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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 22, 2018

Iowa Senate advances bill upending school testing contract

Measure, which passed House, would have University of Iowa develop test
By Molly Duffy, The Gazette | Mar 01, 2018

DES MOINES — Legislators moved closer Tuesday to awarding the state’s standardized testing contract to Iowa Testing Programs at the University of Iowa, a move that would override a yearslong process that awarded the deal to an out-of-state vendor.

House File 2235 advanced through a Senate subcommittee after being approved last week by the House in a 94-3 vote.

The legislation would have the UI develop assessments taken by some 360,000 Iowa students each school year.

Sens. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa; Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton; Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa; and Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, voted to move the bill to the Senate Education Committee. Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, opposed the decision.

The vote comes after years of delays in replacing tests students now take, the Iowa Assessments, with tests more aligned to what they learn in the classroom under the Iowa Core.

“Iowa must have a measure that accurately reflects what students are being taught in the classroom,” Iowa Department of Education Ryan Wise told the subcommittee. “Better information coming back to teachers from the assessment aligned to Iowa standards will help set the stage for improvements to student achievement.”

The process to replace the assessments has moved in fits and starts, Wise said. Five years after first indicating a need in 2013, lawmakers directed the department last year to get proposals.

That resulted in a winning bid from the American Institutes of Research in Washington, D.C., not a proposal from NCS Pearson for the Iowa Assessments Next Generation to be developed by the UI.

The department’s selection process found that the Next Generation Iowa Assessments, at about $12.05 per student, would be less expensive than the AIR proposal, estimate at $17.18 per student. But the Iowa Assessments Next Generation proposal came up short compared with AIR’s proposal in all of the department’s other measures, which included alignment to the Iowa Core and federal education legislation among other criteria.

The state’s contract with AIR was stalled by a court challenge by Pearson, which was ruled invalid, and now by legislative action.

Subcommittee Chairman Chelgren questioned the validity of the Education Department’s assessment of the proposals, and said the financial costs of the proposals should have carried more weight.

“You’re weighting your test in certain ways, and I think as the Department of Education you should know better,” Chelgren told Wise and department bureau chief Jay Pennington.

A Board of Regents lobbyist said the Iowa Assessments Next Generation fell short because it didn’t have a fully-developed test.

“We were going to custom-make the test for Iowa,” Keith Saunders told the subcommittee. “It was not an off-the-shelf test. … The proposal provided by the University of Iowa and Pearson was a custom designed test, written by Iowa teachers, piloted by Iowa students that would be specifically aligned to Iowa standards. That’s why it was not a complete product — because it wasn’t ordered yet.”

The uncertainty of what tests students will take next school year has been a burden for some school districts. At the subcommittee meeting, an Ames school board member said districts “just need” a test.

“This is something our teachers and administration and school board members, and most of all our parents, have been asking for for years,” Lewis Rosser said.

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