Equity - access and opportunity to learn

lead tech learn

August 22, 2018 Vol. 8

Line up of colored pencils

Leading for Equity

Content area leadership teams focus on providing equity for all in implementing standards

“Of all the things that keep me up at night, the opportunity and achievement gaps that exist in Iowa are some of the most troubling,” said Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise. 


“We have gaps among low-income students, students from diverse backgrounds, and students with disabilities across several measures of achievement," he said. "While we do see success stories in Iowa schools, these gaps are unacceptable and we’re working to address them as an education system."


Wise said the gaps are especially disconcerting given the growing diversity in Iowa. He points out that the number of English Language Learners has tripled in the past 20 years and that one in four students in Iowa is a student of color. “We want to ensure that our schools are supporting learners from diverse backgrounds in the best way possible,” he said. “Equity is a priority and should be infused in all of our work at the Department,” he said.



Educational equity means that every student has access to the resources and educational rigor they need at the right moment in their education, despite race, gender, ethnicity, language, disability, family background, or family income.

According to Erika Cook, bureau chief of Standards and Curriculum, equity is a top priority for the team with which she works. “When students feel a connection to their lives and futures, learning comes alive," she said. .


The Bureau has taken up the charge of supporting equity through the implementation of standards, the design of professional learning, and distribution of instructional resources.

Equity through the standards

“In mathematics, it’s the design of the standards themselves that promotes equity,” said April Pforts, mathematics consultant. She points to the elementary standards, which require all students to develop a strong foundation in mathematics. This foundation, she said, is key to success in the secondary grades and post-high school.

“The standards articulate what students need to be focusing on each year to have the deep conceptual understanding to do the higher-level problem solving, mathematical modeling, and communicating their reasoning and data analysis that the high school standards require,” she said. “The K-8 grade level standards are for all and we need to focus on all students learning those standards.”


Pforts said that this means the end of practices like tracking. “We would like to see high schools discontinue the practice of tracking students and teachers into dead-end course pathways or qualitatively different coursework. Double dosing, the practice of putting struggling students in a second period of algebra is preferred to making Algebra I a two-year course. “The brain needs multiple exposures, but stretching it out over two years is not beneficial,” she said. "Students who learn the standards connected to Algebra II are far more prepared and more likely to succeed in taking  college mathematics without a remedial course." 

Emphasis on equity in instructional resources


For the science leadership team, equity is a critical issue. “We’re holding equity to a high standard for us and saying that in everything we do, we’re looking at it through an equity lens,” said Kris Kilibarda, science consultant. One area that demonstrates this commitment to equity is the resources the science leadership team has developed to support districts in accessing instructional materials. They have created two different tools: an innovation configuration (IC) map built around four criteria including equitable access to culturally relevant pedagogy, and a self-directed training for districts to use in selecting instructional materials. “Equity has a very strong focus in that training,” Kilbarda said.


Supporting curriculum designed with equitable teaching practices

Several content leadership teams are focusing on assisting teachers with implementing teaching practices designed to improve equity.

Free curriculum materials in English/language arts, mathematics, and science have been developed and will be supported by statewide leadership teams in mathematics and science. Called OpenUp Resources in mathematicsand English/language arts and OpenSciEd in science, these comprehensive curricula cover the grade spans of 6-8. In mathematics some schools in Iowa are piloting the 9-12 materials. Chief in the design of these curricular is the equitable teaching practices that make it appropriate for all students.

The Fine Arts leadership team is set to release five professional learning modules this fall, and Module 1, according to Angela Matsuoka, consultant for the Fine Arts, has a section devoted to access and equity in fine arts for all students. “It’s an important piece. The standards lend themselves to equity because they are centered around four artistic processes – creating, performing/presenting/producing/, responding, and connecting – each process soliciting the student’s point of view.” There are so many entry points to communicate through the arts,  no matter what the student’s background,” Matsuoka said.  


In addition, the Advanced Learner Multi-Tiered System of Support Guide was created to assist classroom teachers in ensuring all students are appropriately challenged. According to Rosanne Malek, consultant for talented and gifted programming, the document shows how there can be hierarchy of teaching strategies that creates more independent learning and thinking by the student with guidance from the teacher. “If students are not offered these opportunities, you can’t see what their possibilities are,” Malek said. “Students might have the potential and it the teacher might not see it.”


 Building equity literacy into the social studies classroom

Equity literacy is the topic under discussion for social studies consultant Stefanie Wager. She said the professional development her leadership team is working on discourages teachers from having a false sense of equity. They replace it with a deep understanding of biases and inequities and knowing how to respond and redress biases and inequities in our classroom.

 An example of building the false sense of equity, according to Wager, is teachers who believe they are promoting diversity through culture fairs or having  students dress up in native clothing or eat food from different countries. “So instead, we try to build conversations into our instruction about race and inequity from a historical viewpoint and ask students to connect it to the inequities and biases that exist today,” she said.

 Building equity in assessment


For Jennifer Reidemann, assessment consultant, accessibility and accommodations in relationship to required statewide assessments is the focus. “This is one of our big ticket items,” Reidemann said. “We will have to speak to this during the peer review phase of our federal approval process for our new statewide annual assessment.” Reidemann said that the plan is to develop a manual articulating accessibility and accommodation strategies and provide teachers support in knowing how to implement them appropriately.


Reidemann also said she is working with the Bureau of Information and Analysis Service and Pam McDowell, the consultant for English Learner Programs, on issues with English Learners (EL) whose access to instruction is interrupted because they move from one district to another. “Just because they are identified as EL in one district doesn’t mean that information necessarily follows them to the next. We’re working on a new report for EdInsight, our state data warehouse, that will be accessible to districts and provide information about a students’ EL status. We’re hoping the result will be better data flow, giving the right people access to information about students’ instructional needs in a timely fashion so those services are not disrupted when students move,” Reidemann said.


“I think proving seamless support is critically important because ELs are such a vulnerable population,” Reidemann said, “So if we can intervene early and provide the appropriate supports to ensure that the system doesn’t get in the way of good instruction, that’s what we need to do.”


Iowa Core: game changer for students with disabilities?


Emily Thatcher, consultant for Students with Significant Disabilities, said the implementation of the Iowa Core through the Essential Elements has been a “game changer” for the students with whom she works. It has been an ongoing effort that has taken over 10 years, according to Thatcher. “Once it was decided that the Iowa Core was best for all students, people understood that it meant giving all students access to the general education curriculum.”

This meant that the required statewide alternate assessment had to be revised to align to the Iowa Core. To do this, Iowa joined the Dynamic Learning Maps assessment consortium, a partnership of multiple states that had all adopted the same general education standards. The work of Dynamic Learning Maps produced the Essential Elements, which contain the expectation of the standard, but reduces the depth and complexity.

“No longer are there separate standards for students with significant disabilities,” Thatcher said. New standards have resulted in significant changes in curriculum. “Curriculum has gone through so much – now we’re moving from access to participation to performance,” she said.

Much of the work going on now is driven through the State Personnel Development Grant (SPDG) and has focused on the implementation of Specially Designed Instruction (SDI). “The SDI Framework gives students access to the Iowa Core. It is a common set of understandings and knowledge and common process on how we do it,” Thatcher said. It allows equity and opportunity to learn, through it we’re developing professional development and a coaching network, and we’re working on systems support at the AEA and LEA level, Thatcher said.It’s hard work, but it is so exciting to see teachers fall in love with teaching again and see the differences that are being made in kids.”


For more information, contact Erika Cook at erika.cook@iowa.gov or (515) 240-3103.

Leaders discuss TLC conference

TLC Summit 2018: 
Empowering Teacher Leaders 

Planners for the TLC Summit Patrick Kearny, Johnston CSD; Megan Morgan, Davenport CSD;  and Lora Rasey, Department of Education, review their notes at the TLC Summit: Empowering Teacher Leaders. The summit, which was attended by more than 500 teacher leaders, administrators, and AEA and DE consultants, was held Friday, August 3, at Johnston High School. Keynote speakers included former and current Iowa Teachers of the Year Sarah Brown Wessling, teacher leader for Johnston CSD, Shelley Vroegh, teacher leader at Norwalk CSD, and Aileen Sullivan, teacher leader for Ames CSD. The purpose of the event was to allow teachers to learn from each other and get new ideas to inspire them for the coming year. “The event was organized by teacher leaders and designed to specifically meet their needs,” said Megan Morgan, teacher leader in Davenport CSD, and one of the leads of the event. Morgan pointed to exit survey results, which showed that 90 percent of the participants found the learning meaningful and relevant to their current role.

Future Ready Iowa Regional Summits announced 

Registration for Future Ready Iowa Regional Summits is now open. Summit attendees will collaborate with local partners on workforce solutions.


The day-long summits are scheduled for late September and early October in Ames, Atlantic, Burlington, Centerville, Creston, Davenport, Denison, Fort Dodge, Muscatine, Pella, Sheffield, Sioux City and Spencer. Dates, locations and registration are available from the Future Ready Iowa website.


“Future Ready Iowa was created to connect more Iowans with rewarding careers and good-paying jobs with Iowa employers,” Gov. Reynolds said of the initiative, which has a goal of 70 percent of Iowa’s workforce having education or training beyond high school by 2025. “The Future Ready Iowa Regional Summits will provide an opportunity for local and regional partners to come together and discuss potential solutions based on their area’s workforce needs and challenges.”


The summits will provide a platform for strategies outlined in the Future Ready Iowa Act, which was passed with unanimous, bipartisan support by the Iowa legislature earlier this year. Each summit will provide tailored discussions on how to find, use and talk about a community’s occupation, income, education and demographic data. Partners will also discuss underrepresented populations, business/education partnerships and preparation for the changing workforce.


“There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to addressing challenges of our state’s workforce,” Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend said. “Local stakeholders must be the ones to identify the specific challenges of employers in their area as well as develop solutions through collaboration.”


Planning for the regional summits is reflective of the recommendations proposed by the Future Ready Iowa Alliance, a cross-sector collaboration of 58 leaders across the state. Engaging business, community and other regional partners in a grassroots strategy is an action item suggested by the Alliance in October.


“These will be working summits and highly interactive,” Future Ready Iowa Policy Adviser Kathy Leggett said. “Participants will gain an understanding of our goal, how it relates to their role in the community and take away a toolkit of next steps.”


The summits are being organized by statewide partners in workforce, business and education.


Future Ready Iowa’s goal is for 70 percent of the state’s workforce to have education or training beyond high school by 2025. Its vision is for an Iowa where every job is filled and every worker is fulfilled. Learn more at FutureReadyIowa.gov and register to attend a summit at FutureReadyIowa.gov/Summits.


For more information about planning efforts or to inquire about planning a summit in your area, contact Leggett at kathy.leggett@iwd.iowa.gov.