In early September Iowa Republicans rolled out an education agenda calling for strong state standards, high school exit exams and expanded public disclosure of school and district performance.
This week Chad Adelman, a policy analyst at Education Sector, a nonpartisian think tank in Washington, D.C., wrote a guest editorial in the Des Moines Register praising the accountability piece but critcizing the strong state standards and high school exit exams.
This is Mr. Adelman’s second editorial. In June he wrote in favor of opening up Iowa’s ever-so-restrictive charter school law. Then, as now, Mr. Adelman did Iowans a favor. He delivers the harsh truth about the gloomy education future Iowa children face:
In June he wrote:
- “In 1992, when I was 8, Iowa’s fourth graders scored higher than all but one state in math and all but four states in reading on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress). Unfortunately, today’s Iowa children face a gloomier future than I did. Over a 15 year period ending in 2007, only three states had lower academic gains than Iowa, and Iowa now trails 14 states in both subject.”
Last week he wrote:
- “Two-thirds of high school graduates enroll in college the fall after graduation, and many are unprepared for the demands of college-level work. These students must take remedial math and English courses to learn content they were supposed to have mastered in high school.”
In June he offered the insightful suggestion that Iowa needs a better charter law focusing on results and proven performance. Those magnet schools meeting agreed-upon performance thresholds should be encouraged to replicate and be given financial assistance and space to do so.
In June Mr. Adelman took the time to look at Iowa law and what’s really going on in our state. Last Monday, however, Mr. Adelman forgot to tune into what’s really going on in Iowa.
Contrary to what Mr. Adelman said, rigorous core academic standards are NOT happening in this state.
Contrary to what Mr. Adelman said, rigorous core academic standards are NOT happening in this state. In fact, the Iowa Department of Education recently backed away from any meaningful commitment to incorporate the very national core standards Mr. Adelman cites as his solution to Iowa’s problem.
Two months ago Education Director Judy Jeffrey said:
- “With our recently passed Iowa Core Curriculum, Iowa can easily incorporate national standards because the Core Curriculum provides more explicit guidance to reach high expectations.”
Today, however, the DE director objects to the making these rigorous national standards a mandatory feature of the $4 billion federal Race to the Top. Director Jeffrey said that these national standards should be voluntary.
So Iowa students aren’t held to rigorous state standards because there are no rigorous state standards in place or in the works. All Iowans really have is “maybe will we or maybe we won’t” leadership.
Iowa spent millions of tax dollars developing core curriculum for teachers but as of yet has no road map for students and parents. The plan introduced by Iowa Republicans focuses on students and parents.
Rigorous core standards – the student and parent road map to success – do not exit. Just ask the parents of an Iowa 7th grader if they know what skills their child is supposed to develop this year.
In terms of exit exams, Mr. Adelman makes valid arguments regarding the difficult experience other states faced when starting from scratch and developing a single test. But he forgets to point out that of the 24 states with exit exams, 14 of them are expected to move away from the single test and toward the more useful end-of-course exams by 2015. Iowa Republicans are open to doing the same.
End-of-course exams assess the mastery of content of a specific high school course. Students don’t exit high school unless they pass these exams. This idea is not without precedent in Iowa.
Iowa’s high school athletes are required to receive a passing grade all their courses. But no similar state law exists in order to graduate from an Iowa high school. Why shouldn’t Iowa students be required to pass end-of –course exams in mathematics and English and science in order to get their diploma?
Since 2004 Iowa has received $25 million in assessment money from the federal government and yet this state continues to rely on a single test to tells us whether our students across the state are learning.
An alarming number of Iowa high school graduates can’t read or do basic math. Take a minute and think about these facts:
- 22% of all 11th graders can’t read at a proficient level
- 22% of 11th graders can’t do basic math
- Yet 90% of 11th graders will get a diploma
Strong state standards and backed by meaningful testing hold districts, teachers and student accountable.