The agenda for the Feb. 6 State Assessment System Advisory Committee has some interesting items I have been waiting years to see. One of these is a presentation and discussion of international assessments: Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) and Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). Considering the fact Iowa uses a standard lower than the national level and the national level is lower than the international level, to have this topic on the agenda is of interest.
For Iowa’s workforce to be nationally competitive, education standards (including curriculum content and teaching methods) must be up to national standards, but Iowa has failed to do this to date. For the workforce to be internationally competitive, international standards are needed. The higher standards mean a higher level of critical analysis and problem-solving skills, which would benefit all of us in a number of ways.
In another report, just released in January, it appears Iowa is beginning to pay attention to the annual assessments of its teacher training programs (including licensing testing) by the National Council for Teacher Quality. Iowa has not required its programs to submit their content to the NCTQ for assessment, but all have done so, except UNI (now experiencing a big drop in enrollment). In order to achieve even national standards, teaching methods must be improved. While changes have been made to date, actual improvement has been sparse. Of course, the Iowa-written curriculum being used in the schools fails to meet even national standards, so the training programs tend to revolve around those dysfunctional theories. To consider working towards international standards, bigger changes will be required.
Another acknowledgment in January was the effectiveness of some online class programs in closing proficiency gaps. The quality online programs are one-on-one interactive in a way that can improve student learning. If Iowa will allow these programs to use higher standards than the ones Iowa has been using, including improved curriculum above what was written by Iowa educators, then the more effective teaching methods of these programs will close the proficiency gaps required by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), as well as raise skill levels in critical thinking analysis and problem-solving. The cost of education would also be reduced because it would no longer be necessary to fund increased smaller class size and the extra number of teachers, which teachers’ unions continue to lobby for (thus drastically increasing costs).