Director Ryan Wise: A defining moment in Iowa education
Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a bit of a nerd. As a former social studies teacher, wonky policy details excite me. Executive orders issued by presidents and governors often fall in this category: items that are of interest to a subset of the population, which may grab headlines for a moment and then quickly recede into the background. In reality, though, executive orders can have a lasting and important impact.
Governor Branstad’s Executive Order 83, signed in October 2013, fits this description. Executive Order 83 has provided the foundation for how the Iowa Department of Education has approached the development of academic standards and assessments for nearly four years.
Executive Order 83 asserts that the Iowa Constitution encourages a strong educational foundation and that rigorous state standards detailing expected academic achievement are essential to provide a high-quality education. This statement provides a clear vision; Iowa values education and, as a state, defining what we want our students to know and be able to do is critical in ensuring all Iowans receive a great education.
Beyond just providing a purpose statement for why academic standards are important, Executive Order 83 gives clear direction to the Department of Education and to local school districts in the development, adoption and implementation of standards. The order states that the adoption of state standards should be done in an open and transparent way with opportunities for Iowans to review and offer input and that it is the responsibility of local school districts to make decisions related to curricula, instruction, and learning materials consistent with state academic standards.
At the Iowa Department of Education, we have embraced this direction. We have facilitated reviews that led to the adoption of new science standards, updated literacy standards, and newly written social studies standards (which will be before the State Board of Education for adoption later this month). We are currently in the review process of recommended fine arts standards (which you can comment on here).
In each of these efforts, the Department has made transparency and public engagement paramount. We have held listening sessions around the state and have developed online surveys each time we have put a set of standards up for development and review. Thousands of Iowans have provided feedback into shaping the standards we want each of our students to achieve.
As the parent of a second-grader and fifth-grader, one of my favorite things to do when I am in schools is to visit second- and fifth-grade classrooms and report back to my kids what I observe (I know, my nerdiness is starting to show through again). Invariably, my children will say, “Hey, that’s what I’m learning about!” And equally as often, the lesson based on the same standard was delivered in a different yet equally effective way. Iowans have struck the proper balance between articulating common outcomes and trusting local teachers and school leaders to achieve them.
In addition to clarifying that Iowa, not the federal government or any other organization, determines our state academic standards, Executive Order 83 also declares that the State of Iowa will choose the statewide assessment to measure how well students have mastered the standards. In the coming months, the Iowa Department of Education will take on this important task.
Senate File 240 directs the Department to issue a request for proposal for the selection of a statewide assessment of student progress in English language arts, math and science to be administered in the 2018-19 school year and beyond. This legislation also describes the components - like cost, alignment with state standards and federal law, and the ability of the assessment to measure student growth and proficiency - that the Department must consider when selecting the assessment.
The Department recognizes the importance of this task; having a statewide assessment that aligns with our state standards and with classroom instruction is critical to improving teaching and learning. We look forward to this work. And we also appreciate the efforts of local educators to ensure the effective implementation of our state’s academic standards.
As always, thank you for all you do to ensure your students receive a high-quality, Iowa education.
Ryan Wise is the director of the Iowa Department of Education.