Gearing up for another great year
August feels like a hazy early morning when my alarm has yet to buzz, but it’s only minutes away. I’m faced with a choice; force myself back to sleep for a few fleeting moments, or get up and start the day earlier than planned. Then the list springs into my head. I think about all of the opportunities and challenges, which swirl into a mix of anticipation and inspiration, and I’m off and running.
This August is no exception. As I look to the year ahead, I am optimistic for another great year. As a state, we have many opportunities to strengthen our education system.
For more than a year, the Iowa Department of Education has collaborated with stakeholders around the state to develop a plan for implementing the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This plan will serve as the foundation for the state’s system of accountability and support for students, educators and schools.
I encourage you to check out our ESSA resources page to learn more about how the Department is using the new law to maximize flexibility and leverage our recent improvement efforts. The next draft of the plan will be posted in mid-August and the finalized plan will be submitted to the US Department of Education on Sept. 18. I’m grateful to the hundreds of Iowans who have improved the plan by sharing their perspective. As we move into the year ahead, I look forward to shifting from planning to implementation.
One of the most significant events in the months ahead will be the selection of a new statewide assessment for math, English language arts, and science. Senate File 240 empowered the Department to launch a Request For Proposal (RFP) process. In evaluating the proposals, the Department will consider the feasibility of implementation, cost, necessary technical support, the ability to measure both student growth and proficiency, and the ability to meet the requirements of ESSA. The proposals are due on Aug. 4, and the Department intends to announce the successful vendor in mid-September. Our focus throughout this effort has been on running a transparent, open process that meets the legislative requirements and will ultimately result in the selection of an assessment that is a fair and reflective measure of what our students know and are able to do in relation to Iowa’s academic standards.
As the Department progresses toward the selection of a statewide assessment, we will continue to provide leadership in the review and implementation of Iowa’s academic standards. This fall, the State Board will consider the recommendations of the Fine Arts Standards Adoption Team on recommended K-12 standards for Visual Art, General Music, Instrumental Music, Vocal Music, Theater, Dance, and Media Arts. The Fine Arts Standards Adoption Team was convened this past February 2017 and met four times through June. In addition, in partnership with the Department, the team created an online survey for public input, which generated comments from more than 1,500 respondents. Look for the report from the team in the coming weeks.
In addition to the fine arts, the Department will also develop recommended standards for computer science. These standards will flow from the upcoming report of the Computer Science Education Work Group, which was created by Senate File 274. The goal of this legislation is that by July 1, 2019, every elementary school will offer instruction in the fundamentals of computer science; every middle school will offer exploratory computer science; and every high school will offer at least one high-quality computer science course. As Governor Reynolds stated upon passage of the legislation, computer science is a new basic skill in the technology-driven, 21st century economy.
The effort to ensure equitable access to high-quality computer science instruction supports other important efforts, like Future Ready Iowa and the implementation of the CTE Redesign legislation, to ensure Iowa students are prepared for post-secondary success. I’m particularly eager for the October release of the Future Ready Iowa Alliance recommendations, which will provide a clear path toward reaching the goal of having 70 percent of Iowa's workforce with education or training beyond high school by the year 2025. As we await the release of the recommendations, I encourage you to check out the insightful new report, Metrics that Matter, which tells a compelling story about Iowa’s workforce needs and the role education plays in meeting these needs.
The work to prepare students for success after high school begins with meeting the literacy needs of our youngest learners. As you may know, Iowa will transition this school year to a new statewide data system for K-6 literacy. To help school districts prepare, the Department will provide comprehensive training consisting of webinars followed by regional face-to-face trainings. Our goal is to ensure schools have the support they need to continue to develop successful readers.
Finally, while there are many changes in education in Iowa, there are a few things that will remain consistent. For example, the Department will continue to support school districts in the implementation of the Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) system. The 2017-18 school year marks the first year that TLC will not be new in any school district. All Iowa schools have at least one year under their belts, and for some three years, and are now exploring ways in which teacher leadership can have an even greater impact on student learning.
In addition, I also intend to continue my approach of visiting schools on a weekly basis. As I begin my third year as director of the Iowa Department of Education, I look forward to continuing to learn from the innovative work happening in Iowa schools and to ensuring the Department of Education is a true partner in helping schools reach the vision they have for student success.
I wish you all the best as you begin another school year.
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