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Iowa student progress ‘fared fairly well’ despite pandemic, state officials say


Iowa student progress ‘fared fairly well’ despite pandemic, state officials say

Jun 08, 2023 | 7:12 pm ET
By Jay Waagmeester
Iowa student progress ‘fared fairly well’ despite pandemic, state officials say
The pandemic did not set Iowa students back as much as in most other states, Board of Education members heard Thursday. (Photo by Getty Images)

Iowa student performance over the past two years was close to what would have been expected before the pandemic, state Board of Education members heard Thursday.

However, the state did see a “significant decline” in a national assessment on eighth-grade math, the Department of Education reported.

The board was presented with Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress (ISASP) and National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results to consider achievement gaps in Iowa schools.

Jay Pennington, chief of the department’s bureau of information and analysis services, reported that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, ISASP student performance stayed on track.

“On average, Iowa students performed close to the pre-pandemic expectation on both 2020-21 and 2021-22 assessments across all subjects and grades included in the analysis,” Pennington’s report to the board stated. “This suggests that on average students are performing similarly to what might have been expected had the pandemic not occurred.”

Unlike ISASP, NAEP is a nationwide assessment, allowing easy comparison to other states.

Nationally, NAEP results showed significant decline from pre-pandemic numbers. Iowa declined in performance, but moved up in the national pack. 

NAEP tests two grades, 4 and 8, on two content areas, reading and math, for a total of four tests. 

“Iowa fared fairly well …,” Pennington said. “Iowa is one of six states that only saw significant decline in one area, we saw significant decline in eighth-grade math. All the other states had significant declines in two or more content areas.”

The board also discussed graduation rates, postsecondary engagement, and extensive comprehensive schools during its Thursday meeting.

Graduation rates

The class of 2022 saw a graduation rate of 89.9%, which is lower than the previous three years, but stands above years prior, including the rate of 89.3% by class of 2012. 

Breaking the demographics down by student groups, 77.3% of Black students graduated, 80.2% of Latino students graduated and 92.6% of white students graduated in 2022. On average, those groups increased graduation rates compared to 2012 by 2.5%, with Black students increasing graduation rates by 3.2%.

According to Pennington, these numbers are consistent with nationwide numbers. 

Postsecondary readiness

The Department of Education launched a website displaying postsecondary readiness reports Thursday.

The website includes interactive data showing the degree of readiness of Iowans as they exit high school.

According to the new website, 58.2% of 2022 Iowa public high school graduates enrolled in postsecondary education in the fall immediately following graduation, compared to 59.8% of 2021 graduates.

Extensive comprehensive schools

Eleven Iowa schools have submitted action plans for improvement to the Iowa Department of Education after remaining in the bottom 5% of schools in Iowa since 2019, board members heard.

The schools have been classified as extensive comprehensive schools. They are:

  • Anson Elementary (Marshalltown
  • Cedar Rivers Academy at Taylor (Cedar Rapids)
  • Charter Oak – Ute Elementary (Charter Oak – Ute)
  • Expo Alternative Learning Center (Waterloo)
  • Frank L. Smart Intermediate (Davenport)
  • Goodrell Middle (Des Moines)
  • James Wilson Grimes Elementary (Burlington)
  • Lincoln Elementary (Dubuque)
  • Madison Elementary (Davenport)
  • Mid City High (Davenport)
  • Rogers Elementary (Marshalltown)

Twenty-four schools were assigned comprehensive status, or the bottom 5% under the differentiated accountability system in 2019. Thirteen of those schools improved enough to not need support, according to the Department of Education.

The remaining 11 have been visited by 12 employees of the Department of Education and Area Education Association (AEA) staff for two days of onsite classroom immersion. 

Along with the onsite visits, school leadership received recommendations from the department. 

Many of the recommendations listed by the department were related to the quality of instructional material and the strength of the teaching staff in delivering those materials. 

Additionally, the schools were asked to establish systems to address attendance and engagement problems as well as classroom management problems. 

After receiving recommendations, schools developed and submitted action plans. Those plans are in the process of approval by the department. 

Additionally, the department, through federal relief funding, is providing high quality instructional materials, professional learning training and compensation for staff. The training includes, classroom management, science of reading and using high quality educational materials with fidelity. The department and AEA staff will provide monthly visits to support the implementation of the improvement plan. 

A follow up visit will be conducted during the 2023-2024 school year to observe progress on action plans. 

The 13 schools that exited comprehensive status:

  • Baxter Elementary (Baxter)
  • Durant Elementary (Durant)
  • East Sac County Elementary (East Sac County)
  • Essex Elementary (Essex)
  • George – Little Rock Elementary (George – Little Rock)
  • Hawarden/Ireton Elementary (West Sioux)
  • King elementary (Des Moines)
  • Ruthven – Ayrshire Elementary (Ruthven – Ayrshire)
  • South Page Senior High School (South Page)
    Sunnyside Elementary (Burlinton)
  • Sylvia Enarson Elementary (Villisca)
  • West Elementary (Emmetsburg)

According to a report presented to the Board of Education by Kim Buryanek, learning and results division administrator, staff of the schools initially designated as comprehensive but showed improvement were “shocked,” and made a commitment to change. Efforts reported by the schools included developing strategies based on staff input, recognizing themes within the school and more.

Other board actions

Royal Legacy Christian Academy of Waterloo, an elementary school started in 2018, received state accreditation from the board Thursday. The school offers 90% tuition assistance, leaving the family to pay on 10% of tuition, and the school expects enrollment to rise from 21 with the recent addition of educational savings accounts for Iowans. 

The school is faith-based and offers early total one-way Spanish immersion and Spanish language instruction. 

The board granted continued accreditation for Indian Hills Community College after a scheduled inspection of the college in February and will be evaluated again in 2027. 

The board also granted continued acceptance of Northwestern College’s educator preparation program. The school will be reevaluated in 2029.