Sinister Agendas and Transparency

I am disappointed by remarks about sinister agendas, a lack of transparency, and smuggled obscene material that have come out of the first few days of the 2022 General Session. It is important to look beyond these distracting comments and understand what does drive the work of educators and what already exists to provide transparency and rights to students and parents.

Iowa schools are required by law to teach the Iowa Core Curriculum. The Iowa Core was signed into law in 2008. The Core started with required standards for English Language Arts and Math. Required standards across subject matter have expanded under Governor Branstad and Governor Reynolds.

In an effort to provide transparency, Decorah Schools has dedicated time and resources to providing access to our curriculum through our website. As pictured below, anyone visiting our site can open the Academics header and access our Curriculum.

Once on the Curriculum page, visitors see a full alphabetical list of curricular areas from Career Technical Education to Word Languages. Curricular area pages include a description of our approach in this area and links to grade level standards. Those links take visitors directly to the Iowa Department of Education website, where they find the standards mandated by Iowa Code.

Some seem to be arguing that individual “sinister” administrators and teachers are working within that process to “smuggle in” “obscene” material. They might say that is what is being hidden from parents and what must be addressed. I read and hear certain lawmakers talking about a “Parent Bill of Rights” as a way to combat these alleged nefarious educators.

Iowa public school board policies already give parents and students rights and processes for avoiding personally objectionable content and/or materials. In Decorah, our 600 Series includes all policies for our Educational Program. The following links are examples of policies that include details for how parents can request exemption or alternative assignments in cases when content or materials are personally objectionable.

Additionally, like every public school district in Iowa, we have a policy detailing how a parent or group of parents can file a request for reconsideration of materials. That policy is also accessible through our website.

It seems to me that current efforts to frighten and censor educators have nothing to do with empowering parents to make decisions for their own children and everything to do with eliminating access to meaningful content and materials for other people’s children. I have a 12-year-old son. There are books that some people find objectionable or label as “obscene” that I will encourage him to read as he moves through middle school and high school. My son’s right to a meaningful school experience that challenges his thinking and exposes him to different people and life experiences is just as important as the rights available in existing policies to students and families that object to content and material my family values.

The right of parents to examine curriculum and materials exists in every school district. The right to exemption or alternative assignments exists. People can examine curriculum on our disitrict website and look at materials in person at our schools. They can contact any teacher or administrator by phone or email through our website. We are accessible for questions and conversations and are open to dialogue and feedback.

Iowa educators are selfless leaders in their communities. Our public schools strive to meet the unique needs of each student and family. Strawmen and demeaning scare tactics disrespect and dishonor the thousands of Iowa educators who work to empower students to achieve their full potential.

Living Our Mission

Over the past six months, Decorah Community School District has engaged in a process of redefining our shared mission, vision, and values.  I never could have imagined that what we say we are all about would be put to the test as quickly, and unpredictably as it was this week.

Mission: The organization’s overall function

  • Why does DCSD exist?
  • What is our fundamental purpose?
  • Who and what are we all about?

After multiple rounds of staff input and feedback, I recently presented a new mission statement to the Decorah Board of Education, Learning – Thriving – Creating Our Legacy.   

When we share this mission statement we are saying to our community  that at Decorah CSD we embrace student learning and well-being as our fundamental purpose; we will, in partnership with our students, families, and community, make the world a better place.

In the past five days, I have witnessed countless examples of our staff, board of directors, families, and community bringing this new mission to life.  We have rallied together to create a legacy of care for neighbors.  We have given of ourselves in ways that support others’ health and well-being.  We have considered our duty to support equitable learning opportunities in unpredictable circumstances. We have partner selflessly to maintain some sense of security and calm for our peers.

I do not know what the next few weeks and months will bring, but I am confident that years from now, we will look back on the COVID-19 crisis, and remember a time when we did truly create our legacy.

I invite you to review our newly proposed mission, vision, and values below.  These statements will be presented for approval to the Decorah CSD Board of Education at our April 13 meeting.  I look forward to the opportunity to describe how we have, and will continue to bring these words to life through service to our students, families, community, and each other.





A New Era in Statewide Assessment

Back in 2013, the Iowa Legislature, and Governor Terry Branstad dedicated a great deal of time to passing education reform legislation.  Key aspects of the legislation introduced alternative career pathways for educators through Teacher Leadership and Compensation programming; the Iowa School Performance Profile website; and task forces to study teacher and administrator professional growth and evaluation frameworks, and a potential new statewide assessment of student achievement.

In August of 2013, I was working with Urbandale Community School District, and I was invited to serve as a member on the state assessment task force.  It was a great opportunity to work with amazing people from across our state who truly shared passion for doing what was best for Iowa students.

This brief history lesson is not the purpose for this blog, but I think it is important to provide a little context for where we are now, six years later.

This past spring Iowa students in grades 3 through 11 took the new Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress for the first time.  Iowa educators have been anxiously awaiting access to results from this first administration, and we expect to receive our results next week.  As the release of results has approached, the Iowa Department of Education and Iowa Testing Program, at the University of Iowa, have been sharing information with school administrators.  The graphic below is a snapshot of important information that will help educators, parents, and students understand results from the new tests.

The Iowa Department of Education has provided this fact sheet about the new Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress (ISASP).

There are some key takeaways I hope everyone will keep in mind as we digest results from the first ISASP administration.

  1. A standardized test administered once a year is only one piece of a full body of evidence educators and parents should consider when evaluating students’ academic performance.  Results should be viewed interdependently with additional assessment results, and examples of student performance and work.  Whether a standardized test score is high, or low, overreacting to a single score is never in the best interest of a student.
  2. We will see overall scores across the state go down.  When our state introduced the Iowa Core Curriculum, and Next Generation Science Standards, the intent was to raise the bar in what we expected students to know, and be able to do.  Several research studies completed between 2012 and 2014 demonstrated that the old Iowa Assessment was not well-aligned to those new standards, and that a new, more highly-aligned assessment was needed.  The ISASP tests were developed and evaluated collaboratively by Iowa Testing Program and Iowa teachers.  More rigorous standards require a more rigorous test, and we will now have access to better-aligned results about what our students know and are able to do.
  3. Iowa schools and students will demonstrate growth in knowledge and skills in coming years.  This first administration is establishing a new baseline for schools across our state.  As a school district, we will examine our results for strengths and opportunities for improvement.  We will then do what we have always done, engage our educators in working collaboratively to provide Decorah students with a world-class education.

After we receive results, we will deploy additional communication and dissemination plans, and families will receive more building and/or grade specific communication on interpreting results.  If you have questions about the Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress I would be happy to discuss the topic.  As a member of the initial task force, I have a great deal of background knowledge on the test, and how we got where we are today.  Once you receive results, if you have questions, I encourage you to reach out to your building principal, and they can assist you, or direct you to the appropriate person.

Thank you for your support and partnership!

Hello world!

My name is Mark Lane, and it is an honor and privilege to serve you as Superintendent of Schools.  The 2019-2020 school year is my first with Decorah CSD, and my 24th year working in public education.

My wife, Carla, and I are thrilled to be joining the Decorah community.  Our son, Calhoun (9) will be a fourth grader at Carrie Lee.  Our other son, William (18) will be a freshman at Iowa State University.  Our daughter, Savannah (21) will be a senior at the University of Iowa.  We also have two dogs, Ferris and Avett, who are enjoying the Decorah Dog Park and walks on area trails.

I look forward to working with Decorah CSD students, staff, families, and community members to ensure our school system serves each and every student.  Please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions or comments, and when the opportunity presents itself, please say hi, and introduce yourself.