A member of the Idaho Senate Education Committee is calling for the state to discontinue its participation in the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC), a testing system used by several states as part of the Common Core nationwide academic standards initiative.
But that has raised a subsequent question: What is involved in the state dropping some component or all of the Common Core program?
In a lengthy press release, Sen Steve Thayn, R-Emmett, listed eight different reasons why he believes the state should abandon the use of the SBAC test, and also called for the creation of new testing to begin in the 2014-15 school year.
Among Thayn’s reasons for rejecting the SBAC are:
1) SBAC is a form of “extreme testing” taking up to seven hours;
2) The SBAC test cannot provide immediate feedback to classroom teachers;
3) The Idaho State Department of Education is not able to guarantee that pornographic passages or agenda-driven questions will not be on the SBAC;
4) SBAC has no process to lodge a complaint or modify the test;
5) SBAC creates a multi-state testing system. SBAC shifts decisions from the state level to a multi-state level and will further alienate parents and make it harder for legislators, teachers and parents to impact public policy threatening state control over a wide range of education issues;
6) The test process has unacceptable and dangerous characteristics;
7) Cost of the test has not been determined;
8) Concerns about student data security.
While Thayn’s call for Idaho to discontinue with Common Core only applies to the testing component of the agenda, and not to the academic standards component, discussions about Idaho exiting both the academic standards testing components of the agenda have arisen previously. Some fear that if a nationwide movement can dictate Idaho’s grade-by-grade academic standards, then that same nationwide movement can dictate classroom curriculum content.
On this point, Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, chairman of the House Education Committee, told IdahoReporter.com a year ago that there have been attempts by the federal government to meddle with local and state level school decisions. “Candidly, there have been efforts by the U.S. Department of Education to co-opt this state-led initiative,” he told IdahoReporter.com in January of 2013. “I’ve spoken about this with Superintendent Luna and he’s spoken about it with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Superintendent Luna assures me that if this moves toward a nationalized curriculum, Idaho will back out of the initiative.”
Thayn told IdahoReporter.com that he believes there is no process of augmenting the means by which Idaho participates in the existing SBAC testing system. “I have asked (Superintendent Luna) how we can change this. I get the distinct impression that there is no means of changing it, and that complete withdrawal from Common Core’s testing system is the only alternative we have, and it has not been made clear to me what the procedure for withdrawing might be.”
In light of these developments, IdahoReporter.com contacted Luna’s office to ask what the procedure would be for Idaho to “back out” of Common Core as DeMordaunt described it, and under what circumstances Luna would initiate that process.
“It’s not really a matter of ‘getting in’ or ‘getting out,’” Luna’s spokesperson Melissa McGrath replied. “Idaho chose to adopt these standards through the rule-making process, the same process the state has used to adopt content standards in every other subject area since the late 1990s. If the state wanted to change its standards, it could through the same rule-making process. The state has voluntarily chosen to move toward these standards in mathematics and English language arts because they are higher and more rigorous.”
McGrath added, “Superintendent Luna has made it clear in the past that the federal government has never reviewed or approved content standards in the past, and the U.S. Department of Education has not reviewed or approved these standards. If the federal government ever made an attempt to overstep a state’s authority, Superintendent Luna has said that no one would fight harder against that than he would.”
For his part, Luna responded to Thayn’s concerns, conceding, for example, that the test is lengthy, but that higher quality tests require more time. On Point 2, that the SBAC doesn’t provide immediate feedback to classroom teachers, Luna argues that “Idaho will gain immediate feedback from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, something we do not currently get from the ISAT (Idaho Standards Achievement Test).”
Thayn’s concern about “pornographic passages” is not without precedent. In November of 2013, Rep. Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls, raised concerns about literature being used in the Idaho Falls School District that some of her constituents believed was sexually explicit and inappropriate for high school students.
Luna, however, does not believe the SBAC testing system from the Common Core initiative leaves Idaho without recourse on such matters, as Thayn suggests. “Idaho will be able to guard against this,” Luna said. “First, Idaho educators are involved in the development of Smarter Balanced items. To date, more than 50 Idaho teachers are involved in writing test questions. Second, the Idaho State Department of Education can request to review the entire item pool at any time to ensure we are comfortable with the test questions. Idaho has the same ability to review all questions and assessment items as we did with the ISAT.”