NEWS

State Board of Education hopes for legislative action on new test

Districts have concerns but say alignment with Iowa Core is worth it

A student takes the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. (Gazette file photo)
A student takes the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. (Gazette file photo)

After the Iowa Board of Education this week endorsed a new state test for students, the board is hopeful the state Legislature will adopt the recommenation this year, board president Charles Edwards said Friday.

The Board of Education on Wednesday endorsed a state task force’s recommendation of the Smarter Balanced assessments for math and reading, which would replace the Iowa Assessments for those subjects.

Iowa students would begin taking the new tests in the 2016-17 school year if the Legislature passes the proposal into law. “We’re hoping they will deal with it this year, but it very well could be pushed into next year,” Edwards said of legislators. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

If a vote on the issue is delayed, by a year, Edwards said the tests likely still would be implemented in 2016-17, although schools would not have as much time to prepare.

The possible change to the Smarter Balanced tests, which are administered online rather than by pencil and paper, has raised several questions among school officials.

Among them are whether schools have adequate technology to administer the tests, how much instructional time teachers will lose because of increased testing time, and how much the tests will cost.

Districts have increased Internet bandwidth and the number of computers avaialble to students in recent years, but the scale of the test still can make administrators nervous, said Matt Townsley, the Solon Community School District’s director of instruction and technology. The tests, which adapt to each student based on the student’s response to each question, would be taken by students in grades 3-8 and 11.

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“For every student in our school district, we probably have a computer for every two or three students,” Townsley said. “What we’ve never done is put all of those computers to use at once.”

The Smarter Balanced tests also would take longer to administer and cost more than the next-generation Iowa Assessments considered by the board.

Districts are generally in favor of the proposal, however, because it better aligns with the Iowa Core academic standards they are required to teach. The current Iowa Assessments do not align well with the standards, they said.

“Iowa Assessment is our high-stakes assessment,” said Karla Ries, the Cedar Rapids Community School District’s director of instructional services. “That’s how we’re evaluated publicly, and with No Child Left Behind there are sanctions applied. We’re also held accountable to the Iowa Core. When those two pieces don’t align, that creates some dilemma, some problems.”

Tim Kuehl, the superintendent of the Clear Creek-Amana Community School District, agreed.

“It doesn’t really make sense to be held accountable for teaching something and then have an assessment that doesn’t match up,” Kuehl said.

Townsley said that alignment is worth taking more time to administer a test.

“We’re willing to make a few sacrifices to get better information about our kids,” he said.

The proposal to adopt the Smarter Balanced tests only applies to math and reading. The state Department of Education is in the process of collecting public input into the state’s science standards, and Edwards said the assessment task foce would be reconvened once that process is finished, to recommend a statewide science test.

If the Legislature passes the Smarter Balanced proposal for math and reading, Edwards said, districts could end up using the Smarter Balanced math and reading tests and the Iowa Assessments science test in 2016-17, before the state decides how to proceed with a new science test.

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