Iowa Senate agrees to undo school testing bid

Bill awarding work to University of Iowa heads back to House

The State Capitol building is shown in Des Moines on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The State Capitol building is shown in Des Moines on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — The Iowa Senate voted 39-10 Tuesday to approve a House-passed bill that would award the state’s student standardized testing contract to Iowa Testing Programs at the University of Iowa, a move that would override a yearslong process awarding the deal to an out-of-state vendor.

House File 2235 would have the UI develop assessments taken by some 360,000 students each school year beginning after July 1 — a change to the outdated Iowa Tests of Basic Skills that opponents said would invite a legal challenge and risk federal money.

Senators approved an amendment during floor debate that requires the bill to go back to the Iowa House. Eleven Democrats joined 28 Republicans in approving the measure, which was opposed by nine Democrats and one independent.

Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, the bill’s floor manager, said the Senate changes spell out parameters for the testing program to align the standards with Iowa curriculum and meet federal requirements. He said he was satisfied the changes would address concerns, along with saving $9.3 million annually, and he consulted legal experts before proceeding.

The legislation’s movement comes after years of delays in replacing tests students now take, the Iowa Assessments, with tests more aligned to what they learn in the classroom under the Iowa Core.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, took issue with the “shameful history” of the process that has spanned five years, calling it a “disgrace,” but predicting the matter could be the subject of litigation if the state passes over the American Institutes of Research in Washington, D.C. — the previous winner.

“This legislation sends a really bad message,” said Sen. Rita Hart, D-Wheatland. “The message from senators and representatives is that politicians know more about what works in the classroom than teachers who are in the classroom every day.”


Also Tuesday, senators voted 44-5 to confirm West Des Moines lawyer Mark Lowe as Gov. Kim Reynolds’ choice to lead the Iowa Department of Transportation. Four Democrats and one independent opposed Lowe’s appointment while 28 Republicans and 16 Democrats voted to confirm him to a position he has held on an interim basis.

Gubernatorial nominees must win a two-thirds majority of the Senate, or at least 34 affirmative votes, to be confirmed. The Iowa Senate now is made up of 28 Republicans, 20 Democrats and one independent.

Before the vote, Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo, objected to the Iowa DOT’s “mission creep” into police powers he said are reserved for the Iowa State Patrol. The issue has led to legal challenges of traffic citations issued by Iowa DOT enforcement officers.

“This management discretion has gone wild,” said Danielson.

But Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, countered that the Iowa DOT is one of the most efficiently run agencies in state government and urged senators to “consider the big picture” in supporting Lowe’s confirmation.

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