Will the Iowa Legislature Block Smarter Balanced?


The Iowa Legislature is on the verge of passing an education appropriations bill that doesn’t fund the Smarter Balanced Assessments, that was adopted by the Iowa State Board of Education, but doesn’t block it either. The education appropriations subcommittee last week put forward a bill that didn’t include funding. The Iowa Senate passed the bill out of their appropriations committee on a party-line vote with Democrats voting for the bill, and Republicans voting against.

The Iowa Legislature has the opportunity to block the adoption of Smarter Balanced, back in December the joint administrative rules committee voted unanimously on a session delay for the assessment expressing disappointment that the State Board of Education had adopted an assessment, and were especially concerned with the cost. If the Legislature does nothing this session then the administrative rules governing the implementation of Smarter Balanced will go into effect and every public school and state-accredited non-public school will be required to administer the test.

It is important that Iowans contact their legislators today and let them know that Iowa’s schools can’t afford this assessment, and the legislature needs to block it.

Iowa has never funded assessments for local school districts, but the cost of Smarter Balanced compared to the Iowa Assessments is a significant increase. I wrote last week at Caffeinated Thoughts:

The problem is that the current Iowa Assessments only cost school districts between $4.25-$6.25 per assessment per student. Smarter Balanced which the Iowa State Board of Education approved last fall will cost districts at minimum $22.50 per assessment per student for just the summative assessment in English language arts and math, and up to $27.30 if the school districts use the full suite of formative, interim and summative assessments.

This didn’t even include the new science assessment that will be needed with the Iowa State Board of Education approving the Next Generation Science Standards. The current estimate for that assessment is $15.00 per student per assessment.

The Iowa Assessments include English language arts, math and science.

So school districts are facing paying a minimum of 3 1/2 times more for assessments. Where is this money going to come from? When the science assessment is added schools at minimum will be paying 6 times more.

Some points for legislators to consider…

Hard costs estimates to districts based on 2013-2014 enrollment:

  • 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)

Soft costs to each district: 

  • Common Core assessments are online-only assessments. They will require significant increases in both technology (computer equipment, software and maintenance) as well as internet bandwidth in all school districts just to accommodate that many students taking these tests. These costs are unknown and were not considered by the assessment task force.
  • The SBAC assessment does not include science. The additional costs for adding a science test are unknown and were not considered by the assessment task force. 
  • The SBAC assessment only measures the National Common Core Standards – it will not measure any of the required additional state standards that still remain as part of the Iowa Core (approximately 10-15%), nor any standards that local districts may be allowed to add (15%)

Who controls?

  • The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium’s governing board is based at the University of California, and its fiscal agent is the State of Washington’s Superintendent’s office. It is funded primarily by the federal government via the U.S. Department of Education in Washington D.C. No Iowa educators or legislators participated in the writing or development of this test, nor will they be able to review, approve or make changes to it in order to align with Iowa standards.
  • This assessment will remove both local control and state control. It will drive both local and state standards, and ultimately curriculum, to align with what is important to the federal government and other states, rather than what is important to Iowans. 
  • It will only test those portions of Iowa Core that are the same as Common Core; no additional Iowa local or state standards will be tested.
  • Iowa teachers will be held accountable to test results from an assessment Iowans did not create, based on standards Iowa legislators and elected school boards did not approve.

Then the fact that this assessment is neither validated and reliable.

Iowa can do better for students, for parents and for Iowa’s taxpayers.