A new report from the Iowa Department of Education offers a partial solution to bridge an educational chasm between white students and students of color, and recover Iowa’s reputation as an education leader.
Identifying the problem
• Iowa was once among the nation’s top states for educational achievement, but is now somewhere in the middle.
• Iowa students’ scores on national tests show that growth has ceased and progress is stagnant.
• Students of color, English-language learners, students with special needs and students from low-income backgrounds have lower academic performance than their peers who aren’t in these subgroups.
• Using fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math results from the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, the report, “Overcoming the Achievement Divide,” shows that white students in Iowa are outperforming their counterparts of color in reading and math proficiency.
• Asian and white students are the only ethnic subgroups to show proficiency rates above the statewide average in both subjects.
• African-American students showed the lowest rates of proficiency, the only ethnic subgroup not to achieve majority proficiency in either subject area.
• Iowa’s student population is continuing to become more ethnically diverse.
• Academic growth remains frozen even though Iowa’s student makeup has undergone a demographic makeover, with the population of Hispanic and English-language learner students doubling since 2000-01.
• Increases in the Asian and African-American student populations also have accompanied those shifts.
Jason Glass, director of the Iowa Department of Education, is banking on Response to Intervention as a way to reach struggling students. The RTI approach uses:
• Instruction designed to effectively deliver curriculum to 80 percent to 90 percent of students, with students taking universal screenings three times a year to gauge their progress.
• Learners who perform below grade-level will receive additional instruction, with students working in small groups for Targeted-level support and individualized instruction for Intensive-level assistance. Educators monitor student achievement every other week or even weekly, depending on their needs.
• Instructors then use data to decide what the next steps will be for students’ education.
“While we should have high expectations for all children, the way we deliver instruction should be tailored to fit each student’s needs,” Glass said in a news release. “The Response to Intervention framework provides that customization and uses data and information to determine whether instructional approaches are working or whether they need adjustments.”
Making a plan
Glass and department staff have been working since fall 2011 on a four-part plan to bring Response to Intervention to each of Iowa’s schools.
• Developing consensus: A department team researched Response to Intervention, developed a plan and met with Area Education Agency staff.
• Building infrastructure: Amending policies and finding funding to make sure Response to Intervention could be put into action.
• Implementation: The department’s Assessment Workgroup reviewed options to eventually adopt statewide screening and progress-monitoring tools.
• Sustainability: Glass’ plan starts with kindergarten through sixth grade in reading with the future goal of effectively reaching all grades and subjects.