When legislators return to session next week, meeting the educational needs of Iowa’s students remains a top priority, but whether or not that will translate into creating a new statewide assessment remains to be seen. Part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, signed into law by former President Barack Obama, the state is required to create an assessment as part of the ESSA plan, but progress has been slow.
ESSA, which gives states more leeway to create individualized programs than No Child Left Behind, the program it succeeds has yet to establish a statewide assessment to track student progress. The state submitted its plan for approval last year, but in a report released last month by Bellwether Education Partners, the state received low marks for failing to have an assessment in place, giving the state a score of two out of a possible five points.
“Iowa’s plan suffers from some uncertainty around its new assessments,” the report said. “The state’s accountability and support system depend heavily on having reliable [test] data as its foundation.”
Newton Community School District Superintendent Bob Callaghan said he isn’t confident the legislature will be able to get a new assessment in place during the upcoming legislative session. Callaghan pointed out that previous attempts to create a statewide assessment, including a 2014 task force that recommended a new assessment failed to find a funding source in the legislature. Last year, legislators passed a law to fund a new assessment, due in the spring of 2019, and the state’s department of education has requested $8 million to fund the new assessment.
“It’s pretty nebulous out there with what’s going to happen,” Callaghan said. “Everyone is trying to do the best they can for the kids.”
Even if a new assessment is created this year and put into place, Callaghan said he has concerns about the timing of the test’s release. If teachers don’t receive the assessment until the end of the school year they’ll have limited time to create new plans and prepare for the upcoming assessment, Callaghan said.
“When will the teachers have time to prepare?” Callaghan asked. “If we’re going to make that decision we need to be making it now, it’s not fair for educators to have to wait until they return to school next fall.”
Travis Padget, president of the Newton Community School District Board, said he shares some of Callaghan’s concerns, although he’s hopeful the new assessment will be similar in scope to lesson plans teachers currently have in existence.
“Hopefully whatever assessment they come up with isn’t so obscure that we’re not already teaching it,” Padget said. “Who knows what will come down the pike.”
Creating a statewide assessment is an important tool teachers and administrators need to measure student progress, Padget said. Without a statewide assessment in place, Padget said he thinks it’s difficult to accurately measure student progress to make sure students are meeting benchmarks established by the state of Iowa.
“I think for the district, and for the students of Iowa we need to have something in place so everyone knows what they’re working for,” Padget said. “Whether or not they’ll actually be able to do that, I don’t know.”
Callaghan said he plans to wait until the dust has settled before he’s willing to make any predictions about ESSA, preferring to wait until the state’s plan has been finalized. Later this month Callaghan, along with several members of the school board plan to participate in the Iowa Association of School Board’s annual Day on the Hill event. The event, scheduled for Jan. 30 will be an opportunity for members of the board to visit with legislators and lobbyists about issues facing their district. While Padget said increasing the funding available for school districts across the state remains a top priority he hopes to also have a chance to discuss the need for a statewide assessment as well. In conversations with Sen. Chaz Allen, D-Newton and Rep. Wes Breckenridge, D-Newton, Padget said he’s stressed the importance of education in the past.
“I’ve had their ear and they do a good job of listening,” Padget said. “I believe they care about education and see it as a priority.”
Contact David Dolmage
at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532