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.

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