Iowa Senate Poised to Vacate Decision to Use Smarter Balanced

Last year the Iowa State Board of Education approved the Smarter Balanced Assessment as the new statewide assessment to replace the current Iowa Assessments developed by the Iowa Testing Programs at the University of Iowa. The Iowa Senate will consider a bill, SF 240, that would stop the implementation from taking place.

The Des Moines Register in their coverage says the bill takes Iowa back to square one.

A bill moving through the Iowa Statehouse could undo four years of work to bring new state exams to Iowa schools.

Convened at the direction of state lawmakers in 2013, the Iowa Assessment Task Force met 16 times over 13 months to review proposals by eight testing vendors, including one marathon,12-hour day of interviews.

The task force’s recommendation for a new state exam was heralded as a major step forward for Iowa education: The Smarter Balanced tests it selected use technology to better pinpoint student ability, potentially giving teachers and schools more accurate and immediate information.

Governor Terry Branstad put the implementation of Smarter Balanced on hold at the start of the legislative session. Here’s the thing… the assessment move was heralded by those who were already in favor of Smarter Balanced. This move to Smarter Balanced was not heralded by parents, and certainly not taxpayers.  While the leadership of certain organizations were on board with Smarter Balanced it is questionable how much their members actually support it.

I reported in December how this assessment was impacting one school district in Western Iowa. I also shared the fiscal impact Smarter Balanced was going to have on the state.

Carroll Community School District is a school district in Western Iowa who has an enrollment of 1773 students. District Superintendent Rob Cortes told KCIM 1380 AM that the change represents an increase of $25,000 to the district’s assessment costs. This is an increase the state of Iowa has not set money aside to cover. Cortes noted that in order to pay for Smarter Balanced they will discontinue other assessments they used along with the current Iowa Assessments.

This represents a significant increase, consider what this is costing larger school districts.

Here are hard cost estimates to Iowa’s districts based on 2013-2014 enrollment (see spreadsheet of district breakdown):

  • SBAC summative: nearly a $5.5 million increase (500% increase)
  • SBAC summative, interim, digital library: over a $6.8 million increase (nearly 700% increase)
  • Next Generation Iowa Assessment: over a $3.2 million increase (300% increase)

Those numbers have only gotten worse. Also when you consider the budget shortfall of $131 million Iowa is projected to have this fiscal year with FY 2018 looking even more grim implementing this test would just be irresponsible.

Then there is the problem of Smarter Balanced showing no validity or reliability. Missouri Education Watchdog reported back in 2015:

An eye opening report  “Issues and Recommendation for Resolution of the General Assembly Regarding Validity and Reliability of the Smarter Balanced Assessments Scheduled for Missouri in Spring 2015″ authored by Dr. Mary Byrne of the Missouri Coalition Against Common Core, in consultation with other teachers and a test development expert, shows that the SBAC test Missouri schools are poised to give this spring has no external validity or reliability. In laymen terms this means that the test developers have no corroborating outside confirmation to prove that their test questions measure what they claim to measure or can produce consistent results in repeated administrations. All they have is their own claim of validity and a plan to develop this external validity some time in the future. This means that no meaningful conclusions can be drawn from student scores on this exam. Despite the fact that SBAC piloted both the test items AND the delivery system simultaneously, making determination of why a student may have missed an answer extremely difficult to tease out, SBAC went ahead and set cut scores from data collected during the pilot tests given last spring. Further, by design, those cut scores have been set so that 62% of the children will score below proficient according to this EdWeek article.

Improvements have not been made on that front.

Then, the assessment task force process was a sham since it was guided by the Iowa Department of Education. They had already invested in Smarter Balanced. I have yet to see a task force make a recommendation that is contrary to the will of the Iowa Department of Education.

The current bill requires the Iowa Department of Education to issue an RFP by April 30, 2017 for a new assessment to be ready by July 1, 2018. The assessment has to be in both paper-and-pencil and computer-based format. The bill then says this:

In evaluating the proposals, the department shall only consider the feasibility of implementation by school districts; the costs to school districts and the state in providing and administering the statewide assessment and the technical support necessary to administer the statewide assessment; the costs of acquiring the infrastructure necessary for implementing technology readiness in all of Iowa’s school districts, including technology required for accommodations; the degree to which the submission is aligned with the Iowa core academic standards; the ability of the assessment to measure student growth and student proficiency; the ability of the assessment to meet the requirements of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, Pub. L. No. 114-95; and the instructional time required to conduct the statewide assessment.

Unfortunately Iowa will still end up with a Common Core-aligned test since the bill requires it and Iowa’s math and ELA standards are Common Core. Every Student Succeeds Act requires a state’s assessment be aligned with their standards. The bill also does not require the state to withdraw from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium as an affiliate member. I don’t see how the Department can feign independence while maintaining affiliate member status with the Consortium. Governor Branstad supposedly withdrew Iowa from the consortium, but Smarter Balanced still lists Iowa as an affiliate member. Iowa was a governing member before.

The best case scenario out of this legislative session is that a better fiscal decision for taxpayers will be made and a better assessment will be selected. Putting this back into the hands of the Iowa Department of Education and Iowa State Board of Education though I have my doubts.

One thought on “Iowa Senate Poised to Vacate Decision to Use Smarter Balanced

  1. Will these school boards and departments of education officials never learn? Legislators are just as bad if not worse. What we told our proponents of SBAC in WV for the past few years was that there was no reliable validity to the SBAC and still they committed over $7 million dollars to it. Now they are getting rid of SBAC in WV. As we have been educating our elected representatives about the deform movement in education for years now they still continue to ignore us and are still going down the same road to destruction. Now we are doubling down on Common Core Initiative by rehiring a former WV State Superintendent, one of biggest advocates for drastic systemic education reform, to replace our current State Superintendent. This is insane.

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