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Release: Nov. 4, 2002

UI nets $638,000 grant to help Iowa schools with testing programs

Iowa is one of only two states in the country with no state-mandated testing program. While school districts in Iowa can benefit from this autonomy, they also must comply with myriad state and federal testing requirements -- or risk losing federal funding.

The University of Iowa College of Education hopes soon to take some of the uncertainty out of the compliance process. With a $638,000 grant obtained from the Iowa Department of Education (IDE), the College of Education's Center for Evaluation and Assessment (CEA) has launched the Iowa Technical Adequacy Project, or ITAP. This statewide professional development program is designed to train teams of educators from Iowa public (and some private) schools to identify, understand and use criteria that lead to the development of technically sound, district-wide assessment systems.

Iowa must show compliance by December 2003 with the federal 1994 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, specifically with provisions dealing with the quality of each district's assessments of reading and mathematics achievement.

"Although compliance was the impetus for the ITAP, we are looking at this as an excellent opportunity to assist educators in learning the importance of sound assessment practices," said Kris Waltman, Ph.D., associate director of the CEA and project director. "Our goal is to help educators make good instructional decisions based on sound information about achievement in their schools."

Training will begin in January, when the CEA launches a series of four sessions over the Iowa Communications Network, or ICN. Accompanying these sessions will be instructional lessons offered over the Internet and two face-to-face workshops that will be repeated in 12 locations throughout the state.

Of the 370 or so public school districts in Iowa, approximately 331 have signed up through the IDE to undergo training. Teams will be composed of between two and four educators drawn from among school administrators, teachers, guidance counselors, other educators and area education agency representatives. In all about 1,200 educators are expected to take part in ITAP.

"In Iowa, there has been a long tradition of leaving control over local education to local entities," said Waltman, "and ITAP has no intention of changing that." Even though most school districts administer the nationally renowned Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and Iowa Tests of Educational Development (tests developed at The University of Iowa) schools must also administer additional district-wide achievement tests. These additional assessments can be either commercially available or developed by the districts themselves.

"Under this grant, we're not encouraging the use of a certain type of test," Waltman said. "We simply want to make sure that the specific tests used by a district meet criteria for being technically sound."

The ITAP marks a new focus for the Center for Evaluation and Assessment, created in 1992 to conduct higher education outcomes assessments and evaluations of human services, educational, and other programs. Now a unit in the College of Education that reports directly to Dean Sandra Bowman Damico, the CEA receives external funding through grants and contracts to evaluate programs in schools and other organizations. According to CEA Director Donald Yarbrough, other recent projects include national field trials of the Student Evaluation Standards; research on how to evaluate standards; and program evaluations for the Washington Community School District and various departments at the University of Iowa.

More information about the CEA is available at http://www.uiowa.edu/~cea/. Information about ITAP can be found at http://projects.education.uiowa.edu/itap/index.html