Education report: Diversity and poverty increase

Condition of Education Report also showed 98 percent of evaluated teachers received high marks

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DES MOINES — The diagnosis of Iowa’s student body is, in one word, ambiguous.

That’s the message coming from the 2012 Annual Condition of Education Report, which the Iowa Department of Education released Thursday morning. The document, a profile of the state’s 506,248 kindergarten through 12th grade students in both public and non-public schools during the 2011-12 academic year, shows that these learners are more ethnically diverse than ever before.

“I think the state is seeing unprecedented challenges,” said Jay Pennington, chief of the Bureau of Information and Analysis Services for the education department. “The key is how do we digest this information and come together and set a few priorities that can catapult the state ahead in achievement in the next few years?”

In fact, learners of color make up 19.3 percent of the state’s public school population and 40.1 percent of public school students are eligible for free- and reduced-price lunches, a designation used to measure poverty. Both of those rates are at the highest level in Iowa history.

Hispanic students made the largest leap, from comprising 3.6 percent of the student population in 2001-02 to 8.9 percent in 2011-12. During that same time frame, the proportion of white learners has dropped 9.6 percent, from 90.3 percent in 2000-01 to 80.7 percent in 2011-12. Overall public school enrollment has dropped as well, from 487,021 in 2002-03 to 473,504 in 2011-12.

One program Pennington is optimistic about is statewide implementation of Response to Intervention, a framework that calls for repeated testing throughout the year and additional targeted instruction for students who struggle with subject matter.

“There’s a great example of a state-level program that we’re working with [Area Education Agencies] to implement that will make a difference in raising achievement for all students,” he said.

As those numbers rise, student progress is a fuzzier picture.

“The nation has caught up to Iowa and now we score middle of the pack,” Pennington said of the results on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, which were replaced by the Iowa Assessements in 2011. Proficiency rates sunk for fourth- and eighth-grade students, but the news was brighter for Iowa’s 2010-12 high school juniors.

When ranked against their peers across the country, their performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress remaining virtually stagnant.

The Condition of Education Report also showed that 98 percent of evaluated teachers receive high marks for their work.

But that high percentage is more a cause for concern than celebration, said Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass, who thinks the number proves there’s something wrong with the teacher evaluation system.

“It’s typical of teacher evaluations in Iowa and across the country in that you see everyone in the very highest categories,” Glass said. “Basically, the story is the current evaluation system we have results in everyone coming out above expectations and very small amounts of our educators are given any amount of critical feedback. That begs the question on should we be improving our evaluations.”

This year was the first time the report included evaluation data for teachers, and it’s limited to the 2010-11 school year. But the department also is in the midst of evaluating teacher data from the 2011-12 year.

Tammy Wawro, president of the Iowa State Education Association, said “it doesn’t surprise me” that 98 percent of teachers met or exceeded standards, which she called “critical” to a teacher’s professional development.

“Any system that you have in place is only as good as the process that you use to utilize it. In theory, there’s an administrator who has the training on how to deliver it,” she said. “Right now, our administrators are so tasked. They don’t have time to do those critical conversations in every case.”

Gazette Des Moines Reporter Mike Wiser contributed to this report

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