There is no mistaking the fact that the General Assembly has a lot on their plate this session. Notwithstanding the fact that some of the work load is self-inflicted. Missing a deadline for setting supplemental state aid for example doesn't do anything to make their jobs any easier. The consequences for this extend beyond the budgetary quibble in which we currently find ourselves. This tends to delay the accomplishment of other important legislative work that we are counting on in schools. It would be a shame if some of these important decisions were pushed into the next session. The outcome would no doubt put school districts in a position of 'changing the tires while the car is moving down the road'. Although we are becoming quite used to it by now!
Yet I am still urging the legislature to take action on the Assessment Task Force's recommendation to adopt the Smarter Balance Assessments in time for the 2016-2017 school year. We should honor the work this dedicated group of Iowans embarked on and seriously consider what they have endorsed to become Iowa's next accountability test that will in part measure our efforts at implementing the Iowa Core. Currently, no legislation has been introduced in either chamber to take up this issue.
The Iowa Assessments are the current measure of student achievement used in our state to ensure accountability for the purpose of both state and federal mandates. With the passage of House File 215, the legislature set the stage to select the successor to the Iowa Assessment with the formation of this task force. Beginning in October of 2013, this task force met for over a year before finally delivering a recommendation in time for the 2015 General Assembly. Their report can be read here.
If you are a regular consumer of this blog, then you hopefully understand the urgency of this decision. The Iowa Assessments are the repackaged version of the tests we all took growing up as students and products of Iowa schools. At that time we called them Iowa Tests of Basic Skills in the elementary and the Iowa Tests of Educational Development in the high school. I can vividly remember many aspects of taking those tests in 1985. For example, the ritual of making sure we all had our sharpened number two pencils is one that I can still recall (with plenty of backups in case the lead broke on one in the middle of the exam). And that long line of students stretching to the back of the room, patiently waiting our turn at the hand crank pencil sharpener. Or the monotone delivery of the instructions from my teacher saying "You will have 20 minutes to complete this test. You may begin.....now!" Then all our little heads would bow down to our bubble sheets and test booklets. And then, finally finishing the test with a big sigh of relief and looking carefully around the room to see if anyone else was done, wondering if I had finished too quickly, or if the 'smart' kids in the room were already finished.
I'll bet there are a lot of parents out there right now that can reminisce about their experience with the ITBS as well! You might even be sitting there right now nodding your heads and saying, 'Yep. That's it exactly!' I sometimes run across one or two people who will tell me they used the ITBS as an opportunity to hone their skills as an artist by making intricate designs on the bubble sheet. (I know of at least one that currently works for me--don't worry--your secret is safe!)
Unfortunately this right of passage for our young people has not a changed much since you and I took these tests. The format is exactly the same with the bubble sheets, booklets, and your twenty minutes to complete the math computation test. Heck, there are still questions on the test that ask students to use a paper map to figure out directions on how to get somewhere. This is 2015. Who uses a paper map anymore? I know, some of these skills that are transferable, but come on! Consider this: before calculators math was taught with a slide ruler and abacus. Who wants to go back there?
Set aside the antiquated nature of the exam, the multiple choice 'recall' format; this test does a decent job of measuring 20th Century Skills, but a woefully inadequate job of measuring 21st Century Skills. Perhaps these points are symptomatic of much greater malaise: the alignment of these tests with what we are supposed to be teaching in our classrooms. The fact that the Iowa Assessments don't align very well to the Iowa Core has been well documented and studied extensively. You will recall the arguments I made about this very disconnect in my December blog post: A Smarter Way to Assess the Iowa Core.
Through the course of their study, the Assessment Task Force recognized this and subsequently voted 20-1 to recommend the Smarter Balance Assessment as the new assessment for Iowa students beginning in the 2016-2017 school year. Let's get this done now! The phone is ringing!