Category Archives: legislators

Smaller but not (yet) SmarterBalanced Government

In May 2016, explaining his veto of Section 18 and Section 19, subsection 5 of SF2323,  Governor Branstad had this to say about the Smarter Balanced assessments:

I am unable to approve the items designated as Section 18, and Section 19, subsection 5, in their entirety. These items unduly delay Iowa’s transition to a new statewide academic assessment system. The Iowa Department of Education can best serve students by moving forward immediately to prepare for implementation of the new assessment system on July 1, 2017. School administrators and teachers are eager for a new assessment system that is closely aligned with Iowa’s high state academic standards. By providing better information about students’ academic progress, the new assessment system will improve instruction. A well-aligned assessment is a key step toward providing a globally competitive education.

Interestingly, Governor Branstad referenced neither statewide assessments nor state academic standards when he delivered his 2017 Condition of the State address to the Iowa Legislature earlier this week. In addition, Governor Branstad declined to fund the Department of Education’s request for $10 million for LEA assessments in FY 2018 in his proposed budget, though he has proposed $6.1 million for LEA assessment in FY 2019. Thus, the Smarter Balanced assessments remain an unfunded mandate for the upcoming school year.

Meanwhile, Senator Sinclair (R-Wayne), new chair of the Senate Education Committee has wasted no time in addressing statewide assessments. On Tuesday, she filed SSB 1001, a proposed Committee on Education bill that would strike Iowa Code 256.7(21)(b)(2) and (3), which are the subparagraphs changing the statewide assessment requirements and creating the Assessment Task Force. The subcommittee met earlier today, with at least IASB organizing to advocate for aligned assessments–and presumably against the proposed bill.

As of today, the Iowa Association of School Boards, Rural School Advocates of Iowa, Urban Education Network of Iowa, and School Administrators of Iowa are registered against SSB 1001. Also registered against this bill is Reaching Higher Iowa (see here for Board of Directors and here for corporate sponsors).

The Iowa Catholic Conference, Professional Educators of Iowa, and ACT are registered for this bill.

Registered as undecided on the bill are Advocacy Strategies, the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Action Fund, the Iowa Department of Education, the Area Education Agencies of Iowa, the Board of Regents, the Iowa State Education Association, the Greater Des Moines Partnership, and the Iowa Chamber Alliance.

Stay tuned. It could be an interesting legislative session for assessment.

Added (Rogers is the new chair of the House Education Committee):

Added: KCRG is reporting tonight that the Smarter Balanced assessments are officially on hold:

The state had planned to launch the Smarter Balanced assessments for the 2017-18 school year. Department of Education spokesperson Staci Hupp confirmed the department has been told to put that work on hold so the legislature can review options for assessments.

Added: Iowa House Republican Caucus Newsletter coverage of the Governor’s decision to put the Smarter Balanced Assessments on hold.

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.

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.

2016 Education Committee Assignments

House Education Committee

There is one change in House Education Committee membership. Tom Moore (R-Cass) has replaced Norlin Mommsen (R-Clinton). Tom Moore won a special election in December to fill the seat formerly held by Jack Drake.

  • Jorgensen (R-Woodbury), Chair
  • Gassman (R-Winnebago), Vice Chair
  • Ruff (D-Clayton), Ranking Member
  • Abdul-Samad (D-Polk)
  • Brown-Powers (D-Black Hawk)
  • Byrnes (R-Mitchell)
  • Cohoon (D-Des Moines)
  • Dolecheck (R-Ringgold)
  • Forristall (R-Pottawattamie)
  • Fry (R-Clarke)
  • Gaines (D-Polk)
  • Hanson (D-Jefferson)
  • Hanusa (R-Pottawattamie)
  • Highfill (R-Polk)
  • Koester (R-Polk)
  • Mascher (D-Johnson)
  • Moore, T. (R-Cass)
  • Salmon (R-Black Hawk)
  • Sieck (R-Mills)
  • Staed (D-Linn)
  • Stanerson (R-Linn)
  • Steckman (D-Cerro Gordo)
  • Winckler (D-Scott)

Iowa Senate

Senate Education Committee

There have been no changes in Senate Education Committee membership.

  • Quirmbach (D-Story), Chair
  • Schoenjahn (D-Fayette), Vice Chair
  • Sinclair (R-Wayne), Ranking Member
  • Behn (R-Boone)
  • Bowman (D-Jackson)
  • Dvorsky (D-Johnson)
  • Hart (D-Clinton)
  • Hogg (D-Linn)
  • Johnson (R-Osceola)
  • Kinney (D-Johnson)
  • Kraayenbrink (R-Webster)
  • Mathis (D-Linn)
  • Schultz (R-Crawford)
  • Wilhelm (D-Howard)
  • Zaun (R-Polk)

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)

Questionable

A recent Iowa House Republican Newsletter has an update on state board action on science standards and statewide assessments: [The next three paragraphs are quoted directly from the newsletter (page 5), but I haven’t indented the whole thing, so that I can preserve the indented quote as it appears in the newsletter.]

“The authority for the State Board to determine Iowa’s next assessment without the legislature weighing in is still questionable. Iowa Code 256.7, which outlines the duties of the State Board, requires rules in sub-section 21 to implement a new assessment for the 2016/17 school year. This section also establishes the task force meant to make recommendations for the new assessment. The final language in the subsection states:

“The state board shall submit to the general assembly recommendations the state board deems appropriate for modifications of assessments of student progress . . .”

Whether the charge to the State Board in this last bit of language is to seek legisla-tive approval or merely to notify the legislature, the Department of Education has de-termined it is only for notification. As such, they have moved ahead with the develop-ment of rules.”

So the State Board of Education Met . . .

. . . and I took a stab at live-tweeting it. I had fun, but I’m now convinced that live-tweeting is at least a two person job as it was hard–for me anyway–to try to take extensive notes plus compose tweets plus keep up with my Twitter feed.

In case you missed the live-tweeting, I’ve put together a Storify version of it here.

For future reference, I see that the DE was using the hashtag #iastatebd yesterday on Twitter.

It’s old news at this point, but the Iowa State Board of Education, by unanimous vote, adopted the Next Generation Science Standards as presented in the Science Standards Review Team Report. See news coverage herehere, and here. The State Board also, by unanimous vote, directed the DE to draft rules implementing the Assessment Task Force’s recommendation number one (adopt the Smarter Balanced Assessments) for the 2016-17 school year and to reconvene the Assessment Task Force to review science assessments. See news coverage here and here.

On the drive home, a few things struck me about the State Board discussion around assessment.

First, that individual state board members publicly acknowledged that the costs of the Smarter Balanced assessments for districts would be more (not the same or less). Of course, that didn’t stop them from voting to move forward with adopting the assessments, as at least two of the board members opined that it would be easy for either districts or the Legislature to find the money. Miller suggested that people write or talk to legislators.

Perhaps you have just slapped your forehead and thought–as I did–“I wish I had thought of talking or writing to legislators about the need for more school funding! I’ll have to give that a try. No doubt it will be very effective, when we finally do it.”

Or maybe you were just wondering if state board members follow the news or any social media accounts. At all.

Second, it occurred to me that the state board members did not raise the issue of technology readiness for statewide online assessment as part of the discussion yesterday, nor did they discuss the experiences other states had administering the Smarter Balanced assessments this spring. Based on a non-discussion, it is hard to know if they aren’t following national news or are otherwise unaware of these issues, or if they feel that these issues have been adequately covered in other meetings or, perhaps, by the Assessment Task Force.

Which brings me to a third thought, as I considered this Barry Garelick tweet (referencing science standards adoption) again this afternoon:

And that thought, or question, really, is whether the use of task forces and review teams, whatever their merits might be (and I do think they may have some), removes too much of the deliberative process from the public eye.

I didn’t stick around for the agenda item on a public school choir singing religious songs, but interested readers can find coverage of State Board action on that item here and here.

Thoughts on the actions taken by the state board? Or on the processes in place for making decisions about public education on behalf of the citizens of Iowa? Are the decisions being made good ones, sufficiently transparent, and being made by the right people?

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.

Best and Proper, Notwithstanding

The as yet unspecified legal theory that the DE has the authority to select a new assessment adopt the Smarter Balanced assessments if the Legislature fails to act may be gaining traction behind the scenes if Thursday’s Advocacy Alert from the IASB and withdrawn amendment H-1294 can be taken as indicators.

The person or persons behind the legal theory remain a mystery, but the theory seems to be a relatively new one:

Exhibit A: This statement in the proposed assessment recommendations provided to the State Board of Education by the DE at the February 11, 2015 meeting:

The Board further recommends the Legislature restore authority to select the accountability assessment given to all K-12 students to the Iowa Department of Education with appropriate oversight from the Board.

Exhibit B: Uncontradicted statements at the Assessment Task Force presentation to the Iowa Senate Education Committee in March 2015 that we, the Task Force, understand that this is a recommendation on assessment and not a decision, the Legislature makes the decision on assessment. [Note that this issue came up at Task Force meetings and the DE was not shy about bringing in DE staff attorneys to offer opinions.]

We might also throw in the failure of Governor Branstad and DE Director Buck to sign a new MOU last July (does perceived lack of authority seem a more plausible reason than honoring the work of the Task Force?) and assessment shell bills being filed in both houses of the Iowa Legislature to preserve the issue past the first funnel deadline, but I think Exhibits A and B are pretty good evidence of the DE’s understanding of the state of the law. After all, if they understood that they had the power to act, why wouldn’t they have acted already? [More on this later.]

The Iowa Constitution, adopted in 1857, is an interesting document and is as good a place as any to start. It created an elected Board of Education to manage “[t]he educational interest of the State, including Common Schools and other educational institutions.” It also provided that the Board may be abolished:

SEC. 15. At any time after the year One thousand eight hundred and sixty three, the General Assembly shall have the power to abolish or re-organize said Board of Education, and provide for the educational interest of the State in any other manner that to them shall seem best and proper.” (Emphasis added.)

As it happens, it didn’t take too long for a General Assembly to exercise said power and the elected Board of Education was abolished in 1864.

[Question: What do elections and the education policy debate look like in alternate universe Iowa where the General Assembly has not abolished an elected State Board of Education? Better, worse, or about the same?]

The codified Iowa Constitution directs us to chapter 256 for statutory provisions.

I have heard it suggested that the DE has broad authority to act unless specifically limited and that the requirement to report is not a specific limitation. I think it would be difficult to argue that the Legislature has not limited DE authority in recent years.

In 2011 the relevant portion of Iowa Code Section 256.7(21) read as follows [note: the linked pdf is over ten thousand pages long, see the two relevant pages only here]:

21. Develop and adopt rules incorporating accountability for, and reporting of, student achievement into the standards and accreditation process described in section 256.11. The rules shall provide for all of the following:

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. Annually, the department shall report state data for each indicator in the condition of education report.

The relevant portion of Iowa Code Section 256.7(21) now reads as follows:

21. Develop and adopt rules incorporating accountability for, and reporting of, student achievement into the standards and accreditation process described in section 256.11. The rules shall provide for all of the following:

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.

(3) The director shall establish an assessment task force to review and make recommendations for a statewide assessment of student progress on the core academic indicators identified pursuant to this paragraph “b”. The task force shall recommend a statewide assessment that is aligned to the Iowa common core standards and is, at a minimum, valid, reliable, tested, and piloted in Iowa. In addition, in developing recommendations, the task force shall consider the costs to school districts and the state in providing and administering such an assessment and the technical support necessary to implement the assessment. The task force shall submit its recommendations in a report to the director, the state board, and the general assembly by January 1, 2015. The task force shall assist with the final development and implementation of the assessment administered pursuant to subparagraph (2). The task force members shall include but not be limited to teachers, school administrators, business leaders, representatives of state agencies, and members of the general public. This subparagraph is repealed July 1, 2020.

(4) The state board shall submit to the general assembly recommendations the state board deems appropriate for modifications of assessments of student progress administered for purposes of this paragraph “b”. (Emphasis added.)

The question is what effect does subparagraph (2) have on the express limitation in subparagraph (1)? As I have noted previously, there is no factual conflict between these subparagraphs because the assessment provider referenced in subparagraph (1) is developing an assessment that meets the minimum requirements specified in subparagraph (2). They are additional requirements to be specified in the rules and, without a conflict between subparagraphs to be resolved, the Legislature need not take any further action on assessments for the Iowa Testing Programs to remain the assessment provider for the State of Iowa.

The “notwithstanding” language makes more sense if we understand that an earlier draft of HF215 contained additional language that would have required the rules to specify that the assessment also be “developed by a consortium in which the state of Iowa is a participant” (an oblique reference to SBAC). This would have been in conflict with the rules specified in subparagraph (1) however, this language was stripped out in conference committee and additional language creating the Assessment Task Force was added.

See also subparagraph (4) which directs that the State Board shall submit recommendations for modifications of assessments rather than shall report modifications of assessments.*

All of this suggests intent by the Legislature to retain authority over choice of assessments rather than return it to the DE, which could more easily be accomplished by sunsetting or striking subparagraph (1) and forgoing subparagraphs (3) (the Assessment Task Force) and (4) (the State Board submitting recommendations).**

It makes no sense to read these subparagraphs as creating authority for the DE to act if the Legislature doesn’t, because the authority was either already returned to the DE or it wasn’t.

Maybe the DE is Dorothy, who just wants to get back home to SBAC, and, having followed the yellow brick Assessment Task Force road to the Great and Powerful Iowa Legislature only to find herself disappointed by the legislators behind the curtain, learns, with the help of the (in our story, publicity shy) Glinda the Good Witch, that she had the power to get herself home to SBAC all along.

Maybe we’ve had front row seats to governance theater without knowing it, where the executive branch plays along with the legislative branch as long as they are getting what they want, but if not, they’ll do what they wanted to do anyway.

Maybe the DE thinks that Iowa students (as young as third grade) should just toughen up and learn to get through much longer assessments. Maybe the DE thinks that more expensive computer-based assessments are better for Iowa students than music and art programs. Maybe the DE thinks that longer assessments are a more valuable use of instructional time than instruction. And maybe the DE thinks that these assessments are worth pretending that other states aren’t having problems with statewide computer-based assessments and that pretending that those problems aren’t happening and that Iowa districts need no further planning and spending to prepare for statewide computer-based assessments is enough to avoid those problems here.

And maybe a majority of the Legislature agrees that the DE is right about all of those things and that the best and proper manner for providing for the educational interests of Iowa is to adopt the Smarter Balanced assessments, in which case they need to vote for it.

*Paragraph added after initial publication.

**Paragraph modified after initial publication.

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.