Iowa’s School Report Card

One of our Governor’s four goals is the Best Schools in the Nation. As part of his progress towards “world-class schools,” the Governor and the Republican-led House passed an education reform bill in 2013 which led to the creation of the Iowa School Report Card. The Department of Education’s FAQ and Technical Guide have several details about the what, why, and how of the report cards. I’ll briefly summarize:

Iowa’s School Report Card is comprised of multiple measures which are combined to determine an overall performance rating. Iowa Schools are rated based on their overall score into one of six performance categories:

  • Exceptional
  • High Performing
  • Commendable
  • Acceptable
  • Needs Improvement
  • Priority

The SRC includes eight measures:

  1. Academic Proficiency
  2. Closing the Achievement Gap
  3. Annual Growth
  4. College and Career Ready Growth
  5. On-Track for College Readiness
  6. Graduation Rate
  7. Average Daily Attendance
  8. Staff Retention

Parental Involvement and Community Involvement are two measures which were included in the legislation but will not be available in the first release of the SRC. These measures will be added in subsequent releases.

Iowa School Report Card Technical Guide, p.4

The Department of Education, with recommendations from stakeholders, chose to weight each of the measures in the following way:

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Iowa School Report Card Technical Guide, p.5

They also determined the cuts for each of the six performance categories:

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Iowa School Report Card Technical Guide p.6

Here is some more information about how the ranges of scores for the performance categories were determined:

It is important to note that all scores are calculated and reported to one-tenth of a percent. This means that calculations are rounded to the third decimal point (0.001 or 0.1%)… These cuts were based on the creation of a normal distribution by each school level. All scores were rated and the cuts were made by standard deviations from the mean.

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Iowa School Report Card Technical Guide p.6

The Technical Guide also provides more specific explanations for how each of the scores is calculated. I’d like to highlight just a few things:

Dr. McLeod’s tweet links to an Ames Tribune article interviewing Ames’ Assistant Superintendent Mandy Ross about the different ratings across the schools within their district: 1 exceptional, 5 commendable, 1 acceptable.

Ross said one of the flaws of the Iowa School Report Card is that five of the eight measures used for the ranking are based on student standardized test scores. The only three measures that didn’t use test scores to calculate a score were graduation rate, attendance and staff retention.

“You have to look behind the numbers to find out what is really happening,” Ross said. “The biggest flaw with it is it puts so much weight on that one factor, the Iowa Assessment. It doesn’t show the whole picture.”

Let’s look across those 8 measures and see quickly how they are calculated:

Academic Proficiency – Iowa Assessment Data based on Performance Level Descriptors (p.8-9)

College and Career Ready Growth – Iowa Assessment Data: “For this indicator, an individual growth goal will be generated for each student based on his/her prior year National Standard Score and the amount of growth needed for the student to reach college/career ready (CCR) by grade 12. For students whose standard scores already above the CCR growth goal, the trajectory and growth target will be the annual expected growth in the 35-65 percentile range. The individual CCR goal will always be equal to or greater than the expected growth goal at the 50th percentile for the student’s current grade.” (p.9-10)

Annual Expected Growth – Iowa Assessment Data: “Expected student growth for SRC purposes is growth in a middle range (in the 35-65 percentile range).” (p.10)

Closing the Achievement Gap – Iowa Assessment Data: “Scores for students who receive free or reduced price lunch, students who are participating in an English Language Learners program, and students with Individualized Education Programs (IEP), groups that tend to demonstrate the most disadvantage in student achievement, are compared with the scores of their classmates.” (p.10)

College and Career Readiness – Iowa Assessment Data based on alignment with ACT scores (p.11-13)

Graduation Rate – Student Reporting in Iowa Data: calculated across 5 years (p.13-14)

Attendance – Student Reporting in Iowa Data: average daily attendance divided by aggregrate days of enrollment (p.14)

Staff Retention – Fall Basic Educational Data Survey (BEDS) Staff Collection: “No consideration for why staff left is considered. Retirements, moves out of state, or staff dismissals (for example) are all treated the same.” (p14-15)

TL;DR Summary

Two major points to wrap-up:

1) The current administration has chosen to rank Iowa schools primarily based on an irrelevant testing system. The Iowa Assessments have been around in some form (Iowa Test of Basic Skills, Iowa Test of Educational Development, Iowa Assessments, etc.) since 1935. As the state of Iowa has moved towards the Iowa Core and other states have moved towards Common Core or other state standards, Iowa has begun to look at other means of assessing its students. In September of 2015, the Iowa Board of Education voted to adopt the new Smarter Balanced assessments to replace the Iowa Assessments. What will happen to our School Report Card when this change is finally implemented?

2) More than half of the rankings for Iowa schools are based on student performance on standardized tests. This needs to be an integral part of the conversation in education moving forward. Our Governor wants Iowa to have the Best Schools in the Nation, and what Iowan wouldn’t want that? However, we need to have a conversation about what this looks like and how we are going to achieve it. Based on the Iowa School Report Card, it looks like the governor believes high test scores will make us great again. Is that the future we want?

One Reply to “Iowa’s School Report Card”

  1. I like the idea of a school report card that can give some “standardized” performance metrics across districts. I think that both average citizens and especially school boards need to have an metric to see how performance is for schools in a district. As an old band geek, I do think they always needs to be a conversation of how to value and measure the arts and other out of core subjects, but man it is tough for the analytical part of my brain to know what that measurement would look like.

    I would assume that the new Smarter Balanced testing will still rank students in percentiles and could be easily substituted into the scorecard, although it might make for a little odd comparison for a couple years if previous standardized testing results don’t align with the new tests but that always occurs with change.

    I always appreciate your updates on the educational front Burton. They’re always informational and hopefully help me be a better informed citizen.

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