Implementing the Iowa Core

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The Challenge

Iowa’s statewide academic standards, the Iowa Core, were adopted in 2008 to provide students, parents, and teachers with a clear understanding of what students in kindergarten through 12th grade should know and be able to do in five content areas: mathematics, science, literacy, social studies, and 21st century skills.

The Iowa Core defines a set of goals and expectations, explaining what students should learn; but it is not a curriculum, and it does not dictate how the content should be taught. It is up to all individual public and accredited nonpublic schools to implement the Core, and over the past few years, the Iowa Department of Education (IDE) revised and implemented the academic standards for the Hawkeye state. In 2012, IDE asked the Midwest Comprehensive Center (MWCC), funded by the U.S. Department of Education, to support the revision and implementation process.

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Our Work

MWCC worked as a thought partner and technical assistance provider with IDE to support a standards revision process. For the first four years of this partnership, MWCC’s technical assistance focused on helping IDE develop common language for standards implementation across the IDE Bureau of Standards and Curriculum and on assisting with strategies and processes to review and revise literacy and social studies standards.

MWCC’s technical assistance to the Bureau took many forms, from monthly planning calls and cofacilitation of in-person meetings to sharing research. At the beginning of the partnership, MWCC provided training to the Bureau team to help build a common understanding of implementation science and its application to specific stages of standards implementation. After the training, MWCC staff supported the content areas’ revision processes and standards implementation plans.

“Each content area is different, and all are in different places along the spectrum,” noted Beth Ratway, Senior Technical Assistance Consultant with MWCC. The stages of implementation include exploration, installation, initial implementation, scale-up, and full implementation. Starting with examining grade-level standards, the stages move from identifying benchmarks to disseminating information to monitoring progress of the standards rollout.

The state is moving forward with implementation of the Iowa Core, and a leadership team composed of principals, content area teachers, and higher education representatives has been assigned to each content area. The teams offer guidance and support for standards implementation and meet with MWCC as thought partners for planning and assistance and to identify resources from other states that can help support implementation of the standards.

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The Results

Today, each of the Iowa Core content areas is at a different stage of development, and MWCC continues to support the Bureau’s implementation initiative. The Center has received positive feedback from IDE on this highly collaborative effort, leading IDE to request additional MWCC assistance.

“Working with the Midwest Comprehensive Center on creating standards that promote college, career, and civic readiness for Iowa students has been invaluable. They [MWCC staff] are knowledgeable, professional, and brought a wealth of practical and research-based assistance to the process.”

—Stefanie Rosenberg Wager, Social Studies Consultant, Iowa Department of Education

In the summer of 2017, MWCC held a second workshop for Bureau staff that focused on creating guidance for the field, such as outlining common language around the purpose of the standards and their implementation across content areas. Building from the workshop, the Bureau’s various content area leadership teams are continuing to promote implementation of the standards using processes developed by MWCC to support Bureau staff. Additionally, the leadership teams are working to identify key indicators for each stage of implementation to inform the initiative going forward.

The Center’s assistance relative to implementation of the Iowa Core has been instrumental in building IDE capacity in numerous ways. By leveraging MWCC’s technical expertise, for example, IDE’s Bureau of Standards and Curriculum developed a customized, state-specific standards implementation process and built a common language and practice for standards revision and rollout. In addition, educators and districts across Iowa receive effective support through the continued work of the leadership teams by having access to clear implementation plans shared by IDE and informed by support of MWCC.

Furthermore, the collaboration has produced two products that could be helpful to other educators implementing statewide academic standards:

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Next Steps

Since the Center started working on the Iowa Core implementation, the Bureau has made substantial progress using common language to develop implementation plans, but more is still to be accomplished. MWCC continues to support IDE’s social studies standards implementation and to sustain thought partnerships with the literacy and mathematics leadership teams.  

As for next steps, Ratway explained, “The Midwest Comprehensive Center will continue to support the Iowa Department of Education staff and their leadership teams as they work through the stages of standards implementation.”