New Assessment Test Could Put Iowa Students Back On Top

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DES MOINES, Iowa–There’s no disputing that the Iowa state assessments were groundbreaking for educational testing.

“They’ve been around forever.  It was developed at the University of Iowa. It was like the hallmark for many years,” said Iowa Board of Education member Mary Ellen Miller.

Now, after setting the pace, Iowa educators find themselves having to play catch up.  Miller said, “Half the country used the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Now the only state still using it is Iowa.  So that says something right there too,”

Miller says the current testing has not changed with the times and it is causing a glaring concern.  “People my age grew up in an age where Iowa was at the top in charts of education.  We are in the middle and that’s hard for some of us to swallow and we want to bring Iowa back to that top level.”

In order to reach that success once again, last Thursday the State Board of Education voted unanimously to replace the current assessments for math and reading with the Smarter Balanced Assessment, created by 26 states, including Iowa.  The assessment is a centerpiece of a report in 2014 from the Iowa Assessment Task Force.  Schoolchildren will begin using it during the 2016-2017 school year.

Education officials say they’ve learned from the past.   “Right now if you think about it, the teachers are testing to the new standards on an old test, no wonder they complain,” said Miller.

It also addressed another complaint.  Miller said, “A lot of parents complained that the students felt pressure.  ‘I’ve only got one hour, I’ve only got two hours’ and they don’t do well under that pressure.  All of that is gone.”

Outside of students having no time limit, education officials say the new assessment test will stay up to date with open sourcing.  “It isn’t a stagnant test.  It will evolve as the standards evolve, as teachers see what works and what doesn’t, so it won’t get old,” said Miller.

A formative testing feature will provide teachers with a snapshot of student progress before the assessment. Miller said, “Teachers can use the short tests along the school year and adjust their teaching to match their students at that time.”

While Miller admits there will be some hurdles along the way,”This is gonna take a while to adapt.  This is probably going to take 2-3 years for everyone to really feel comfortable with.”

Educators believe the new standards will give Iowa students a better chance to reach their true potential.

Miller said, “What we have done nationwide with the core is raise expectations for our students so that we are moving beyond what we used to do which was rote memorization. Now we want students proving they can apply knowledge.  Why are we doing this? Because we want them to be successful in life.”

The Iowa Board of Education will also review the Smarter Balanced Assessment every seven years.


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