Category Archives: ranking schools

Updated Iowa School Report Card

The Iowa Department of Education has released updated data and several new features in the Iowa School Report Card.

The new features include two new categories in the “Closing Achievement Gap” measure, which now includes data by race and ethnicity. It also includes results of a survey of teachers on parent involvement in their child’s school and education.

The Iowa School Report Card rates individual public schools, but not school districts. Answers to frequently asked questions from parents about the Iowa School Report Card are available here and a quick guide is available here.

The current list of schools format is easier to navigate than previous versions, but I think it could be vastly improved by allowing schools to be selected for side-by-side comparisons (schools within the same district, schools with similar demographics). The DE could also improve navigation by allowing the user to open a window that displays all of the schools for a selected district.

Another shortcoming, I think, is calculating a single achievement gap with all subgroups together, rather than an achievement gap for each subgroup as it can mask some particularly awful achievement gaps for some subgroups of students if other subgroups are performing relatively well, or vice versa. It might also be more useful to see math and reading proficiency as separate indicators, rather than aggregated together. See also the problem of reporting school by school, as data for subgroups with fewer than ten students must be redacted. However, I suppose no one said the rankings had to actually be useful, just that they had to be done–though I see now that the DE describes the Iowa School Report Card as “align[ing] with Department efforts to provide Iowans easier access to meaningful education statistics and to pair accountability and support for schools.”

Here are the current ratings for ICCSD schools (linked to school report page, which will open in a new window):

Exceptional (none)




Needs Improvement


Tate High School and Alexander Elementary are unable to be rated.

Iowa School Report Cards

The latest version of the attendance center rankings, rebranded as Iowa School Report Card, was released this morning.

The version released earlier this year showed only two metrics (proficiency and growth), if I recall correctly. Results were displayed in a graph format, with all schools plotted on the same graph. There were certainly problems with the web tool, however, once a school was located it was easy to see how it compared to all other schools in the state.

This latest version incorporates six to eight measures and assigns an overall rating to each school. The measures are proficiency, closing achievement gap, college and career ready growth, college and career readiness (middle and high school only), graduation rate (high school only), annual expected growth, attendance, and staff retention.

Schools are searched and displayed independently, with information about statewide averages. Additional information can be found on subgroup performance by choosing options in the Educational Measures menu. There is a lot of information here, but I’d like to see an easier way to compare specific buildings to each other. I think I’d also like to see a way to search for demographically similar buildings to compare to one another.

This, from page 8 of the Technical Guide, caught my eye:

The report card relies heavily on the Iowa Assessment results across several metrics used in the ratings. Proficiency, growth, college readiness and closing the achievement gaps measures all are generated from Iowa Assessment results. While each of these metrics focuses on answering a different question about performance, there is inherent risk in relying on one tool for many measures. To provide balance other measures such as attendance, graduation rate and staff retention are also included in the system. Additional measures such as parental and community activities and involvement will be included when they are available. Any reporting system can be criticized for potential pitfalls or disagreement about the methods used. These must be taken into context, but these alone do not invalidate the results.

An important consideration in building any type of performance rating or improvement system is the overall cost. Cost can be quantified in multiple ways. For example, there [is] the cost to implement new assessment[s] or the time it would take for students to take a new assessment which might be used in the report card. There are other types of cost such as the time it take for school district personnel to collect and report new data or measures to be included. Existing measures and collection mechanisms were used to meet the requirement of creating a report card for all Iowa schools. The purpose was to contain overall costs and decrease the burden of collection and reporting for Iowa school personnel. (Emphasis added.)

Note that costs will go up as we transition to new assessments and there will be ongoing concerns with using a single assessment for so many purposes.

Find FAQs here and the quick guide here.

Here’s how ICCSD schools are currently rated (Tate could not be rated, Alexander Elementary not included because it just opened):


  • Borlaug Elementary
  • Lincoln Elementary
  • Shimek Elementary


  • North Central Junior High School


  • Hills Elementary
  • Hoover Elementary
  • Lemme Elementary
  • Longfellow Elementary
  • Van Allen Elementary
  • Northwest Junior High School
  • West High School


  • Coralville Central Elementary
  • Garner Elementary
  • Horn Elementary
  • Penn Elementary
  • Wickham Elementary
  • Southeast Junior High School
  • City High School

Needs Improvement

  • Grant Wood Elementary
  • Horace Mann Elementary
  • Lucas Elementary
  • Weber Elementary


  • Kirkwood Elementary
  • Twain Elementary


Are these ratings useful? Here’s one answer from Des Moines Schools Superintendent Tom Ahart.

ADDED: And another answer from Scott McLeod, Iowa school poverty and report card rankings.

ADDED: Press-Citizen: Civil rights leaders criticize Iowa’s new school measure [See also comments on lack of minority representation on education committees.]

What Happened to My Summer?

Despite Governor Branstad’s best efforts (on behalf of the State Fair), the first days of school are just a few short weeks away and I can’t help wondering what happened to my summer.

Maybe summer would have seemed longer if the legislative session hadn’t dragged into June. Or if Governor Branstad hadn’t waited until just before the July 4th holiday weekend to veto one-time education funding.

In any case, the filing deadline for running for school board is just two days away (and then campaigning should begin in earnest) and the State Board of Education will be holding it’s August meeting next week (at which, I expect, they will have a notice of intended action on rules that would adopt the Smarter Balanced Assessments as the statewide assessment).

And, as watch the tweets out of ISEA’s Summer Leadership Conference [#IASLC2015], I find myself wondering if it is too early to feel discouraged about the upcoming school year.

Even as legislators have still not pulled together enough votes for a special session to try to override Governor Branstad’s education funding veto, the Summer Leadership Conference is providing a platform for the teacher leadership system (which is where the supplemental state aid funding went) and the Smarter Balanced Assessments (which, if adopted, will divert time, money, and technology resources from instruction).

As an aside, I find this slide a bit depressing:

Setting aside the use of quotation marks and the implication that other teachers aren’t content experts, I find it disheartening that instructional coaches are described as “promoting district mandates”, rather than, for example, supporting classroom teachers.

The conference also provided a platform for new DE Director Ryan Wise. Speaking of disheartening, here are Director Wise’s priorities:

Conspicuously missing in those bullet points? Adequate supplemental state aid to pay for regular classroom instruction programs, summer reading programs and other interventions, and the new statewide assessments.

[Incidentally, I’ve added a link in the sidebar under Iowa Government to the Attendance Center Rankings site.]

Advocating for adequate funding didn’t make the “Role of the Department” shortlist:

And adequate education funding didn’t make the “Other Key Issues” shortlist either:


Readers, please help me out today. If you’re excited about the upcoming school year, please leave a comment sharing what you’re excited about.

Thoughts on State Assessments [updated]

Update: Jay P. Greene makes a case for norm-referenced tests.

Matt Townsley posed a question to me and blogger Chris Liebig on Twitter last weekend: What are your thoughts about state assessments that are norm referenced versus criterion referenced?

My first thought: wow, that’s too much question to respond to 140 characters at a time.

My next thought: there’s a really good question in there, the answer to which ought to be central to every conversation we have around state (accountability) assessments but won’t be. Because the answer to that questions depends upon the purpose of the state assessment (how’s that for a foreseeable lawyerly answer). Why are we administering them? What question are we trying to answer?

When we know what the question is, we will know whether norm referenced or criterion referenced is the better choice.

It seems to me though, that we have a very real problem with a while-we’re-at-it mentality when it comes to state assessments. If we are going to be testing for student proficiency, we might as well get a growth measure while we are at it. And results we can use to evaluate teachers. And results we can use to inform instruction. And results we can use to identify gifted students. And results we can use to determine if students are ready for college, without remediation. And results that tell us how our students are doing compared to students in other schools, states, and countries. And the tests shouldn’t just measure, but should help students learn. And so on. And the longer the assessments, the more it seems to make sense to do all of these things while we are at it.

However, it is my understanding that assessments should be designed and used for a single purpose. And if that single purpose is to determine proficiency, I think a criterion referenced assessment would make sense.

This is all assuming, of course, that the standards make sense in terms of reasonable grade level expectations which is, really, an enormous conversation in and of itself: what is grade level and how much of it do you have to be able to do to be proficient?

I have no idea what the specific answers to those questions are, by the way (and I like to think that I have been paying attention), which may be why it seems that more than knowing that our students are proficient as measured against the standards, we (a general we, not necessarily me or Matt) want to know that our students are performing at a higher level than students in other schools, other states, and/or other countries. If we aren’t sure what grade level proficient means (or that the bar is set high enough), we can at least take comfort in our students ranking higher than others–at least as long as our students aren’t the ones ranked at the bottom, of course. Hence all the anxiety about global competitiveness and wanting to take the same assessments as other states so that we can directly compare scores. In which case, a proficiency cut score on a norm referenced assessment might make more sense.

That being said, someone needs to do a better job limiting the use of state assessment scores to the purpose for which the state assessments have been designed.

Legislative Update 1/29

The House Education Committee met this afternoon and the agenda included a presentation by Amy Williamson of the DE on differentiated accountability systems and attendance center rankings. Initial attendance center rankings data are supposed to be released to the public by the DE tomorrow.

There are five new bills in the House Education Committee:

  • HF 84 by Sheets (R-Appanoose) and six co-sponsors establishing a transportation cost supplement program for school districts, authorizing the imposition of a transportation cost supplement property tax and income surtax. This program is for school districts for which the transportation costs per pupil exceed the state average transportation costs per pupil and appears to be limited to raising funds to cover the difference between actual district transportation costs per pupil and state average transportation costs per pupil. Voters would need to approve participation in the program, and the program would be funded by  either a property tax, and income surtax, or combination of both, as determined by the school board. The funds from the program can only be used by the district to pay for the costs of repairing, maintaining, and fueling school district transportation equipment and school buses. [Subcommittee: Gassman (R-Winnebago), Hanson (D-Jefferson), and Mommsen (R-Clinton).]
  • HF 97 by Jones relating to open enrollment of students in online learning programs. This bill would maintain the exception that allows students to open enroll into CAM or Clayton Ridge community school districts for purposes of participating in online learning programs by striking the repeal provision which would end the exception as of July 1, 2015. [Subcommittee: Jones (R-Clay), Gaines (D-Polk), and Koester (R-Polk).] This bill is the same as SF 4. The Iowa State Education Association and the Iowa Association of School Boards are registered against the bill. Connections Education, which operates the Iowa Connections Academy under CAM Community School District, is registered for the bill. Connections Education currently has four lobbyists registered to represent them in Des Moines. KCRG reported last August that Iowa Connections Academy expected more than 400 K-12 students to be enrolled in the program for the 2014-2015 school year. The Gazette reported last year that the two virtual schools combined enrolled students from 152 school districts during the 2013-2014 school year.
  • HF 105 by R. Taylor (R-Dallas) and forty co-sponsors providing that peace officers and retired peace officers qualify as classroom driver education instructors. This would create an alternate route to authorization by completion of a training program without requiring the peace officer or retired peace officer to complete all other requirements for a regular teaching license. [Subcommittee: Highfill (R-Polk), Hanson (D-Jefferson), and Hanusa (R-Pottawattamie).] The Iowa State Education Association is registered against this bill.
  • HF 108 by Staed (D-Linn) and nineteen co-sponsors relating to the consultant employed by the DE for gifted and talented children programs. The DE is already required to employ such a consultant, this bill would require that consultant to be “entirely dedicated to programs for gifted and talented children.” [Subcommittee: Salmon (R-Black Hawk), Highfill (R-Polk), and Staed (D-Linn).]
  • HSB 95 proposed Committee on Education bill relating to requirements for the enactment of the state percent of growth and the categorical state percent of growth. This bill would change the timeline for enacting the state percent of growth. For budget years beginning July 1 of odd-numbered years, percent growth must be enacted within thirty days of submission of the governor’s budget in that odd-numbered year, and for the budget years beginning July 1 of even-numbered years, percent growth must be enacted during the legislative session preceding the base year. This bill was assigned to committee yesterday, passed out of subcommittee today, and is scheduled to be considered at the next House Education Committee meeting on Monday, February 2nd.

Also scheduled to be considered at the next House Education Committee meeting are HSB 38 and HSB 18. These bills relate to costs of the statewide preschool program and payment of costs for educational services for children residing in certain psychiatric hospitals or institutions.

Attendance Center Rankings: Coming Soon(ish) [updated]

Update: the web application showing student proficiency and college and career readiness growth (CCR growth) by school or by district is now available. The “more information” links aren’t working for me, but here’s an alternate link to FAQs and to the DE news update page.

Or at least, so says my Twitter feed:

Details are scarce at the DE website for now, though the January 2015 School Leader Update (page 6) indicates a website will be activated this month that will provide data on academic growth and student proficiency rates for Iowa public schools and districts. These are just two of the nine metrics required to be part of Iowa’s attendance center ranking system (Iowa ACR) by HF 215, the major education reform bill passed in 2013. A full report will not be released until October 2015, and the January 2015 SAI Report indicates that work to determine relative weightings of the criteria for purposes of calculating final scores is ongoing.

The DE published its Attendance Center Performance Ranking Legislative Report last July, listing and describing the following required nine metrics:

Student proficiency: the DE proposes using the NCLB proficiency calculations based on Iowa Assessments scores, currently in use for federal reporting, for this metric.

Student academic growth: the DE proposes to calculate a growth target for each student based on the previous year’s score that would allow the student to earn a college ready cut score in grade twelve. Lower scoring students would have larger growth targets (need to gain more points per year) to reach the college ready cut score; students already earning college ready cut scores would have a growth goal of “the annual increase in observed growth at the 50th percentile for the student’s current grade.” (page 11). This metric would be the percent of students in the school building meeting their individual growth targets. This would seem to disadvantage schools that produce at least one year’s growth or more for lower performing students if that growth nonetheless falls short of the, perhaps, very large annual gains required for the students to earn a college ready cut score in grade twelve. And it would also seem to fail to distinguish between schools with lower performing students making very little growth and schools with lower performing students making at least one year’s growth; both could have the same percent meeting the standard, but one arguably is doing a much better job than the other.

Note also that only 11% of grade eleven students are expected to earn Smarter Balanced college ready cut scores (Level 4) based on field test results. From page 11 of the report, “[T]he work group determined that the proposed model using the trajectory toward post-secondary success was rigorous, attainable, and meaningfully aligned with the State Board of Education’s goal that “Individuals will pursue post-secondary education to drive economic success.”” Considering that only 11% of grade eleven students are expected to earn Smarter Balanced college ready cut scores (Level 4) based on field test results, we may have to settle for the idea that two out of three ain’t bad (rigorous and meaningfully aligned but not realistically attainable). Or hope that the work group has rethought this one in the intervening months.

Graduation rates: the DE proposes to calculate four-year, five-year, six-year, and seven-year graduation rates, using the highest of the rates for ranking purposes.

Attendance rates: student days present divided by student days enrolled.

Parent involvement: the DE proposes to survey school staff to collect this information. If parents are not also surveyed, it is hard to see why all schools wouldn’t earn full points on this metric (hint: answer that you strongly agree with/regularly do all of these things). The report discusses surveying parents for a parent engagement metric and a parent satisfaction metric, but later the report recommends against adding optional metrics. We will have to wait and see on this one.

Employee turnover: number of licensed staff members (including administrators, counselors etc.) employed the previous year and still working in the building in the current year divided by the total number of licenses staff members working in the building in the current year.

Community activities and involvement: the work team was still wrestling with what might be included in this metric; we’ll have to wait and see.

Closing gap score: from page 20, the DE proposed a single, super subgroup “consisting of the students who are identified as one or more of IEP, ELL, and FRL will be evaluated.” “[T]he percent of the single supergroup in the general population will be compared to the percent of that supergroup’s representation among the proficient students.” Then, this gap score would be compared to the previous year’s score to determine if gaps are changing for the better or for the worse.

College-readiness rates: the DE proposed using Iowa Assessments scores linked to predicted ACT college-readiness cuts scores on the ACT of 22 in reading and 22 in mathematics. This would be changed depending upon changes to the accountability assessments.

The work team also considered optional indicators including post-graduation data, suspension and expulsions rates, level of student engagement, parent satisfaction, parent engagement, and staff working conditions. As of July 2014, the work team recommended not including these optional indicators in the Iowa ACR but planned to work with stakeholders to consider whether additional indicators should be included. On the upside, there doesn’t seem to any AP/PSEO participation metric in the rankings, at least not yet. On the downside, it isn’t at all clear how any of this will help schools improve, but at least those of us whose children attend schools at the top of the rankings will have something to celebrate on Facebook. At any rate, it will be interesting to see how much has changed since last July when the full reports are released to the public in October.