Utah Board, Governor to Review Common Core and Testing

(Photo: Utah Political Capital)

(Photo: Utah Political Capital)

Utah's state Board of Education has agreed to stop the Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence (SAGE) testing in high schools and plans to review the usage of the Common Core State Standards. But the board says it needs help from lawmakers.

It is up to the board to review and update state standards in academic subjects, but members voted to speed up the analysis of the state's math and English standards. Both are partially based on the Common Core, but no changes can be made without a one-time monetary package from the legislature, reports Benjamin Wood of The Salt Lake Tribune.

Members have already decided to eliminate the end-of-year, computer-based SAGE tests for high school students. Instead, high school pupils will take the ACT during their junior year.

But the switch depends on several updates to state laws. Utah uses the scores from the SAGE testing to grade its public schools, to initiate school turnaround programs, and for other accountability measures.

The vote came as a response to changes in federal laws requiring yearly testing in third-grade through eighth-grade and once in high school.

Additionally, Gov. Gary Herbert has encouraged board members to make a decision concerning SAGE testing and Common Core, a sequence of targets in English and math which are being used in most states, including Utah.

Adopted by the board in 2010, Common Core has been controversial and divisive since its inception. Herbert said that some of the confusion was due to opponents describing Common Core as a federal program, which he says is inaccurate. But, whatever is correct or incorrect about it, the governor wants to find some resolution and unity for Utah's students.

Gov. Herbert hasfor years been a defender of the Common Core, even engaging third-party evaluations and analysis by the state attorney general to verify the standards' legality and efficacy. But when Herbert initiated the idea of ending Common Core and SAGE, some believed it was a maneuver influenced by a challenge for his office by Jonathan Johnson (R).

Herbert told the board that his new opinions about Common Core and SAGE were not part of a political move. The Herald Journal reported that the governor's re-election staff said his decision to repeal the measures now was based on the fact that a federal law passed in December lessens the federal government's ability to ask states to adopt Common Core and other curriculum standards.

Herbert noted that when Common Core was adopted there was not enough input from the public. He continued by stating that SAGE was not "meeting its objectives" for high school students in the state.

Common Core was created by a bipartisan council of governors and education officials. The purpose of the change was to unify the patchy standards that were in place nationwide, reports the Associated Press.

Common Core opponents describe the measure as an example of federal overreach that has stripped states of control and has coerced states to adopt Common Core to receive federal funding.

The Utah Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, disagreed with Herbert's initiative.

"Last week when the discussion about SAGE and about changing the Utah Core standards came forward, that brought great angst among our members," said UEA Executive Director Lisa Nentl-Bloom. "This is not the time to start over. This is the time to continue to work to create the best standards we can, but not to start over from scratch."

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