Government

Iowa's school accountability plan okayed by feds

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Mary Schwalm
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Mary Schwalm

DES MOINES — U.S. Department of Education officials announced Wednesday they approved Iowa’s plan for school accountability and support to meet new education standards under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) — the legislation that replaced the No Child Left Behind policy.

“I am pleased to approve these plans which comply with the requirements of the law,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, in approving consolidated state plans submitted by Iowa and Alaska. “I encourage states to use their plans as a starting point, rather than a finish line, to improve outcomes for all students.”

Allowing states more flexibility in how they deliver education to students is at the core of ESSA, according to federal officials. Each state crafted a plan that it believes will best offer educational opportunities to meet the needs of the state and its students.

Iowa officials said the state plan submitted last year reflects a commitment to ensuring every student graduates ready for success in college and in the workplace. It is intended to be fully implemented by fall 2018.

Iowa’s plan builds on education improvement efforts underway that align with ESSA requirements, including clear and rigorous standards for what students should know and be able to do, a school accountability system that steers support where and when schools need it most, and a structure for professional learning that emphasizes teacher leadership and evidence-based practices, according to state education officials.

The plan also features unique measures of student engagement, safety and learning environment, as well as post-secondary readiness.

“We have the right road map in place for education, and I’m proud of the collaborative spirit with which this plan was developed,” said Ryan Wise, director of the Iowa Department of Education.

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Wise’s agency submitted Iowa’s ESSA plan in September 2017, following more than a year of development and feedback from stakeholders. The plan was then revised based on responses from the federal education agency.

Unique elements from Iowa’s approved plans, the Iowa Education Department said in a media release, were that it includes:

l A measure of student engagement, safety and learning environment and a measure of post-secondary readiness

l Implements school accountability system that steers support where and when Iowa schools need it most

l Provides a structure for professional learning that emphasizes teacher leadership and evidence-based practices

l Sets clear and rigorous standards that educators help students reach through high-quality instruction and evidence-based practices.

The 231-page state plan outlines how Iowa will meet federal accountability standards and “support” those schools that fail to meet academic goals.

In Iowa, schools that need improvement will be identified by several factors, including academic achievement, growth, “conditions for learning” and students’ “postsecondary readiness.”

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To gauge conditions for learning, surveys — posing questions about whether facilities are safe, if students face bullying, if they have friends at school and feel cared for by adults — will be administered to students, staff and parents, according to state education department officials.

The federal legislation also requires states to set academic proficiency goals.

Iowa will aim to increase reading and math proficiency rates by half a percentage point for all students, and by a full percentage point for students in “subgroups” — such as those who receive free or reduced-price lunch, English language learners and racial and ethnic minorities — every year for five years.

The state will measure progress using the Iowa Assessments and will adjust when a new state assessment is put in place in the 2018-19 school year.

A school’s failure to achieve those goals will result in as many as three years of support and supervision from the state.

ESSA, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, was signed by former president Barack Obama in 2015 and requires each state to have a plan for implementing the law. ESSA maintains the former No Child Left Behind Act’s focus on school accountability and equity for all students while shifting decision-making back to states and local school districts, according to federal officials.

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