Director Wise: A short list, a tall order
A few weeks ago I started carrying around a piece of paper with five items written in large print:
- Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)
- Future Ready Iowa
- Computer Science
- Instructional Frameworks
While my daily schedule jumps across dozens of issues, I’ve tried to focus the bulk of my time, attention and energy this month on these critical topics. I’ll highlight the first two of these in this month’s column and share important updates on the remaining three in November.
I breathed a huge sigh of relief on September 18 as the Department submitted Iowa’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan to the US Department of Education. This plan was the culmination of over a year of deep, sustained engagement with stakeholders from around the state. As the Department worked to incorporate the third round of feedback into the plan, we paid particular attention to ensuring we had clear and helpful indicators of school performance and a strong articulation of what it means to receive a well-rounded education.
On school accountability, ESSA provides states much more latitude in determining the indicators it will use to determine which schools need additional support. Based on public feedback, the Department adjusted the indicators, the weighting of these indicators, and the implementation timeline over the course of the four drafts of the plan. We ultimately landed on a set of measures that prioritize student achievement, but go beyond simply looking at student proficiency in math and language arts.
Iowa’s measures also look at student growth in these subjects and takes a more holistic view of school performance by adding in a post-secondary readiness index, which will be developed over the next year with stakeholder input, and a conditions for learning index, which will measure student safety, engagement and the school environment through a survey. Importantly, both of these measures will be phased-in over time.
One of the other opportunities provided by the Every Student Succeeds Act was to create a broader, more holistic vision for the goals of the education system in Iowa. I appreciated hearing from teachers and advocates in physical education and health, social studies, the fine arts, and STEM who wanted to ensure these important subjects were highlighted in the plan so that schools were clear that locally they had the ability, and encouragement, to increase their emphasis on these areas. We also heard from advocates for gifted and talented learners, English Learners, students with disabilities, and early childhood students, all of whom rightfully wanted to ensure the needs of these students were addressed in the plan.
In addition, advocates for school library programs, school counseling services, and social emotional learning passionately shared the importance of these areas in creating healthy and successful schools. Beyond simply mention these areas in the plan, the Department is committed to working with stakeholders to share best practices and effective examples as we move from planning into implementation.
Another important aspect of Iowa’s ESSA plan is the development of academic achievement goals. One of the challenges we faced in setting long-term goals is that this is the final year of our current statewide assessment. It’s nearly impossible to set long-term goals when you have no sense of the measure you’re using. However, on September 28 the Department announced the new statewide assessment, American Institutes for Research, which will allow us to revisit the goal setting process. I’m also eager to engage in the process over the coming months to put this assessment into practice.