Leaders of two key education groups in Iowa say Governor Branstad’s “blueprint” for education reform focuses too much on having students and teachers take more tests. Iowa State Education Association executive director Mary Jane Cobb says testing is the “wrong driver” for the transformation that’s needed.

“We think teachers need more time to spend together, to collaborate, to help each other critique their practice and to improve,” Cobb says. “That’s not addressed in the plan.”

Tom Downs, executive director of the Iowa Association of School Boards, says raising standards for students, teachers and administrators is heading in the right direction, but rather than “more” tests he’d like to see “better” tests.

“I don’t want the focus to be on who the teachers are,” Downs says. “I want the focus to be on what they’re doing, the curriculum they’re delivering, the assessments that they are using to see student growth.”

Governor Branstad has proposed that all 11th graders take the ACT, but Downs says that’s a cost the state can’t afford and it’s not a “value” for kids who don’t plan to go to college.

“I’m comfortable with raising the quality of assessments. I’m comfortable with assessing growth of a student over the course of a year, but more testing for the purpose of testing leaves me with some questions.”

The governor also proposes spending $1.5 million a year to have 3000 Iowa ninth graders take an international test, to measure those students against students in other countries. Cobb, who’s from the state teachers’ union, says that means spending $500 per student on a test.

“Assessments need to be about providing information back to the classroom teacher and to the school about how to improve instruction,” Cobb says. “That’s the only reason you need to be testing students, to help move them along.”

Jason Glass, the governor’s education director, says Iowa students aren’t just competing against students in other states, but in other countries and that’s why such testing is important.

“Sometimes you have to be willing to go against the grain of what conventional wisdom is telling us,” Glass says. “These assessment proposals are about improving, updating the system of measures that we have in the state and I just don’t think it’s something that we can back down from.”

Glass also says test results are for more than just providing feedback for the classroom teacher.

“We need to look at something like a college entrance exam, such as ACT, so that every kid in Iowa has a key to get into college and to be able to look at how our state is comparing against the other nine states where all students take the ACT,” Glass says. “I believe our students will surprise us on how well they do on that assessment.”

And Glass argues that international test will provide “critical information” about how Iowa schools stack up against international competitors.

Glass, Cobb and Downs made their comments this morning during taping of the “Iowa Press” program which airs tonight at 7:30 on Iowa Public Television.