Special Report


January 04, 2005 4 min read
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Standards and Accountability: Iowa continues to have the lowest grade of any state for its standards and accountability system, mostly because it leaves almost all such decisions up to local districts.

Iowa has not adopted state standards in the core subjects of English, mathematics, science, and social studies/history, and so does not have tests aligned with state standards in any subject or grade level.

The state has two accountability measures in place. It publishes school report cards that contain student-achievement data, and it rates schools based, in part, on their performance on state tests. But Iowa does not provide assistance for consistently low-performing or failing schools, including non-Title I schools, or impose sanctions on them. Also, the state has no system to reward high-performing or improving schools.

Efforts to Improve Teacher Quality: Most states now require teachers to pass licensure tests before they enter the classroom. Iowa is one of only six states that do not require teachers to pass any type of licensure test, from exams that assess basic skills to those that assess subject knowledge or subject-specific pedagogy.

Instead, the state leaves it up to teacher-preparation institutions to test their teacher-candidates, using multiple measures. However, the state has its own mandatory performance assessments, which hinge on classroom observations of teachers, for identifying those in need of improvement and for determining whether teachers are eligible for career advancement and extra pay. Because of budget constraints, parts of the performance-assessment system have not yet been implemented.

Iowa requires its high school teachers to complete a 30-semester-hour teaching major for at least one endorsement area. Additional endorsements may be obtained by completing subject-area minors. Not all of the state’s middle school teachers must complete subject-area coursework. But Iowa requires all potential teachers to log 10 hours of observation in K-12 schools before entering a teacher-preparation program. Then, the students must log an additional 40 hours after admission to the program but before the required 12 weeks of student teaching. The state finances the Beginning Teacher Mentoring and Induction Program. All districts must participate. The program lasts at least two years for each novice teacher, and a third year for struggling teachers. This school year, the state is contributing $1,300 per new teacher to the beginning-teacher program.

Iowa continues to lag in accountability for teacher quality. The state’s school profiles do not include any of the teacher-qualification information tracked by Education Week. And while Iowa identifies low-performing teacher education programs, such identification is based solely on the program-approval and -review process. Moreover, the state does not publish results or rankings of the institutions that prepare teachers statewide.

School Climate: Iowa ranks near the middle of states on school climate. The state receives top ratings for student engagement, based on the background survey of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The state also gets credit for having a statewide system of open enrollment. But its recently passed charter school law was rated extremely weak by the Center for Education Reform, resulting in the same number of points under Education Week’s grading system as if there were no law.

School size is a highlight for Iowa. The state is near the top in the percentage of students attending small schools at all three levels: elementary, middle, and high school.

Iowa no longer distributes funding for capital outlays and school construction through the Vision First program, and it does not have a system for tracking the condition of all school facilities.

Equity: Iowa has the fourth-highest grade for equity among the 50 states. It is one of just 10 states with wealth-neutrality scores that are negative, meaning that, on average, property-poor districts receive slightly more funding than their wealthier counterparts. Iowa also does well on the other two measures of equity, ranking fifth out of 50 states on the coefficient of variation and 12th on the McLoone Index. These indicators show that the state doesn’t have much variation in funding across districts compared with other states.

Spending: Iowa is above average in education spending, ranking 17th in the nation, with $8,319 per pupil in the 2001-02 school year. That is a 5.9 percent increase from the previous year. Almost 70 percent of students in the state attend schools in districts that spend at least the national average. The state ranks 16th on the spending index, which indicates that even students in districts that spend below the national average do not fall very far below that bar. Iowa ranks 14th among the 50 states in total taxable resources spent on education, at 4.2 percent.

In March 2024, Education Week announced the end of the Quality Counts report after 25 years of serving as a comprehensive K-12 education scorecard. In response to new challenges and a shifting landscape, we are refocusing our efforts on research and analysis to better serve the K-12 community. For more information, please go here for the full context or learn more about the EdWeek Research Center.


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