Iowa Core and Assessment Review
Policy Analyst Report 3/24/16
An early development signatory but late adapter, Iowa endorsed the “Iowa Core” and, through the Iowa Core Resources Project, built its IowaCore.gov web site from a 1913 $1 million state appropriation. Now, aLiteracy Standards Review Team is charged with reviewing the Iowa K-12 English Language Arts Standards and the Grades 6-12 Literacy Standards for History, Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects, particularly to:
Identify the level of stakeholder agreement/disagreement with the standards;
Identify revisions of standards necessary to improve the quality of teaching and learning;
Assess the current levels of implementation of the standards among Iowa K-12 teachers;
Identify needs for professional learning related to the K-12 Iowa Literacy Standards.
This work, loaded into the first half of 2016, includes a survey characterized by ICTE representative Erin Miller as to get feedback from educators, parents, and community members about the current ELA standards. The 22 member team includes teachers, though it is difficult to tell how many, from what roles, or with what influence. Early meeting notes show substantial DE management of the team and process; whether toward predetermined ends remains unclear. Precedent suggests limited latitude; selected co-chairs are not, apparently, full time classroom teachers. The team may include more teachers – at least part-time or recent – than state work groups have included in the past. Iowa’s history with its Core shows successive alignments with the Common Core and with nationally developed tests.
A related assessment task force, working since 2013, recommended the Smarter Balanced Assessments for reading and math (more recently ACT Aspire for science, but only for one year, an interim measure because no assessment sufficiently coordinated with the Iowa Core). The SBA recommendation stands, approved by the State Board, but the legislature has yet to fully endorse or fund it; some question exists about authority for the final decision, even to comply with federal law. Meanwhile, some question the recommendation, particularly whether it was a foregone conclusion efficiently orchestrated by the department. Some committee members believe adaptive assessments will be expensive, but ultimately good and, given state accountability expectations, also unavoidable. One appreciates SB as a “multiple measure” but opposes too frequent and too high stakes administration. How this will affect Iowa’s allocation for the existing Iowa Testing Program is also unknown. Possible reconsideration urged by ISEA in light of ESSA and renewed state authority is not apparent.
Substantial revision of either the Iowa Core or the assessment approach based on the current configuration is hard to imagine. As Erin Miller notes, the process will not abandon the Iowa Core, but is more a review of how implementation is going and an opportunity to make tweaks if necessary. One might hope it is a real rather than an illusory opportunity, that necessities are recognized, and that team members feel empowered to do more than tweak. Perhaps teachers will be better off if things indeed “remain in flux” and ossification can be forestalled.
James S. Davis