How should student performance be measured?

kidsWhether you are a parent of a student in one of Iowa’s public school districts or not, you probably remember hearing about the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001. No Child Left Behind was intended to bring greater accountability for student learning but was built around the belief that labeling low performing schools and withholding their resources would motivate them to improve their future performance.

While NCLB had good intentions to raise student learning, the rigid law focused more on labeling schools than provide support and resources to hard-working educators to help students achieve at higher rates. Recently, the federal government introduced the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaces NCLB and will go into effect with the 2017-18 school year. The new law keeps expectations high for schools, but provides states with more flexibility in deciding how much test scores will factor into low performance and what supports to put into place when goals are not met. This is good news for those who believe that other ways of measuring student learning, beyond just standardized tests, should also play a role in deciding if a school or school district is succeeding. It also gets away from a “shame and blame” mentality of improvement that we know doesn’t work.

In mid-August, I was appointed to a statewide advisory committee by the Iowa Department of Education, to help develop Iowa’s response to ESSA. Our task will be to advise the plan for how Iowa will meet the new requirements in a way that pairs accountability for learning with the supports needed to improve student achievement. I’m joined by other school leaders from around the state including representatives from the Iowa Association of School Boards, School Administrators of Iowa, and the Iowa State Education Association.

As a parent and/or a taxpayer I encourage you to keep an eye on this work. Later this fall, the Iowa Department of Education will announce opportunities for parents and other education stakeholders to have their voices heard regarding how to measure the success of Iowa’s students under ESSA. Those school districts that I work with on a daily basis are working harder than ever at a time when state resources are extremely limited. They welcome your informed input on how they are doing and invite you to be part of the process.

Sam Miller, AEA 267 Chief Administrator

Sam Miller, AEA 267 Chief Administrator

Sam Miller is the Chief Administrator of Area Education Agency 267, which serves over 62,000 students in school districts representing 18 counties in north central and eastern Iowa. He can be reached at

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