Iowa’s designation as a Pacesetter State traces back to the earliest days of the GLR Campaign, with developments at two levels – state policy and early and exemplary action among a critical mass of communities.
In 2012, six Iowa communities took the initiative to respond to the Campaign’s original call to action, forming stakeholder coalitions, developing Community Solutions Action Plans (CSAPs) and competing for All-America City (AAC) designation. Four of the six were named finalists, and three of those were honored as All-America Cities! All six communities have been hard at work since the AAC competition, as signs of early progress demonstrate. For example:
- Ames has reduced chronic absenteeism among K-5 students by 12 percent.
- Council Bluffs decreased absenteeism among preschool and kindergarten students. In the 2013-2014 school year, 80 percent of preschoolers had less than 5 percent absence, up from 76.5 percent; kindergartners improved from 66.57 percent to 72.91 percent.
- Des Moines is piloting a universal developmental screening program that, thus far, has increased the number of families referred for follow-up care from fewer than 40 in 2012 to more than 750 in 2014.
- Dubuque’s attendance pilot reduced chronic absenteeism in one Title I school by 71 percent.
- Marshalltown increased reading proficiency rates by 6 percent from school year 2011-2012 to 2013-2014.
- Quad Cities’ summer camps using the Summer Enrichment Model saw a 9.3 percent increase in students’ reading levels.
Recently, Cedar Falls and Waterloo filed a combined CSAP as “Cedar Valley” to become the seventh Iowa member of the GLR Communities Network, bringing the number of children from low-income families reached by Iowa GLR communities to almost 47,000, 38 percent of the state total.
Presently, there are more than 30 state and local funders involved in Iowa’s Campaign, and philanthropic participation is growing, spurred by the energy, activity and progress in the original cohort of communities and encouraged by funder-to-funder communication, in which those already supporting grade-level reading work are reaching out to colleagues. As a result, other funders in the state have become catalysts and conveners, prompting four more Iowa communities to file a Letter of Intent and to begin developing a CSAP.
The Iowa Council of Foundations (ICoF) is helping to broaden this funder engagement in Iowa. The organization recently formed a statewide grade-level reading funder coalition that is embarking on a three-year effort to more strategically align funding. The hope is that this will both improve children’s outcomes and amplify the voice of philanthropy on education issues.
Citizen service is another strong aspect of Iowa’s grade-level reading effort, with close to 2,000 volunteer tutors or mentors across the state.
Iowa’s “big tent” includes 180 partners, with more expressing interest as progress in grade-level reading communities inspires wider participation. Notable among partners are local United Ways, several of which lead the local sponsoring coalition in their communities. The statewide United Way Association also is actively engaged, for example, by replicating the Minnesota Reading Corps program in Iowa. Iowa’s program tripled in size in 2014, and the governor is proposing additional support that, with federal match, will add more AmeriCorps members to the Iowa Reading Corps.
Governor Branstad, the longest-serving U.S. governor, and the Iowa legislature in fact were early leaders in committing to state action to ensure third-grade literacy. The 2012 General Assembly drew on the governor’s blueprint for education reform to enact legislation that laid out a set of requirements designed to help all students become proficient readers by the end of third grade, including: universal screening for reading in kindergarten through third grade; and, for students who exhibit a “substantial deficiency in reading,” intensive instruction, progress monitoring and notification to parents, including strategies parents can use at home to help their children succeed. Beginning in 2017, students who continue to struggle at the end of third grade will be required to participate in a summer reading program or be retained.
To support implementation of the legislation, the state has invested in extensive professional development for teachers and administrators and has created the Iowa Reading Research Center to disseminate best practices to improve student literacy, with a particular focus on struggling readers. Districts can elect to use any sanctioned tool for student assessment, but over 90 percent have opted to use the Early Warning and Assessment System offered free-of-charge by the state. Results from that system will be entered into a state longitudinal database that will be able to provide disaggregated data reports back to the districts.