Tuesday, September 30, 2014

We Use the Iowa Core--Which is Not Exactly the Same as the Common Core

A component the 2001 re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education At (No Child Left Behind) required states to adopt rigorous content standards, and a system in which to measure progress against those standards. Every state in the country scrambled to meet this new mandate except one: Iowa. With a strong history of local control, state leaders believed those were decisions best left to each local school district. The only component Iowa policy makers weighed in on at the time was the assessment that would be used. We know that to be the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, which is now referred to as the Iowa Assessment.

So local school districts set about this work. It turned out to be grueling, and as a result many school districts formed consortium's that could collaborate and come to a common understanding about what skills and content should be taught to Iowa children. There is value in working together, and it is important to ensure that all students, no matter what school they attend, are exposed to content that enables them to be career or college ready upon graduation. As a practical matter, it also made sense that students at varying grade levels are taught the same skills so if they moved from one district to another they could expect to receive a comparable education without gaps. Because of this collaborative effort, the standards and benchmarks from one local school district to another tended to be quite similar.

All the while, the federal government continued to give Iowa poor marks because there was no uniform set of statewide content standards. Many school districts in Iowa continued the struggle of developing local standards and benchmarks for students. And it was a struggle. 

Finally, In 2005 with the passage of Senate File 245 work began on the Iowa Core. Building on the work that local school districts were already engaged in, the directive from the legislature was to develop a set of core academic standards in Iowa high schools in the areas of math, literacy, and science. The work was further expanded in 2007 with the passage of Senate File 588 which called for the development of social studies and 21st Century learning standards along with extending the scope to grades K-8. A key distinction in this work is that the content standards are developed for Iowa students by Iowa educators. The results of this work was presented to the State Board of Education. 

As the development of the Iowa Core Academic Standards was wrapping up and school districts were beginning the implementation of the Iowa Core, the Common Core State Standards initiative was launched in 2009. It is important to be reminded once again, that the Common Core movement is not a federal initiative or requirement, but rather is borne out of the work of the National Governor's Association. Nonetheless, it continues to be viewed as a federal intrusion over states rights by some groups.

The Iowa Department of Education completed an alignment study of the Iowa Core Academic Standards and the Common Core standards in 2010. They found that 93% of the Common Core was matched by at least one Iowa Core literacy concept and that 84% of the Iowa Core essential skills were also present in the Common Core. The results of math were also quite telling: 99% of the Common Core were matched by at least on Iowa Core math concept, and 88% of the Iowa Core essential skills were also present in the Common Core. Remember, the Iowa Core was developed by Iowans for Iowa students, and was completed before the Common Core was adopted. You can check out the results of the study right here.

Following this calibration, Iowa adopted the Common Core within the parameters of the already established Iowa Core Academic Standards. Now there is a nationwide movement to rollback the Common Core. There have been arguments that some of the content standards aren't developmentally appropriate. Which ones? One also has to remember that the actual curriculum and resources that are used remain a local decision. This decision is one that I can assure you our Board of Education takes very seriously. In the past two years, the Hudson Board of Directors has adopted two comprehensive curriculum(s) in the areas of math and literacy only after our own teachers fully vetted both sets of materials. 

At the end of the day what happens if the Common Core goes away? I would contend not much. After all, we subscribe to the Iowa Core Academic Standards.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Elementary and Secondary Education Act Needs to be Reauthorized

Last week the Iowa Department of Education released the results of the federal accountability law known as 'No Child Left Behind'. It should come as no surprise that more schools and districts have been labeled as 'in need of assistance'. According to the Department of Education website, 852/1,288 schools, or 66.1% missed meeting the targets known as Adequate Yearly Progress.

Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, is based on student proficiency as measured by the Iowa Assessments and participation rates. If a school does not test at least 95% of their students in all subgroup areas it is considered to have missed AYP. Regarding proficiency, since 2001 the targets have steadily climbed: in 2011-2012 they were 80%; then in 2012-2013 they were at 94%; and finally in 2013-2014 they reached 100% proficiency. The law requires that schools meet these proficiency targets for the overall student population along with demographic subgroups such as socio-economic status, limited English proficiency, race/minority, and special education. While there is a component of growth factored into the equation, it doesn't go far enough. 

Proficiency is a measure based on a specified benchmark on the test that students must obtain. The Iowa Assessments are a norm referenced test, meaning that pupils are ranked against one another. For example, if there were 100 students that took the test they would be ordered from 1-100. The net effect of this statistic is that children are ranked against one another instead of what they actually know. A student that had a score of 30 would equate to a percentile rank of 30, which means that 70 students performed better on the test. The end result of course is that you will have a certain number of students who never meet the proficiency benchmarks. A better measure of student progress would be a criterion referenced test, or one that actually does measure the knowledge that a student has gained. It would be more useful to know if a student understands his or her math facts as opposed to knowing more math facts than other students. 

Yet, we shouldn't be lulled into a sense of false security or promise that we can fix the problem by merely changing the instrument. While a criterion referenced test would be a significant improvement over a norm referenced test, there might still be a small percentage of students unable to meet the benchmark. The best possible outcome could be to measure the amount of growth that a student is able to make over the course of the year, or in the case of the Iowa Assessments from one testing cycle to another. In this case, student learning outcomes can be designed in a way to meet the needs of a diverse group of students. Students who are served by special education programs or who have limited English proficiency have a different starting point than those served by the general educational program. But even with these type of instruments in place, there may still be students who fall short of meeting goals. 

So then, you are probably wondering how Hudson stacked up on the federal accountability requirements. As a district, we met all the goals for participation up and down the line: as a district, as an elementary, middle, and high school. And as a district, we also met AYP in terms of the targets. In the high school, all targets were met for both participation and achievement. Our middle school students are on delay status for reading (which means they met the goal for this year but missed it last year), and on the SINA (school in need of assistance) for math. Finally, in the elementary school we are on the Watch list for reading and met the target for math. Here is where it gets a bit perplexing.

Recall that we are on the SINA list for math. Let's take a look at those scores in terms of a growth factor. If you look at the table to the left, notice that students from grades 5-6 grew on average 24 points. The expected growth rate for this group of students was only 13 (based on a median percentile rank of 50). So not only did they meet expected growth, statistically speaking, they grew in excess of one year! The same holds true between 6-7 grade: expected, 12; realized 21. Grades 7-8: expected 11 realized 17. Granted, that is the entire population and not segregated by subgroup. When you look at the subgroup data, you would notice that the column to the far right, labeled PR suggests as a subgroup, the students are not proficient. An example of such is included below.

This is for one of our subgroups. (I am purposely not naming the group at this point). You should note that between grades 6-7, as a subgroup they are only scoring at the 25th percentile, which is not proficient. However, if you look at the expected growth rate for this subgroup based on the percentile rank, they are expected to grow 8 points. In this particular group, they actually grew by 24 points. In order to meet proficiency, a student needs to exceed the expected growth. This is known as closing the gap. I don't know about you, but this most certainly does not look like a school that should be on the SINA list.

Most industry does not place these kind of arbitrary standards on the products they are sending out the factory door, and then imposing punitive penalties when falling short of that goal. For that reason, it is imperative that Congress act to re-authorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. While it is indeed a noble goal to strive for perfection out of our students and schools, we must also be realistic and provide fair measures. As the data shared here clearly illustrates, there is much more to student achievement than a percentile ranking. By the way, schools are not opposed to data and are just fine with accountability. We use data all the time to shape instruction. What schools are leery of are unfair measures that don't look at the entire scope of student achievement or data sets that aren't evaluated in the proper context.