Iowa Withdraws from Smarter Balanced

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad addresses the Iowa Teachers & Administrators Leadership Symposium held on 8/4/14. Photo credit: Iowa Department of Education (Public Domain)

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad addresses the Iowa Teachers & Administrators Leadership Symposium held on 8/4/14.
Photo credit: Iowa Department of Education (Public Domain)

(Des Moines, Iowa) Today during the School Administrators of Iowa Annual Conference  according to a tweet by one of the attendees Iowa Governor Terry Branstad said Iowa would not pursue further involvement with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.  Jeff Herzberg, the Chief Administrator for the Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency, tweeted:

Branstad spokesperson Jimmy Centers told Caffeinated Thoughts that Branstad and Iowa Department of Education Director Brad Buck in a joint letter to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium sent on July 29, 2014 said that the state would be withdrawing from the consortium effective immediately and asked that they would no longer list Iowa as a member state.

They cited the assessment taskforce, established by the Iowa Legislature in 2013, and said that to honor the task force’s work they would not sign a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Smarter Balanced.

Iowa joined the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium which was one of two consortia formed to create assessments aligned to the Common Core.  States who wanted to be eligible for the Race to the Top, a $4.35 Billion earmark within the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, had to join one of the consortia that was being formed and largely funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

“We recognize that by declining to sign that Iowa will no longer be a governing state in the consortium,” the letter reads.  “We request that Iowa’s withdrawal be effective immediately, and that the consortium no long (sic) list Iowa as a member state.”

“Iowa’s goal is to have a state assessment that is the right fit for Iowa.  It should reflect our high state academic standards.  We want educators, students and parents to have confidence in the state assessment as a measure of complex thinking and problem solving capacity as well as basic skills,” the letter stated.

The MOU with Smarter Balanced that was originally signed by former Governor Chet Culver, and later affirmed by Branstad makes no mention of an expiration date.  Centers told Caffeinated Thoughts that it was his understanding the MOU did need to be renewed.  Caffeinated Thoughts has requested the formal request for a renewal by Smarter Balanced from the Iowa Department of Education and will update this article when it is made available.

The original document states the procedure for for withdrawing from the consortia:

  • A State requesting an exit from the Consortium must submit in writing their request and reasons for the exit request,
  • The written explanation must include the statutory or policy reasons for the exit,
  • The written request must be submitted to the Project Management Partners with the same signatures as required for the MOU,
  • The Executive Committee will act upon the request within a week of the request, and
  • Upon approval of the request, the Project Management Partner will then submit a change of membership to the USED for approval.

The letter lacked the signature of the President of the Iowa State Board of Education Charles C. Edwards, Jr.  Former State Board President and current member Rosie Hussey signed the letter requesting Iowa become a governing state in the consortia.  Hussey also signed the original MOU.  It appears that they strayed from what the original agreement states unless that language is null and void when the MOU expires.

The Iowa Assessment Task Force at their July 17th meeting voted to continue to explore two assessments – Smarter Balanced and the Next Generation Iowa Assessments.  The vendors, DRC for Smarter Balanced and the Iowa Testing Program for the Next Generation Iowa Assessments will be interviewed at the task force’s September 17th meeting.  The ACT Aspire assessment made it to the second round, but was dropped by the task force.

The task force will make its recommendation by January 1, 2015.  According to the Iowa Code the State Legislature will have to approve any change to the assessments that are mandated for Iowa’s public and accredited non-public schools.

While Iowa is withdrawing from the consortium, the state’s students could still end up taking the test.

As of the time of this writing Smarter Balanced still lists Iowa on their website as an advisory state.

You can read Governor Branstad’s letter here.

Cross-posted from Caffeinated Thoughts.

About Shane Vander Hart

Shane Vander Hart founded Iowans for Local Control in 2012 which later merged with Iowa RestorEd. Shane also is the founder and editor-in-chief of Caffeinated Thoughts and the founder and president of 4:15 Communications, LLC, a social media & communications consulting/management firm.  You can connect with Shane on Facebook or follow him on Twitter and Google +.

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