Category Archives: state board of education

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.

More Questions Than Answers

Just a few quick words about the science curriculum review report presentation at tonight’s board meeting.

Diane Schumacher, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Testing, said tonight that course changes should alleviate concerns of parents about the science curriculum and that there is a science course flowchart that will be presented at an upcoming meeting.

She also said that the Next Generation Science Standards require earth and space science course work (true–see the high school earth and space science standards by Disciplinary Core Idea here, here, and here). Schumacher also stated that administrators believe it will take a full year to teach all 19 earth and space science performance expectations. So, the idea would be to rework the current Foundations of Science III course into an earth and space science course.

Contrary to the report recommendation that all 9th graders be required to take the course, without exception, Schumacher suggested that 8th graders might be permitted to take the course, subject to the usual gate keeping used for placement in accelerated math courses (test scores, teacher recommendations).

Here’s where things are a bit confusing. I took this as a suggestion to shift the doubled up science course problem from 9th grade to 8th grade. Here’s why: the Next Generation Science Standards have middle school standards grouped by grade band (6-8) but when the State Board of Education adopted the standards as the Iowa Science Standards, they adopted them as grade level specific standards* as presented in the Science Standards Review Team Report. So, if 8th grade students have to cover both the 25 8th grade performance expectations and a full year of 9th grade earth and space science performance expectations, how do they manage without taking two science courses in 8th grade? (With the fall back option of taking two science courses in 9th grade instead. Pick your poison.)

Others I spoke to after the meeting heard this differently–that 8th graders opting for the earth and space science course would just take a single science course.

Stay tuned. Hopefully things will be clearer with flowcharts in hand.

*Find the NGSS performance standards for all grade levels, by DCI here.

Science Curriculum Review Report

The science curriculum review committee report is on agenda for Tuesday’s ICCSD school board meeting.

A few comments on the report follow, but first three things to be aware of with regard to science standards in Iowa:

  • In August 2015, the Iowa State Board of Education adopted the Next Generation Science Standards performance expectations, as described in the Science Standards Review Team Report, as the Iowa Science Standards.
  • The Iowa Science Standards are required to be implemented in grades K-5 and 9-12 plus one middle school grade by the 2018-19 school year; an additional middle school grade by the 2019-20 school year; and the final middle school grade by the 2020-21 school year. [Iowa Science Standards Implementation Plan]
  • The Iowa Science Standards are minimum requirements. From the Science Standards Review Team Report (page 41): “It is important to remember standards are the minimum requirements for all students and that those who are planning to major in science will need/want to take more advanced courses.”

The report starts out with a mission statement. I don’t generally hold out much hope for mission statements, but this one particularly disappoints me somehow. I’d like to see the District embrace a straightforward mission involving knowledge–that students should know a lot more stuff after attending our schools than they did before. But I’d also like to see the District explicitly state that the mission is to not just meet minimum state requirements but to also exceed them by providing a college preparatory education to students who choose it.

One of the identified limitations of the District science program is that “40% of parents do not believe Foundations of Science III prepared students for future science classes.” This is at odds with administrator and teacher opinion that the Foundations of Science courses do prepare students for future science classes.

This difference of opinion should have prompted a review of the Foundations III course, including, perhaps, further survey questions to determine where parents believe the course to fall short. The report provides no evidence that has happened, and instead recommends that all 9th grade students be required to take the Foundations III course (or whatever replaces it as the 9th grade science course) without exception. The report also  recommends that the value of the course be better communicated to parents, signaling, perhaps, that the District thinks 40% of the parents are just wrong or misinformed.

Note that the communication is meant to include information on how the Foundations III course emphasizes improving science skills–such as organization, lab skills, and measurement–needed to be more successful in upper level courses. My guess is that parents who believe the course isn’t helpful have students who already possessed sufficient science skills to succeed in upper level science course work.

If the K-6 math curriculum has adequate coverage of units of measurement, including metric system units, I’m hard pressed to see how students need all of ninth grade to prepare to measure things in high school science lab courses. Graduated cylinders, beakers, scales–none of this should be that difficult to work with after short explanation from the teacher. And if the K-6 math curriculum is lacking in coverage of units of measurement, maybe that should be remedied before requiring all students to take Foundations of Science III.

As for “lab skills”, I don’t know what specifically they think 9th grade students are lacking, but I can’t see why specific lab skills can’t be developed through lab work in biology, chemistry, and physics courses; in fact, that seems like the ideal place to develop disciplinary specific lab skills.

In any case, it seems unreasonable to me that ICCSD students should be expected to double up on core courses (see recommendation for concurrent enrollment in 9th grade science and biology). University-bound students need time in their schedules for four years of a world language and arts,music, or other elective courses.

The review report references ACT Science scores, but does not indicate that the review committee collected information on university minimum coursework entrance requirements to ensure that recommendations for secondary course changes don’t disadvantage university-bound students.

In fact, I think all secondary curriculum review reports should provide overviews of current university minimum coursework entrance requirements, including college specific requirements, and course sequence maps demonstrating how District course offerings will allow students to meet those entrance requirements. The science report, in particular, should provide a map showing NGSS minimum course sequence path, an accelerated college prep science course sequence path, and a twice accelerated college prep science course sequence plus AP science course work path.

In short, I’d like to see the board ask the administration–before the District buys or develops new instructional materials–to communicate the possible science course pathways created by the science curriculum recommendations or other proposed or anticipated changes to science courses, ask them to communicate how those pathways satisfy university entrance requirements (and which ones–some colleges set higher requirements), and to ask the administration to come back with other ideas for offering accelerated secondary course work in science that don’t require students to double up on science courses.

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.

Update on Smarter Balanced Assessments in Iowa [updated]

In November 2015, the Iowa State Board of Education adopted rules [IAC 281–12.8(1)(h)] to adopt the Smarter Balanced assessments as the statewide assessments for Iowa beginning with the 2016-17 school year. In January 2016, the Administrative Rules Review Committee, through a unanimous vote, put a session delay on the Smarter Balanced assessments rules. A session delay means that the new rules did not go into effect in January, and instead, if the Legislature takes no action, will go into effect at the adjournment of the legislative session.

However, the Iowa Legislature appears to be taking action. Earlier this week, the Iowa Senate passed a one year delay of implementation of new statewide assessments in the education appropriations bill (SF2323 Division I, Section 6). [Note: Division I, Sections 12 and 13 of this bill contain provisions to delay the 3rd grade reading retention and summer school requirements one year, to May 1, 2018.]

This bill, SF2323, is now awaiting action in the Iowa House, where an amendment (H-8257) has been filed by Rep. Vander Linden (R-Mahaska) that, in addition to the one year delay, would nullify the rules adopted by the State Board of Education to adopt the Smarter Balanced assessments. Nullification, or the legislative veto, does not require the signature of the Governor.

I am guessing that prospects for a delay of implementation of the Smarter Balanced assessments are good. The Iowa Legislature has not appropriated funding for the Smarter Balanced assessments and none of the amendments currently on file change Division I, Section 6 of SF2323.

Prospects for passage of H-8257 nullifying the rules are less clear. However, it does appear that the Smarter Balanced assessments are lacking strong support in the Iowa Senate, where twenty-four Senators co-sponsored SF 2040, a bill that would have struck 256.7(21)(b)(2) and (3) from the Iowa Code, which are the subparagraphs that create additional requirements for the statewide assessments and the assessment task force.

Stay tuned.

Update: SF2323 was debated tonight. H-8257 was amended by H-8272. H-8272 would suspend the rules adopting the Smarter Balanced assessments [IAC 281–12.8(1)(h)] until July 1, 2017. The amendment to the amendment was adopted by voice vote, then the amendment, as amended, was adopted by a voice vote. SF2323 as amended the Iowa House tonight on a vote of 52-41 and is headed back to the Iowa Senate.

In case you missed it, the Assessment Task Force made recommendations for statewide science assessment in March. The full report (minus the introduction) can be found here and should be available on the Assessment Task Force page after the introduction has been added.

If you want more of the history of Smarter Balanced assessments in Iowa prior to November 2015, see The Long and Winding Road to the Smarter Balanced Assessments or other posts tagged SmarterBalanced on this blog.

Added: I’ve had a chance to review the Senate floor debate. The delay language was added by amendment S-5145 by Schoenjahn (D-Fayette) and passed on a 50-0 vote. A similar amendment, S-5144 by Bowman (D-Jackson), containing delay language plus rule nullification language, was withdrawn. SF2323 passed the Senate the first time on a 27-23 vote. The Senate adjourned today (Friday, April 22nd) without taking up SF2323 as amended and passed by the House.



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)

How Deep Is Support for SBAC in Iowa?

Last week we saw the DE emphasize the organizations supporting the proposed (now adopted) rule to adopt Smarter Balanced assessments as the accountability assessments for Iowa.

In many cases, individuals spoke or wrote on their own behalf. In many other cases, individuals spoke or wrote on behalf of an organization. Those organizations formally expressing support for the adoption of this rule include the following: The School Administrators of Iowa; the Iowa Association of School Boards; the Urban Education Network of Iowa; the Rural School Advocates of Iowa; Reaching Higher Iowa; the Cedar Rapids Community School District; and the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance. The only organization expressing opposition to adoption during the public comment period was the Iowa City Community School District. (Emphasis added.)

The word is that around the same time the State Board of Education was adopting the rules to adopt the Smarter Balanced Assessments, an effort to pass a resolution, at the Iowa Association of School Boards annual convention, to support the Smarter Balanced assessments by name failed.

Here’s how the assessment piece of the IASB 2016 Legislative Resolution turned out:


Supports continued progress in the development of rigorous content standards and benchmarks that reflect the real-world knowledge and skills students need to graduate from high school prepared for college or to enter the workforce, including the following state actions:

  • Provide and fund technical assistance to help school districts fully implement the Iowa Core Content Standards which define what students should know and be able to do in math, science, English language arts, social studies, and 21st Century skills in areas such as financial and technological literacy.
  • Adopt high-quality summative and formative assessments, aligned to the skills students should know and be able to do to succeed globally and locally.
  • Support research based professional development that provides educators with training, support and time to work together so that they can successfully teach a rigorous curriculum to all students. Ensure that curriculum decisions about how to teach remain in the hands of local schools and teachers.
  • Include and fund all the components of successful standards systems: assessments aligned to high expectations, improved and aligned instruction and quality professional development.

IASB supports development of model content standards, recommended assessments and professional development supports in additional content areas but opposes expanding accountability, reporting and accreditation requirements in these areas.

State-level leaders of various organizations are clearly on board with Smarter Balanced assessments, but how many of their members are also on board? Does it matter for the short- or long-term prospects for SBAC in Iowa?

Stay tuned as the Smarter Balanced assessments are expected to be on the agenda for discussion at the December 8th meeting of the ICCSD school board.

Other Assessment Links

From the Quad-City Times interview with Linda Upmeyer, Speaker of the House for the 2016 legislative session:

The revenue increase appears to be relatively similar to last year’s. So we’ve got new money. We’ve got about $173 million new dollars. We do have some built-in things that will consume that. So we’re going to have to look at the budget and be very thoughtful about funding priorities. And we will do that. … But the principles that we’ve used for five years, that will go entirely unchanged because we think it served the state really well, that we have made sure that we don’t spend more than we take in, we don’t use one-time money for ongoing expenditures, and we don’t intentionally underfund things just to avoid having to pay for them. We’ve avoided, I believe, those roller-coaster peaks and valleys that we ran into previously when we had the economic boom and then kind of a more flat land and then a boom again. We’ve avoided the cuts that came with that. And I think that is really positive for all the public budgets in the state that we’ve been able to continue funding those exactly as we’ve promised. And that’s our goal, to keep moving forward being able to fund our priorities, fund the priorities of Iowans, and do it in a very stable fashion so that we don’t have to endure those devastating cuts that we saw in the past. I think we have an opportunity actually to really focus this year on a few things. One of the things the caucus will want to do early is take care of the education budget and get that passed, get the SSA over to the Senate. And we will do that as quickly as possible at the highest responsible number that we can come up with within those dollars.

No word yet on an SSA number, but remember that, like last year, $50 million of the revenue increase will go toward the funding of the third year of Iowa’s Teacher Leadership and Compensation System, for a total of $150 million committed to the program, and, thus, not available for funding SSA increases or new assessment costs.

From EdWeek:

From the NY Times: Massachusetts’s Rejection of Common Core Test Signals Shift in U.S.