Right to delay new K-12 assessments

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Gov. Terry Branstad was right to hold his veto pen and let stand a bipartisan agreement reached by state lawmakers to delay the launch of new K-12 assessments.

That agreement gives schools until the 2017-18 school year to prepare for a smooth implementation of the Smarter Balanced Assessments, and gives legislators one more chance to fund the new statewide mandate.

We applaud the governor’s precise veto, which struck a proposal to mandate further review of the new assessments, but which left intact the delay, which has been championed by many school leaders.

We have been skeptical of the switch to Smarter Balanced, and although we continue to question the wisdom of moving from cost-effective and redesigned state-based testing systems to a nationally developed test that is more costly and technologically intensive, the decision has been made. Iowa’s students will, in the near future, be taking Smarter Balanced assessments.

Our primary concern now is that already-tight school budgets won’t further be squeezed to pay for the state-mandated new tests, computers and broadband required to administer them. It’s up to legislators to make sure that doesn’t happen.

As Branstad wrote in a statement explaining his veto decision: “School administrators and teachers are eager for a new assessment system that is closely aligned with Iowa’s high state academic standards. By providing better information about students’ academic progress, the new assessment will improve instruction. A well-aligned assessment is a key step toward providing a globally competitive education.”

That alignment comes at a cost.

There has been much debate about whether increased spending results in better education for students. Clearly, assessments are one area where legislators and the governor believe increased investment is warranted. State leaders cannot expect districts to shoulder the added burden alone.

Before adjourning this spring, legislators once again ignored the law by refusing to set the 2017-18 school budget. This delay gives them an opportunity to do the right thing by Iowa’s school districts. School funding, including funds to cover increased costs incurred by Smarter Balanced assessments, must be their first item of business in January.

• Gazette editorials reflect the consensus opinion of The Gazette Editorial Board. Share your comments and ideas with us: (319) 398-8469; editorial@thegazette.com

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