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Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 18, 2018

Iowa’s schools rate the same or worse compared to last year

By Molly Duffy, The Gazette | Dec 14, 2017

CEDAR RAPIDS — While a number of Cedar Rapids schools have improved, the latest round of Iowa School Report Card ratings released Wednesday keeps most of the district’s schools in the lower half of its six-tier system.

The school accountability system, run by the Iowa Department of Education, relies primarily on statewide assessment test scores and classifies public schools — from the highest to lowest categories — as exceptional, high-performing, commendable, acceptable, needs improvement or priority.

Compared with last year, seven schools in the Cedar Rapids district improved, while ratings at six schools fell.

Since the state made the first Iowa School Report Card public in 2015, no school in the Cedar Rapids district, the second-largest in the state, has been placed in either of its two highest tiers. Pierce, Truman and Coolidge elementaries are rated as “commendable” this year.

In neighboring school districts, only Westfield Elementary in the Linn-Mar district received the top “exceptional” rating.

Eight schools in the Iowa City, Linn-Mar, College Community, Mount Vernon and Clear Creek Amana districts were rated “high-performing.”

Across the state, many schools — almost 30 percent of them — saw their ratings dip. Half of Iowa schools stayed the same, and about 20 percent of schools improved, according to the Iowa Department of Education.

Although other factors are considered, standardized assessment scores weigh heavily in the ratings. Education Department spokeswoman Staci Hupp said test scores declined statewide, so it wasn’t a surprise to see the ratings, which drew from data from the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years, follow.

“We haven’t done a close analysis, and we know it’s not the direction we want to go,” Hupp said. “... It’s also important to remember that this is one tool based largely on statewide assessment results. There are lots of other indicators of achievement, and we are seeing positive results of other indicators of student achievement.”

Those include Iowa’s four-year high school graduation rate, the highest in the country at 91.3 percent, and a growing number of young students, 14,000 more than two years ago, who are meeting reading bench marks, Hupp said.

A lack of alignment between Iowa’s statewide test, the Iowa Assessments, and statewide standards also could have impacted scores. A lack of alignment, Hupp said, means “what is being taught in the classroom is not being tested.”

The state intended to begin using new assessments as early as next school year, but the development of those tests is on pause as the education company Pearson is challenging the Iowa Department of Education’s award of the contract.

The Iowa School Report Card was mandated by comprehensive education reform legislation adopted by the Iowa Legislature in 2013.

A school rating system also is required by federal education legislation, the Every Student Succeeds Act. How the Iowa Department of Education will meet both state and federal accountability requirements is an ongoing conversation, Hupp said.

“We still need to figure what the Every Student Succeeds Act report card is going to look like, and whether that’s going to be a separate entity,” she said.

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