Improving Iowa schools is top priority for state leaders - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Improving Iowa schools is top priority for state leaders

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JESUP (KWWL) -

A new report suggests student achievement in Iowa is lagging behind the rest of the country...and the rest of the world.

For example, in 1992, no state scored higher than Iowa on the NAEP in fourth-grade reading. By 2009, however, 13 states scored significantly higher than Iowa. From 1992 to 2009, Iowa's eighth-grade NAEP mathematics scores fell from the top in the nation to average.

These are just a few statistics from the Iowa Department of Education's "Rising to Greatness" report released a few days ahead of Iowa's first Education Summit. It's calling on Iowans to make changes in the classroom, in order to keep up with a changing world.

"Iowa students are missing the mark. We have a whole system problem, that will require a whole system remodel," said Director of Iowa's Department of Education, Jason Glass.

That jolting statement was made Thursday, as Glass released a report on the state of Iowa schools.

"Iowa schools are not great. Iowa schools are good, and we have to engage in some hard work to move from good to great, and that's not going to be easy," he explained.

Hearing that Iowa schools are falling behind the rest of the country is, understandably, concerning for many parents. But in Jesup, the superintendent noted this is not cause for alarm, it's a call for discussion.

"The sky is not falling from it. It just brings to attention that we can't continue to do what we've always done, or we'll continue to get what we've always gotten," said Nathan Marting, superintendent of Jesup Community Schools.

Iowa kids are, essentially, stuck in neutral. Scores on national tests haven't changed much in nearly 20 years. Meanwhile, scores from other states are surging upward -- pushing Iowa from the top of the pack to the middle.

"They did highlight two grade levels with two specific subject areas where there has been stagnation in the state. Where, 20 years ago, we were the leading state, and we haven't dropped in our scores, but have dropped in our rankings," said Marting.

Iowa is also dealing with a shifting population. Smaller districts, like Jesup, are not seeing the booming growth of districts like Cedar Rapids or Iowa City. But more of their families are struggling financially -- which studies link to struggles in the classroom.

"The difference between free and reduced scores of students to those who aren't free and reduced -- you do see some gaps in there. But as students progress throughout the school you start to see that gap naturally close," said Marting.

These are among several issues educators hope to address at a summit on Monday. They're hoping, that by recognizing what's wrong, we can move toward making things right.

The Iowa Education Summit includes keynote speakers Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. KWWL will have live reports from Des Moines throughout the day Monday.

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