An update from the state

Dept. of Ed director talks standardized testing, school funding at event

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise was the keynote speaker for the Fourth annual State of the Schools event at Elmwood Country Club Tuesday. The event was hosted by the Marshalltown Regional Partnership and co-sponsored by JBS Swift and Co., Lennox Industries and Shomo Madsen.

Discussion of the future of standardized testing, school funding and other key educational topics marked the Fourth annual Marshalltown Regional Partnership’s “State of the Schools” breakfast on Tuesday.

“The Board of Education, a year-and-a-half or so ago, started the rule-making process to move Iowa from the Iowa assessments to an assessment called Smarter Balance,” said Iowa Department of Education Director and keynote speaker Ryan Wise. “They were stopped in that process by the (state) legislature.”

He said lawmakers did not move forward with possible changes to standardized testing in the 2016 session, and with the state senate now in Republican control, he said the original process of moving to Smarter Balance was put on hold.

“The senate said ‘Not so fast, we want to consider this again,'” Wise said. “What they ended up doing is … they passed a piece of legislation that will now require the Department of Education to do a request for proposal, an RFP, for a new assessment system.”

The department must file an RFP by July 1, Wiser said, and a new test would then be selected through that process.

“It could be Iowa Assessments and a new test that they’re developing, it could be Smarter Balance, it could be ACT, it could be one of the number of vendors we don’t know about yet,” he said. “We’ll have the existing Iowa Assessments for one additional (school) year … 2018-19 will be a new test, which will be determined through that RFP process.”

Marshalltown Superintendent Dr. Theron Schutte said concerns exist about the current assessments from an instruction perspective.

“A big part of the concern is that the current Iowa Assessments are not at all aligned with the Iowa Core Curriculum,” he said, citing a DoE study. “We’re charged with teaching the Iowa Core … and yet, we’re measured with an instrument that does not reflect what we’re supposed to teach kids.”

Schutte also said it was good to see the many educational initiatives at work across the state’s school districts, but state funding is still a concern.

“As you know, the new normal has been extremely low state funding for the past seven years now,” he said.

Wise said funding is a concern, with the state showing lower-than-expected revenue numbers in recent months.

“Funding is always the elephant in the room, resources are constrained on everything we do with students,” Wise said. “At the same time, I think there are some resources in the system.”

He said this year’s legislative session produced legislation with “an emphasis on flexibility and a release from mandates in certain areas.”

Also discussed was early literacy and changes made at the state level in that area.

“The summer intensive reading program requirement was not funded, so the legislature let it go,” Wise said. “They also let go the retention requirement … there is still a robust early literacy initiative.”

He said it would be a mischaracterization to say the department has lost focus on early literacy with the elimination of mandates and lack of funding, and that resources do exist for such programming.

“There’s still $11 million in targeted literacy support,” he said. “Now, certainly, with one in four students not reading proficiently, there’s still a lot of work to do.”

Much of Wise’ message during the event had to do with wanting schools to personalize learning.

“I think the vision as a whole is around that personalized learning, how do we ensure every student has what they need to be successful,” he said. “I think as a state, from an agency perspective, we do what we can to create the climate where that can thrive locally.”

As part of the address, Wise provided examples of college and career readiness initiatives at several school districts, including Algona, Van Meter, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Webster City, Manning and more.

In the presentation, Wise broke down the idea of college and career readiness into four parts: Achieving proficiency in essential content knowledge, achieving practical transition skills, developing key learning skills and cognitive strategies, and building a strong foundation of self-understanding and engagement strategies.

After the event, Wise toured local schools, including Rogers and Woodbury elementary schools.

For more information on the DoE, go to www.educateiowa.gov