Category Archives: DE

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.

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Postsecondary Remedial Math Data

The Iowa Department of Education announced a new website today, Iowa’s Postsecondary Readiness Reports, which, among other things, is meant to report student enrollment in remedial math and English courses at two- and four-year postsecondary institutions. The website offers information by individual Iowa high school and by demographic groups.

Radio Iowa reports:

Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds says the report provides “more precise information” to help craft new policies and spending priorities.

But, as always, details matter, because the definition of remedial math is non-credit bearing math courses. Remedial math is not defined as retaking math courses already passed for credit at the high school level. Remedial math is not defined as having to take math courses that are pre-requisites for first year math courses for your major. Parents paying college prices for math courses already taken in high school might disagree with the State’s definition of “remedial.”

At the University of Iowa, credit bearing course work begins with College Algebra, even though many majors require students to be prepared to start with a pre-calculus or a calculus course. Only students placing into Basic Algebra will be counted as enrolling in a remedial math course. Consequently, the “more precise information” in these reports, don’t actually help school districts understand whether their students are having to retake math courses already passed at the high school or whether their students are really prepared to start with the first year math courses required for their selected majors. In short, the remedial course enrollment percentages will look the same for Iowa high schools that are preparing the majority of their students well for placement in calculus courses and those that are preparing the majority of their students for placement in College Algebra and Trigonometry courses.

This statistic, like high school graduation rates, isn’t difficult to game. We could drive remediation rates even lower by pressuring four-year institutions to grant credit for Basic Algebra, too. Despite all the talk about the importance of STEM education in Iowa, we still aren’t collecting (sharing?) the information we need to assess how well schools are preparing students for first year college math courses.

Curriculum Review and the School Board

Over at another blog about school, Chris asks what’s curriculum got to do with [the proficiency gap]?

I don’t know what the curricular options out there are, though, and I don’t pretend to have any special expertise in evaluating them. But at some point, if we are continually unhappy about the gaps we’re seeing in our students’ proficiency data, how should the board go about assuring itself that our curricular choices are not playing a role in the problem?

It seems to me that the board is in a difficult position. I don’t see how the board can independently reassure itself about curricular–and instructional–choices not playing a role in the problem of persistent proficiency gaps. The information and data the board needs to make that assessment, to the extent the district is collecting it, is entirely within the hands of the administration.

This means that it is the administration that must reassure the board that curricular and instructional choices are not playing a role in a proficiency gap. Is the administration providing adequate reassurance on this issue through the curriculum review process?

Consider the science curriculum review report presented to the board earlier this fall. Ask yourself how many of the listed strengths of the program have anything to do with whether students are actually learning science? [Hint: student enjoyment, activity, collaboration, and technology use are poor proxies for learning.] Ask yourself why there are proficiency gaps when teachers and administrators are in agreement that instruction is being differentiated to meet the needs of students in the classroom and what that means for the likelihood of them effectively evaluating whether curriculum and instruction plays a role in the proficiency gaps? Ask yourself whether there is any attempt to evaluate whether outside tutoring or parental help plays a significant role in determining how much science students are learning?

Whether or not you think the administration is providing adequate reassurance, this issue presents an interesting oversight problem for the board. How can the board effectively evaluate and direct the efforts of the superintendent with regard to curriculum and instruction if it is dependent upon the superintendent and his staff for information about the effectiveness of curriculum and instruction decisions made by the superintendent and his staff?

The most important thing for directors to do, I think, is to independently read up on curricular and instructional trends so that they can think critically and ask questions about the information presented to them by the administration. Directors won’t have time to become curriculum and instruction experts, but I don’t think they need to be experts to represent the community and hold the superintendent accountable for results. They just need to be willing to keep asking questions until they get the answers they need.

Compelling Stories

The Iowa Department of Education released draft Social Studies standards last month. Written by the Social Studies Standards Writing Team between January and June 2016, the draft standards are in the process of being reviewed by the Social Studies Standards Review Team, which met for the first time on November 8th.

The draft standards are self-described as “a bold step toward a vision of social studies for all of Iowa’s students.” Bold or not, the draft standards offer an impoverished vision of social studies, driven by skills rather than content knowledge in the disciplines of history, geography, economics, and government.

Skills driven standards can’t go out of fashion fast enough, in my opinion. Content knowledge is power. The power to think, to create, to apply, to evaluate, to understand, and the power to acquire more knowledge within a particular discipline. [See David Didau, for example, on the impossibility of separating skills from knowledge.]

These standards fail to effectively outline much in the way of content knowledge students should acquire (more on this in a bit), but, also, having turned away from content driven standards, the Social Studies Studies Writing Team has apparently determined that the purpose of social studies education in Iowa is to develop the “civic competence” of students instead of building their content knowledge.

From the introduction of the draft standards:

Preparing students for the 21st century cannot be accomplished without a strong emphasis on the social studies. The founders of our country emphasized that the vitality and security of a democracy depends upon the education and willingness of its citizens to participate actively in society. This level of participation requires civic competence. In other words, it is imperative that our future generations gain an understanding of the core concepts of social studies. Life in the United States within our democratic system is constantly changing which creates varying social circumstances. As a result, citizens need to adapt to such changes in order to sustain vital democratic traditions. Meeting this need is the mission of the social studies.

As we work to carry on the ideals of the founders, we are compelled to revisit our fundamental beliefs and institutions and to construct new social contexts and relationships. The Iowa Core in Social Studies reflects the belief that the informed social studies student comprehends and applies to personal and public experiences the core content perspectives of the many academic fields of the social studies. Our entire social experiences, as well as our republic, are established upon the principles of individual citizenship. Therefore, it is necessary to pay attention to the education of those future citizens.

The Iowa Core for Social Studies is premised upon a rigorous and relevant K – 12 social studies program. Engaging students in the pursuit of active informed citizenship will require a broad range of understandings and skills. It will also require an articulated district curriculum which connects students to the social world through informed instructional experiences led by teachers who are committed to active civic participation. This represents a bold step toward a vision of social studies for all of Iowa’s students.

If the problem isn’t immediately apparent, let’s take a look at the inquiry anchor standard taking informed action. Under the draft standards, Kindergarten students are expected to “[t]ake group or individual action to help address local, regional, and/or global problems (e.g., letters to the editor, public service announcement, community service projects, and posters).”

While I agree with the writing team that education is important to prepare students for whatever civic engagement they choose to pursue, there is an important distinction to be made between teaching the relevant content of history, geography, economics, and government that could form the foundation of civic participation and directing that actual civic participation under the guise of developing civic competence.

Setting aside that Kindergarteners seem unlikely to possess the skills and knowledge to craft effective letters to the editor, we’re talking about state actors directing students to make political speech and take other political action. I can’t see any way for this to be done in a content and viewpoint neutral way. It seems like this should have been an obvious problem for a group purporting to carry on the work of the Founders, but apparently it wasn’t.

As an alternative, I’d like to see Iowa develop history-driven (chronological order, please) content standards (see, as an example, South Carolina’s 2005 social studies standards). Through the study of history, students have the opportunity to learn about the structure of our government institutions and the reasons why our government institutions are structured the way they are. In addition, our history is full of compelling stories of political action and movements that have shaped our nation–the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, the abolitionist movement, the temperance movement, the women’s suffrage movement, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, and more. These stories can help students build the foundational knowledge of civic competence while leaving them to make their own choices about their own political activity.

Unfortunately, the draft standards are weak on any specific historical content knowledge.  Compare Iowa’s draft 4th grade standards with South Carolina’s 2005 4th grade standards. Or Iowa’s draft 8th grade standards (US history) with South Carolina’s 2005 4th and 5th grade standards (US history). I’ll leave it to you to determine which standards are more likely to result in students prepared “to bring to bear the complex and sophisticated ways of thinking utilized by historians when thinking historically.”

Another mistake, I think, is the decision of the writing team to try to embed Iowa history throughout the K-12 standards. If Iowa history were assigned to a particular grade level, then the University of Iowa Press and IPTV have us covered for teaching materials.

All in all, I’d like to see the review team to recommend a substantial, content-driven rewrite of the draft standards but have no expectation that will happen.

Update on Rules to Adopt SBAC in Iowa [updated]

In November 2015, the State Board of Education adopted rules to adopt the Smarter Balanced assessments as the statewide assessment for Iowa beginning with the 2016-2017 school year. Today the Administrative Rules Review Committee apparently put a session delay on implementation of those rules [ARC 2312C]. ADDED: Find the minutes of the discussion here.

A session delay is one of the powers the Administrative Rules Review Committee may exercise over agency rulemaking:

The session delay. The ARRC may delay the effective date of a rule until the adjournment of the next session of the General Assembly. The committee refers the delayed rule to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate. The rule is then forwarded to the appropriate standing committee for study and possible legislative action {§17A.8(10)}.

This means that the new rules will not be effective January 13, 2016. What action the Legislature will take, if any, to rescind or block these rules remains to be seen as Rep. Jorgensen, chair of the House Education Committee, appears to be supportive of the Smarter Balanced assessments. Still, this is an interesting turn of events.

Also of interest, given that the Governor’s office has been supportive of the Smarter Balanced assessments, is another power of the Iowa Legislature:

The legislative veto. Under the Iowa Constitution the General Assembly has an independent power to rescind any administrative rule The process known as nullification is identical to the enactment of a bill, requiring an absolute majority vote in each chamber, except that it does not require the signature of the Governor (Iowa Constitution, Art. III, section 40).

Update: I hear the vote was 10-0. Members of the Administrative Rules Review Committee are:

  • Rep. Pettengill, Chair (R-Benton)
  • Sen. Horn, Vice Chair (D-Linn)
  • Sen. Chelgren (R-Wapello)
  • Sen. Costello (R-Mills)
  • Sen. Courtney (D-Des Moines)
  • Sen. Jochum [President of the Iowa Senate](D-Dubuque)
  • Rep. Heddens (D-Story)
  • Rep. Jones (R-Clay)
  • Rep. Olson (D-Polk)
  • Rep. Vander Linden (R-Mahaska)

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.

Home School Students and Third Grade Reading Rules

Here is the latest guidance from the DE on universal screening assessments, required by the third grade reading and retention laws, and students enrolled in home school assistance programs (HSAP) and dual-enrollment students.

In short, the DE is now saying that districts should offer the universal screening assessments and services, but should not compel HSAP or dual-enrollment students to participate in the universal screening assessments or services.