Category Archives: instructional time

“Our children are worth it.”

Mary Ellen Miller, member of the Iowa State Board of Education, keeps defending the decision to move forward with adopting the Smarter Balanced assessments by saying, “Our children are worth it.

I have not heard a single critic of the Smarter Balanced assessments in Iowa say that our children aren’t worth it. The issue isn’t the inherent worth of Iowa’s school children, the issue is whether the Smarter Balanced assessments are worth it, whatever “it” is. And “it” is whatever districts will need to cut from their budgets to pay for the additional costs of the Smarter Balanced assessments.

Heads up, ICCSD school board candidates. Here’s what Chief Academic Officer Becky Furlong had to say about how adoption of the Smarter Balanced assessments could affect the district:

However, she said the Smarter Balanced tests could have a major impact on ICCSD.

Furlong said the new exams cost more than the current Iowa Assessments, and that the district might struggle with a lack of bandwidth to administer them. She said students who aren’t familiar with online tests also might be at a disadvantage.

“There are some legitimate concerns,” she said.

Furlong said she hopes the Department of Education will provide adequate time, funding and professional development to districts to successfully implement the new tests.

Of course, the DE doesn’t appropriate money for schools, that’s up to the Iowa Legislature. And while Miller may be of the opinion that it would be “easy” for the Legislature to find the money, the 2015 legislative session suggests otherwise.


School Start Dates [updated]

The DE has released a five-page document providing guidance to districts on school state date waivers.

Applications for the 2015-2016 school year are due no later than March 15. For future school years, the waiver application will be due by November 1, with decision-notification no later than January 15.

A school district (or accredited nonpublic school or independently accredited school)  seeking a waiver bears the burden of proving that compliance with the start date law would have a significant negative educational impact and this document offers guidance on the type of evidence the director may consider.

The most important guidance is the list of reasons for a waiver that will not be considered to constitute a significant negative educational impact:

  • claimed adverse effect based on personal anecdotes, opinion pieces, or advocacy position papers (the director will consider whether scientifically based research or other peer-reviewed research supports the claim and will consider valid and reliable measures of local academic achievement and/or learning environment that demonstrate negative educational impact);
  • adverse effect that can be resolved or remedied through other means;
  • extra-curricular scheduling (schedules will adjust to accommodate start dates);
  • PSEO or local college calendars (students are not prohibited from attending college courses prior to the allowed K-12 start date);
  • completion of first semester before winter break (move to an hours-based calendar and fit the semester’s worth of hours in before the break);
  • professional development for teachers (allowed to take place before the instructional start date);
  • snow days (did we mention hours-based calendars?);
  • bus scheduling (revise your schedules/contracts); or
  • other rationales not related to academic achievement, instruction and/or learning environment.

I’m not sure what local district officials had planned for their waiver application, but I would be surprised to see any waivers granted. And I’m not the only one:

Of course, there is plenty of time for the Iowa Legislature to take action on this issue. HF 13, which would eliminate the start date limitation altogether has bipartisan support. The Senate Education Committee has a similar proposed bill, HSB 1058, which would also eliminate the start date limitation but adds language indicating that the determination of the start date be “based on the best educational interests of the students.” The subcommittee for this bill is a bit larger than usual, with five members: Bowman (D-Jackson), Hart (D-Clinton), Wilhelm (D-Howard), Sinclair (R-Wayne), and Johnson (R-Osceola). Note that Senator Johnson represents Okoboji and the Okoboji Tourism Committee has already registered against this bill, as well as HF 13.

Yet another bill addressing the school start date issue was filed yesterday in the Iowa Senate and referred to the education committee. SF 47 by Feenstra (R-Sioux) takes a different approach. It would set August 15 as the earliest permissible start date and June 15 as the latest permissible end date. Schools maintaining a year-round three semester school calendar would be exempted from this requirement and the penalty provision for impermissibly early starts. This bill would also eliminate DE authority to issue start date waivers.

Iowa City schools held the first day of classes for the 2014-2015 school year on August 19 and have proposed the same start date for the 2015-2016 school year (but almost certainly start on August 31 instead). Apparently other schools started earlier, but the August 15 date would be closer to actual start dates schools have been using than the September 1 date.

The Okoboji Tourism Committee, the Travel Federation of Iowa, and the Iowa State Fair have already registered against SF 47.

Update: there has been some interest on Twitter about the early start date penalty. Iowa Code 257.17 calls for a 1/180th reduction in state aid payments for each day of school held before the earliest permissible start date unless the school or district has been granted a start date waiver.

Legislative Update 1/18

There are currently twenty bills in the House Education Committee:

  • HF 5 by Fisher (R-Tama) relating to adding the position of principal to the category of operational functions that receive supplementary weighting. [Subcommittee: Dolecheck (R-Ringgold), Fry (R-Clarke), and Ruff (D-Clayton).]
  • HF 12 by Wessel-Kroeschell (D-Story) relating to the establishment of an academic coaching endorsement (to coach students and work with other practitioners to improve student academic performance and progress) by the BOEE. [Subcommittee: Koester (R-Polk), Abdul-Samad (D-Polk), and Mommsen (R-Clinton).]
  • HF 13 by Jorgensen (R-Woodbury) and twelve co-sponsors eliminating the school start date limitation and related waiver and penalty provisions. [Subcommittee: Forristall (R-Pottawattamie), Stanerson (R-Linn), and Winckler (D-Scott).] The Iowa Catholic Conference, School Administrators of Iowa, and the Iowa Association of School Boards are registered in favor of the bill. The Iowa Lodging Association, the Iowa Restaurant Association, the Association of Iowa Fairs, the Okoboji Tourism Committee, and the Travel Federation of Iowa are registered against the bill.
  • HF 36 by Hunter (D-Polk) establishing a worker shortage loan forgiveness program.
  • HSB 7 proposed by the BOEE making a statutory correction regarding the employment of the executive director of the BOEE. [Subcommittee: Gassman (R-Winnebago), Brown-Powers (D-Black hawk), and Salmon (R-Black Hawk).]
  • HSB 8 proposed by the BOEE relating to timelines for investigating complaints and determining probable cause. [Subcommittee: Gassman (R-Winnebago), Highfill (R-Polk), and Staed (D-Linn).] The Iowa State Education Association is registered against this bill.
  • HSB 9 proposed by the DE relating to licensure of childcare programs operated or contracted for by a school district or accredited nonpublic school. This is the prefiled bill that would leave DHS the sole agency authorized to license childcare programs, including before and after school programs. [Subcommittee: Fry (R-Clarke), Mascher (D-Johnson), and Salmon (R-Black Hawk).] The Visiting Nurse Services of Iowa and YMCA State Alliance are registered in favor of this bill.
  • HSB 10 proposed by the College Student Aid Commission relating to the duties of the college student aid commission. [Subcommittee: Forristall (R-Pottawattamie), Stanerson (R-Linn), and Winckler (D-Scott).]
  • HSB 11 proposed by the DE relating to the duties and authority of the state board of education and the DE, a prefiled bill blogged about in more detail here. [Subcommittee: Hanusa (R-Pottawattamie), Gassman (R-Winnebago), and Ruff (D-Clayton).]
  • HSB 12 proposed by the DE relating to eligibility requirements for the gap tuition assistance program. [Subcommittee: Byrnes (R-Mitchell), Gaines (D-Polk), and Mommsen (R-Clinton).]
  • HSB 13 proposed by the DE establishing an Iowa principal leadership institute advisory council. [Subcommittee: Dolecheck (R-Ringgold), Mommsen (R-Clinton), and Staed (D-Linn).]
  • HSB 14 proposed House Committee on Education bill relating to interstate reciprocity agreements enter into, administered, or recognized by the college student aid commission. [Subcommittee: Stanerson (R-Linn), Salmon (R-Black Hawk), and Winckler (D-Scott).]
  • HSB 15 proposed House Committee on Education bill relating to the limitation on the annual amount of an Iowa tuition grant paid to a qualified student, removing the $5,000 cap. [Subcommittee: Stanerson (R-Linn), Brown-Powers (D-Black Hawk), and Dolecheck (R-Ringgold).]
  • HSB 16 proposed by the DE making districts receiving teacher leadership supplemental aid payments ineligible to also receive payments under the beginning teacher mentoring and induction program. [Subcommittee: Dolecheck (R-Ringgold), Highfill (R-Polk), and Steckman (D-Cerro Gordo).] The Iowa State Education Association is registered against this bill.
  • HSB 17 proposed House Committee on Education bill relating to transitional coaching authorizations issued by the BOEE. [Subcommittee: Gassman (R-Winnebago), Byrnes (R-Mitchell), and Hanson D-Jefferson).]
  • HSB 18 proposed by the DE relating to payment of costs for educational services for children residing in certain psychiatric hospitals or institutions. Among other provisions, this bill would appear to relieve the district of residence of the responsibility to pay tuition for children placed in psychiatric hospitals or institutions voluntarily by parents. [Subcommittee: Fry (R-Clarke), Cohoon (D-Des Moines), and Koester (R-Polk).]
  • HSB 19 proposed House Committee on Education bill requesting a legislative interim committee to evaluate use of SAVE funds, consider proposals for additional or alternative uses of SAVE funds, and consider and extension of the repeal date (423F.6 currently sets the repeal date for December 31, 2029). [Subcommittee: Highfill (R-Polk), Hanson (D-Jefferson), and Jones (R-Clay).]
  • HSB 36 proposed by the BOEE relating to information the BOEE is required to review regarding applicants for license renewal. [Subcommittee: Mommsen (R-Clinton), Abdul-Samad (D-Polk), and Koester (R-Polk).]
  • HSB 38 proposed House Committee on Education bill relating to certain costs under the statewide preschool program. [Subcommittee: Koester (R-Polk), Hanusa (R-Pottawattamie), and Mascher (D-Johnson).]
  • HSB 39 proposed by the Governor. This is the “Bully Free Iowa Act of 2015”. [Subcommittee: Stanerson (R-Linn), Byrnes (R-Mitchell), and Mascher (D-Johnson).]

There are currently five bills in the Senate Education Committee, three of which were prefiled by Johnson and blogged about in more detail here:

  • SF 4 by Johnson (R-Osceola) relating to open enrollment of students in online learning programs. [Subcomittee: Dvorsky (D-Johnson), Johnson (R-Osceola), and Quirmbach (D-Story).] The Iowa State Education Association is registered against this bill.
  • SF 5 by Johnson (R-Osceola) authorizing the executive director of the BOEE to waive subject assessment requirements for teacher licensure. [Subcomittee: Dvorsky (D-Johnson), Johnson (R-Osceola), and Quirmbach (D-Story).]
  • SF 6 by Johnson (R-Osceola) relating to dropout prevention programs and funding. [Subcommittee: Quirmbach (D-Story), Hogg (D-Linn), and Johnson (R-Osceola).]
  • SF 16 by Zaun (R-Polk) repealing the Iowa Core Curriculum. [Subcomittee: Dvorsky (D-Johnson), Quirmbach (D-Story), and Zaun (R-Polk).] The School Administrators of Iowa, the Iowa State Education Association, the Greater Des Moines Partnership, and the Iowa Chamber Alliance are registered against this bill.
  • SF 17 by Sodders (D-Marshall), upon quick inspection this bill looks to be identical to HF 5, though they are not currently listed as related bills. [Subcommittee: Bowman (D-Jackson), Schoenjahn (D-Fayette), and Sinclair (R-Wayne).]

Defining Over-testing

Michael Petrelli, at Flypaper, writes approvingly of the Ohio State Superintendent’s recommendation to limit testing time to two percent of instructional time, and test preparation to one percent of instructional time.* He seems to suggest that this is reasonable and therefore, by definition, not over-testing.

This strikes me as an argument similar to arguments that spending for testing–or any other program at issue–only represents X% of the budget, as a reason for doing it. It is good to know how much time and money is being spent, and may even be useful to know how it fits into the big picture, but that only gives us a sense of the cost piece of the cost-benefit analysis, not the benefit piece.

So, off the top of my head this afternoon, I would suggest that the use of tests that serve no educational purpose for the students might be, by definition, over-testing. The use of tests with poor reliability might be, by definition, over-testing. The use of tests that are longer than necessary to acquire results adequate for the stated educational purpose might be, by definition, over-testing. And this could be true even if the tests themselves fit within the “reasonable” two percent of instructional time.

*In Iowa (based on a 1080 hour school year), this would amount to 21.6 hours for testing and another 10.8 hours for test preparation, for a total of 32.4 hours per year. [Note: students on a fifteen minute lunch schedule have 45 hours per year for lunch.] The graphic below depicts assessments, many of them standardized, that Iowa students may be expected to take throughout their K-12 careers.

System of Assessment

Legislative Update 1/7

The 2015 legislative session starts in five days and the DE has prefiled two more proposed bills.

The first would end the DE’s involvement in oversight of child care programs and before and after school programs operated or contracted by school districts or accredited nonpublic schools. This bill would leave DHS as the sole state agency responsible for licensing these programs.

The second is a technical corrections and efficiencies bill. This bill would make changes to the program for attending school out of the state [282.8](for Iowa students for whom schools across the state line are closer than the public school of residence), whole grade sharing agreements [282.10], open enrollment [282.18], and budget adjustment [257.14].

This bill would repeal the teacher exchange program [256.7(15), 279.55-279.57], pilot projects to improve instructional programs [256.19], and the requirement that local school boards, if they participate in local, regional, and national organizations, annually report to the local community and the DE the amount the board pays in annual dues, the amount of fees paid and revenue or dividend payments received for services the board receives from the organization, and the products or services the school district received inclusive with membership in the organization [279.38A].

The bill would also strike the following duties of the director of the DE: to print in book form all school laws every four years [256.9(26)] and distribute annually any amendments or changes in the school laws as prescribed in subsection 26 [256.9(27)]; to develop a model written publications code including reasonable provisions for the regulation of the time, place, and manner of student expression [256.9(36)]; to administer the teacher exchange program [256.9(40)]; to submit an annual report to the general assembly by January 1 regarding activities, findings, and student progress under the Iowa Core Curriculum [256.9(54)] (question: is this the annual condition of education report?); and, to report to the general assembly annually about the necessity of waiving any statutory obligations for school districts due to a disaster [256.9(59)].

The bill would also strike the requirement for the DE to annually report statewide progress on student achievement scores in mathematics and reading at the fourth and eighth grade levels on a district-by-district basis, evaluator training program, and changes and improvements in evaluation of teachers under the Iowa teaching standards [284.12]. 284.12 would be further amended to change the requirement for the DE, in developing administrative rules for consideration by the state board, to consult with specified persons to instead consult with stakeholders who might reasonably be affected by the proposed rule.

It might be more efficient to remove reporting requirements, but that doesn’t seem to be a move towards maintaining or improving government transparency. It makes sense to end requirements to provide print copies if the DE will still be required to make electronic copies of the same materials available. And, if the reporting requirement results in annual reports that there is nothing to report (maybe there aren’t many disasters that require waivers, for example) or the reported information is also reported in another required report, it might make sense to repeal the reporting requirement. But if these changes are meant to allow the DE and local school boards to operate with less transparency, I am not in favor of that. If anyone better understands these changes, please explain in a comment.

According to my Twitter feed, anti-bullying legislation and school start dates, plus supplemental state aid are the big education issues. We will see if assessment and broadband upgrades for schools rate a mention in Governor Branstad’s Condition of the State address on Tuesday, January 13 at 10:00 am.

Also learned on Twitter today:


School Start Dates

I was in a local classroom this week that was noticeably–though not yet unbearably–hot by 10:30 am, and quite frankly, I’m not sure how much is being accomplished in classrooms without air conditioning around the district.

So this might be a week that the tourism industry may have more sympathy on the school start date issue than usual.  But it is a long time until the upcoming legislative session, where school start date rules are likely to be an issue again after the State Board of Education failed to move forward on proposed rule changes that would have limited school start date waivers.

Heat notwithstanding, I still come down in favor of local control of school start dates.

Schools serve communities and the school calendar ought to reflect the rhythms of the community.  It makes sense to have calendars that match up with local colleges (especially as more kids use the PSEO option), athletic,and other school activity calendars, and local events.

Proposed School Start Date Rules

The Iowa Department of Education has issued a Notice of Intended Action to adopt changes to Chapter 12.  The rules changes are needed, in part, to implement the code change from instructional days to instructional hours or days.  They are also part of the promised crack down on early school start dates.

All but eight of 348 school districts received were granted requests to start school in August during the past school year.  Radio Iowa reports that thirty percent of school districts will be affected by the proposed rules.

The proposed rules appear to allow school districts to request a waiver to start the school year up to seven days–or eleven days, if September 1st falls on a Monday or Tuesday–early by passing a resolution declaring the existence of a significant negative impact.  For districts seeking to start earlier than that, the district must demonstrate significant negative educational impact by satisfying a majority of the following criteria:

  • “A start date of 7 days or less than the statutory start date is not feasible;” [Missing the word earlier here to describe the relationship between the seven days and the statutory start date?  How high a bar is “not feasible’?]
  • Academic achievement will be negatively impacted in the school district as measured by test scores and as supported by scientifically based research;
  • The statutory start date would harm academic achievement despite the use of hours rather than days for counting instructional time;
  • Taxpayer interests would be significantly harmed by the statutory start date because actual budget savings could be produced by an earlier start date;
  • The statutory start date will present a hardship to the district staff such that quality staff would be difficult to attract and retain, resulting in a negative effect on student achievement;
  • The statutory start date conflicts with extracurricular, community, or educational opportunities, resulting in a negative effect on student academic achievement;
  • The statutory start date prevents completion of the first semester prior to winter break, resulting in a negative effect on student academic achievement.

In other words, the interests of Iowa’s tourism industry outweigh pretty much every other interest–student, family, school administration, or community.

The Iowa Association of School Boards has the full text of the Notice of Intended Action.  A public hearing on the proposed rules will be held at 3:00 pm on Tuesday, September 10 (which is also School Election Day–Todd Dorman at The Gazette reminds us to take an interest).  Written comments can be submitted on or before 4:30 pm of the same day.  See the Notice of Intended Action for details.