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Iowa schools one year closer to implementing Common Core exam

Published: Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 12:05 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 12:38 p.m. CDT

As schools nationwide move closer to formative assessments aligned with the Common Core, educators in Iowa – and even students in Newton – are helping to perfect and form that exam.

Last academic year’s switch from the Iowa Test of Basic Skills to the Iowa Assessment was the first step in a three-year process that will likely conclude in 2014-15 with the implementation of the computer-based Smarter Balanced assessment.

“Last year was the first year we switched to Iowa Assessments,” Tina Ross, Director of Secondary Educational Services for the Newton Community School District explained. “We went from ITBS to the Iowa Assessments, and that’s what we use for Adequate Yearly Progress for No Child Left Behind.” 

“We took the Iowa Assessment last year, again this year, and then we’ll take them one more time,” Jim Gilbert Director of Elementary Educational Services for the Newton Community School District added. After that, Iowa, along with 27 states will likely implement the Smarter Balanced assessment – one of two assessments currently in the works to test the Common Core Curriculum comprised of national English/Language Arts and Mathematics standards.

As a governing state for the development of the Smarter Balanced exams, students across the state will be given not only the opportunity to sample test questions, but to take the exam in its entireity before it is formally released.

“At the end of this year, 10 percent of Iowa schools could apply to pilot the Smarter Balanced assessment, and I can’t tell you who they are or where they are, but we do have schools that will be able to do that since Iowa is a governing state for Smarter Balanced,” Ross said. “They’re going to pilot those to get the norm samples – because you can’t go very far without your norming samples – and then hopefully in ‘14-15 the assessment will be implemented.”

Before this school year ends, however, students a little closer to home will get the chance to pilot individual test questions within the Newton Schools.

“This year we do have a couple grade levels piloting questions, and we volunteered to do that,” Gilbert said. “We know that that’s going to help, and it also gives us a peek at what sort of rigor is going to be involved with the Smarter Balanced questions.”

Until the likely implementation of the assessment in 2014 – Gilbert and Ross both stressed that nothing is yet set in stone – Iowa educators still have nearly two full academic years to prepare their curriculums and ensure alignment between what is taught in the classroom and what students see on the exam.

“The high schools had to have their Common Core alignment up and running by 2012,” Gilbert said. “We’re currently underway with the professional development necessary for that in the elementaries. We have a specialist from AEA (Area Education Agency) that is helping facilitate the learning and the implementation of the Core.”

The Common Core Curriculum was compiled in 2012 as a national effort to ensure that all students nationwide learned the same essential strategies and principles at the same pace. Currently, the Common Core consists of detailed grade-level curricula for both English/Language Arts and Mathemetics, with Science and Social Studies standards wtill in development.

The new Iowa Core Curriculum embraces these national standards while also setting forth benchmarks for Social Studies, Science and 21st-Century Skills.

“We are adopting the Common Core as our curriculum, so it’s not like we’re going to try to take what we have to compromise and adjust,” Gilbert said. “It’s in with the new and out with the old. From that standpoint, we look at, grade level by grade level, how does this translate into discernable, teachable skills and what does that look like, and, furthermore, what materials do we need to use to help kids acquire these skills?”

“Right now, we have to be very conscious of the fact that, for the Common Core, there’s only English/Language Arts and math,” Ross added. “That’s what the Common Core has out there right now. They’re working on Science and Social Studies coming down the road as well. The Iowa Core, which encompasses the Common Core, has Science, Social Studies and 21st-Century Skills components.” 

As the Common Core grows, however, so will the assessments in order to measure each subject’s defined standards.

“Smarter Balanced, right now, is only focused on the Common Core – so ELA and math – that’s all it’s looking at. It will not test Science and Social Studies yet, and I think that that’s a common misconcetion across the state, that the curricula are two seperate things,” she said. 

“It’s the new Iowa Core, which is the Common Core,” Gilbert said. “They’re one now, and that’s what the Smarter Balanced will align with.”

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