Education

Utah Votes To ‘Review’ Common Core Rather Than Kill It Entirely

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Blake Neff Reporter
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Utah will continue using Common Core for the time being but eliminated a related standardized test, despite Gov. Gary Herbert’s urging to terminate both completely.

After spending years defending Common Core from critics, Herbert suddenly changed course two weeks ago and called it to be replaced, saying the standards simply became too divisive to maintain. He said Utah’s board of education should cancel the use of the state’s SAGE standardized test for high school students and consider canceling the test for other grades too. (RELATED: Another Governor Flip-Flops, Calls For Repealing Common Core)

Utah’s state board of education voted 13-2 to subject Common Core to a review, which may recommend a wholesale replacement, minor tweaks, or no changes at all. Carrying out that review will require cooperation from the Utah legislature, which will have to appropriate funds for the process. Those funds may not arrive for a while, as Utah’s legislative session ended in March and won’t reconvene until 2017 unless Herbert calls a special session.

Board Vice Chairman David Thomas characterized the review as simply the latest of several previous incremental revisions to Common Core. For instance, the state adopted revised math standards for kindergarten through sixth grade just last month.

Common Core reviews often fail to result in meaningfully different standards, as seen through other reviews around the country. Indiana and South Carolina, for instance, both repealed Common Core only to adopt “new” standards that were described by both supporters and critics as almost identical.

Herbert, who is running for a third term this fall, is facing primary pressure from fellow republican Jonathan Johnson, who has loudly called for dumping Common Core. Herbert’s pivot is widely seen as political, but during the Friday board meeting he argued that it was a pragmatic response to Common Core’s sagging popularity.

“It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong – we’re past that,” Herbert said at the meeting. “Somehow we’ve got to find a way to resolve this controversy and come together.”

At least one board member was very skeptical of Herbert’s argument. Leslie Castle argued that the supposedly intolerable protests against Common Core were simply the “hum of democracy” and were no different from the vocal opposition seen on any contentious political issue. She suggested Herbert was giving up on a good policy for political expediency.

“We have to remain steady and I know it takes a lot of courage,” she said.

Herbert did get his wish on standardized tests, as the school board voted 11-4 in favor of discontinuing the state’s Common Core-aligned SAGE test for high schools, replacing it with the ACT instead. Ending SAGE will require action by Utah’s legislature, since SAGE tests currently regulate a variety of school accountability measures in the state and those laws will have to be changed.

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