Glass announces Iowa's plan to request No Child Left Behind waiver

State's education director says plan would increase accountability

Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass makes a point to Nixon Elementary Principal Dee Crozier during a visit
Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass makes a point to Nixon Elementary Principal Dee Crozier during a visit in February. (Dave Franzman/The Gazette)

UPDATE: Students, teachers and schools would be measured in new ways under a proposal the Iowa Department of Education submitted to the federal government Tuesday.

Department of Education Director Jason Glass also challenged the Legislature to pass key components of Gov. Terry Branstad’s education reform package that make the proposal possible.

“If nothing happens, I will be forced to withdraw the application,” Glass said during a news conference in Des Moines where he announced the submission of the state’s request for a waiver from the requirements imposed by the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act.

To obtain the waiver, the department has to prove that the state’s education program meets federal accountability and preparation standards even if it does away with other parts of No Child Left Behind.

The state’s waiver request has some overlap with key points in the governor’s education reform proposal released in January. The overlap includes using value-added assessments to track teacher and student progress.

The student assessments, for example, would chart an individual student’s growth over time, as opposed to simply charting how the student does on standardized testing each year.

“Neither the status-quo policy framework, nor an overly watered down version of education reform, will meet what has been written into Iowa’s NCLB waiver,” Glass said.

The department’s proposal has the support of the Iowa Association of School Boards and the School Administrators of Iowa, as well as the Urban Education Network.

“We’ve always been fans of the value-added assessments, because we really should be assessing how each child is doing annually, not where they are,” said Mary Gannon, an attorney with the Iowa Association of School Boards. “So a kid who is sitting at the 90th percentile, we make sure that he’s still at the 90th percentile, but he’s had a year’s growth.”

Margaret Buckton, a lobbyist with the Urban Education Network, which represents the state’s largest school districts, said the assessments outlined in the application are “more meaningful to students and help teachers improve instruction” than the ones in place now.

The Iowa State Education Association has not backed the plan.

“While we understand the need to move away from the one-size-fits-all approach to testing and school accountability under NCLB, the ISEA still has questions about the specifics of this application that need to be addressed,” said Chris Bern, president of the union, in a statement released just before the news conference. “One area of concern for educators is tying student achievement data to teacher evaluations. As frontline professionals, our members need to be at the table when those decisions are made, and the state should be cautious when proceeding with this large policy shift.”

Glass said the union as well as the other education groups have been involved in the discussions on both the waiver and the education reform package. He said he hopes the dialogue will continue going forward, and he hopes to earn their support.

“I think they have a lot to learn about what’s in the plan related to their work, and I think there’s some healthy skepticism about the purpose of some of the ed reform over the years,” said Buckton, when asked if it was a problem for the districts she represents that the teachers aren’t on board.

“We really believe that good education reform supports good teaching and will align professional development with what teachers need to do to improve,” she said. “If you’re the teacher, and you think it’s only coming for the purpose of evaluation and ‘Am I going to get fired?’ of course, have some reticence about it.”

Glass said the department will have to go over the proposal when the Legislature adjourns and make sure what it put in its waiver request aligns with what the General Assembly passes and make changes if they are necessary.He said the state expects to hear back sometime this year.

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