. Ironically, instead of tech tools making it easier to do, they have just multiplied the number of “accountability” and assessment and reporting obligations to a prodigious extent, so that instead of spending less time, we are spending exponentially more on tasks that have marginal relationship to teaching students and helping them learn.

@stepfordTO at Parenting is Political on The Debate about Digital Literacy: Moral Panics, Contradictions and Assumptions.

From EdWeek: Federal Study Probes Readiness of 4th Graders for Computer-Based Writing Tests.

From EdWeek: FBI Seizes Records of Los Angeles District’s Massive iPad Purchase.

School Policing

From EdWeek: Obama Order May Result in More Training for School Police Who Get Military Gear. EdWeek had more details about the military surplus program in September, reporting that:

Surplus equipment provided to police in districts as large as the 654,000-student Los Angeles school system includes M-14 and M-16 rifles, extended magazines, automatic pistols, armored plating, tactical vests, SWAT gear, Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected, or MRAP, vehicles, and grenade launchers, which are used by police agencies to deploy tear gas and smoke in crowd-control situations.


From The Gazette: Branstad expects a ‘challenging’ state budget cycle.

[N]early $500 million in built-in and anticipated spending increases could drive net state appropriations to $7.43 billion in fiscal 2016. That figure does not include new money in state aid for K-12 school beyond teacher upgrades under education reform commitments or increased compensation for state employees.

From the Iowa DE: Iowa’s Teacher Leadership and Compensation system is expected to have an annual cost of $150 million when all districts are participating.

New Iowa Core Website

The Iowa Department of Education has launched a new Iowa Core website.

The website includes a series of parent’s guides to the Iowa Core for kindergarten through grade eight, and high school.

The educator resources page includes links to Iowa Core mathematics support materials, which include documents explaining the Iowa Core mathematics content shifts from prior practice for high school and grades six through eight, and content and practice shifts for kindergarten through grade five. At first glance, these documents look more accessible than reading the standards themselves, at least for understanding how things might be changing under the Iowa Core, as well as for understanding how the Iowa DE is interpreting the the common core standards.

The educator resources also include a link to the IowaLearns digital library of teaching and learning resources, thousands of which are available to the general public through a guest login.

With the inclusion of an Iowa Core Spotlight containing statements from Iowa Core supporters, the new website is clearly intended to promote a positive view of the Iowa Core, but it does seem to be an improvement over prior websites in terms of pulling Iowa Core resources together, in a way that they may be more easily found.



If This Is Close Reading, Count Us Out

Dan Willingham recently addressed close reading in a column at Real Clear Education, in which he noted that ““Close reading” has become strongly associated with the Common Core State Standards, as it’s touted as the reading technique that will allow students to get out of texts what they are meant to (and hence, score well on Common Core-aligned assessments).”

Willingham’s commentary focuses on close reading treating texts as if they are self-contained, ultimately concluding:

Still, it seems a valid question to ask whether this artificial type of reading is likely to be useful in students’ ongoing work in and out of the classroom. Except in very restricted academic settings — that is, among people who like close reading — it’s not obvious to me how this sort of reading will serve students well.

Careful study of language, focus on the author’s words, assumption that rereading pays off: yes. Excluding knowledge outside of the text: no.

So I was interested to find a video and other materials on close reading in an online collection of professional development materials meant to assist teachers in implementing the Common Core. Unfortunately, user agreements for that collection prohibit sharing of those materials on any other websites. Fortunately, the owners of the video have also made it available on YouTube, making it possible to share it with you here.

This video shows portions of a lesson devoted to a close reading of the story of the inventors of Magic Rocks. Comments during the lesson, and in the companion video showing the class during an earlier close reading lesson (embedded below), indicate that the students have been closely reading a series of stories on the inventors of toys including Silly Putty, Twister, Lego, Mr. Potato Head, and Slinky. Students are apparently (according to the companion video) supposed to be determining “what character traits are essential to being an inventor” in addition to using their close reading skills.

I don’t disagree with Willingham’s conclusion above that there are problems with treating texts as self-contained and, as I was reviewing the videos, I was particularly struck by this image from the first video:

close reading unknown words

Although the teacher acknowledges the use of background knowledge during several points in these videos, these students are not being directed to use dictionaries (or glossaries, for that matter) to determine the meaning of unknown words (perhaps because they exist outside of the text?). This strikes me, as a person who still keeps dictionaries conveniently located near the places I tend to sit and read, as an enormous disservice to these students. This disservice is evident in the second video (1:34 to 4:33) in which the teacher pretends not to understand the word stabilizing but guesses at its meaning through the root “sta-” meaning to stand or to stay and the reading of several more sentences of the text indicating that ships pitch, plunge, and rock every which way. It is also evident in the nonsensical discussion she has with a student in the first video (beginning at 1:10) in which she leads the child to explain that he has determined that the word composition (used in the phrase “chemical composition”) means formula because the other words nearby include “study” and “microscope.” Umm, obviously.

In any case, skilled use of a dictionary could resolve the matter of unknown words in short order while the students could be reminded to use context to choose which definition of a word the author meant (see, for example, the use of the word “pitch” above).

But these videos raise other issues for me as well.

First, if reading logs didn’t already make your child think reading is a tedious chore, close reading just might convince them. My eight year old couldn’t look away from the first video but also commented throughout, “I could not go to that school. It is like a meeting, a boring meeting.”

Second, the fact that the students in these videos appear to be absolutely engaged by close reading seems to me to be a testament to the capacity of many children to be compliant. But these children are engaged with the close reading of what strikes me as absolutely trivial material. Multiple class periods devoted to the study of toy inventors is a waste of instructional time that could be devoted to much less trivial content. This is a real problem when skills are elevated over content. It may also be a sign of disrespect to child readers, who may have been assumed to be incapable of interest in more substantial topics in history, including the biographies of inventors whose inventions have substantially affected human history and/or civilization.