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New report details Iowa's education challenges, introduces one part of the solution

November 13, 2012

Response to Intervention is a proven approach for students from all backgrounds

DES MOINES, IA – Iowa’s results on national assessments continue to show a pattern of stagnation across the board, from low-achieving students to high performers, according to a new report released today by the Iowa Department of Education.

The state also faces significant and increasing gaps in achievement for students whose first language is not English, students from diverse backgrounds, and students who face economic hardship, the report shows. The number of high-need students in Iowa continues to climb. For example, the percentage of students participating in English Language Learner programs has increased by 103 percent since 2000, the report shows.

“We all want to give Iowa’s children the educational foundation they need to succeed in life,” Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass said. “Iowa has many good schools, but we must have great schools system-wide, given the demands of our competitive global marketplace and the growing number of students who face challenges.”

The report, “Overcoming the Achievement Divide: Key Challenges and Solutions for Iowa Schools,” provides an updated analysis of student performance in Iowa, provides three guideposts to help shape education policy, and proposes one part of the solution: Response to Intervention.

Response to Intervention is a proven procedure to help schools identify and diagnose learning problems quickly, customize instruction to correct the problems, and monitor student progress along the way. This framework also allows educators to evaluate the overall health of their schools and to target resources to areas that need it.

Response to Intervention is not a packaged program, set of assessments or curriculum. It is an approach to general education, although it has been effective for students served in special programs.

“We know that students learn in different ways and at different paces,” Glass said. ”While we should have high expectations for all children, the way we deliver instruction should be tailored to fit each student’s needs. 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.

“Response to Intervention should be in place in every school in the state, although the structure should look different depending on each school’s needs,” Glass said. “We know this approach works. We must think about how we grow it system-wide with high quality and low variability.”

World-class schools are one of the top priorities set by Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds. The administration is working to carve out a long-term, reform-minded policy direction that is the right fit for the state, builds from Iowa’s strengths and adopts improvements with lessons learned from the highest-performing systems in the world.

The Iowa Department of Education has shifted its focus this year to pursue education approaches and interventions that will have the greatest impact on teaching and learning, that are proven effective, and that can be implemented statewide. These areas of focus are educator quality, standards and curriculum, and customized instruction (Response to Intervention).

“Our unwavering goal is to become a world-class school system,” Glass said. “But we have become much more focused on the tactics we will use because we want to put our efforts behind initiatives that will have an impact.”

The report released today includes information on population and enrollment shifts in Iowa, reading and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Iowa assessment results, and a detailed description of Response to Intervention.

The data findings include:

  • Iowa has not seen growth in reading achievement on NAEP in nearly two decades. The average score for Iowa fourth-grade students on the NAEP reading assessment in 2011 (221) was lower than that of 1992 (225) and was the same as that of 2009 (221). This score was not significantly different from the nation’s public schools (220).
  • The overall achievement of Iowa’s eighth-grade students is average compared to other jurisdictions. The average mathematics score for Iowa eighth-grade students in 2011 (285) was higher than in 1990 (278), but was not significantly different from 2009 (284). The score was higher than that of the nation’s public schools (283).
  • There were large achievement gaps in reading and math across race and ethnicity groups in the 2010-11 school year. Overall, a higher percentage of white and Asian students scored at or above the proficient level on Iowa assessments.
  • These achievement gaps are driven largely by the challenges facing students with special needs, students who come from low-income backgrounds, and students whose first language is not English. Students with fewer challenges, regardless of race, tend to perform on par with their non-challenged peers.
  • The number of students who come from diverse backgrounds continues to climb in Iowa. In October 2011, 19.3 percent of Iowa students were racial or ethnic minorities, a nearly 10 percent increase in 12 years.
  • While the percentage of students eligible for reduced-price lunches has remained stable over the past decade (7.8 percent in 2000 and 7.5 percent in 2011), the percentage of students eligible for free lunches increased from 19.2 percent in the 2000-01 school year to 32.6 percent in 2011-12.

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