Common-Core Testing Issues in N.C. Highlight Potential Trouble in States

By Andrew Ujifusa — January 03, 2014 3 min read
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One of the biggest potential issues for state legislators as their 2014 sessions get underway is what to do about assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards. The first tests from two multistate consortia (Smarter Balanced and PARCC) are due to be administered in the 2014-15 school year, and lawmakers are turning more and more attention to cost, state control, and other factors that influence assessments. But given the various players involved, things could get tricky in many states.

North Carolina seems to be a good example. The News & Observer paper in Raleigh has a story examining state officials’ viewpoints about common-core assessments, and the situation is complicated. The state officially remains a member of the Smarter Balanced consortium, but as part of the state’s most recently approved budget, the state board can’t spend any money on those assessments unless the legislature passes a law specifically allowing that expense.

In coming weeks, board members are supposed to gather information about at least one other common-core assessment, Aspire from ACT. At some point in March, board members have indicated, they’d like to make a decision about the best assessment by March. But as the article notes, the legislature doesn’t even resume until May, and without explicit legal approval from state legislators, such a decision won’t have the force of law.

What is the legislature doing in the meantime? There’s a joint legislative study committee tasked with studying the standards and testing options. The committee met for the first time on Dec. 17, but judging by the news account, much if not virtually all of the discussion focused on the common core itself, not its associated assessments.

Committee members heard mainly from standards supporters, who include state Superintendent June Atkinson, a Democrat, and state Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey. But one GOP legislator on the committee said that “experts who are opponents of common core will be asked to speak to the group, too.”

So the committee hearings in North Carolina could follow the track record of similar legislative meetings that took place last year in places like Tennessee, in which many of the arguments concerned support or opposition to the standards, not common-core tests. If the study committee’s work becomes a referendum on common core itself, the state board could be left high and dry, or at least delayed, when it confronts of the issue of which asssessment to choose.

And don’t forget that it seems board members will have to wait at least several months before getting the green light from lawmakers, perhaps not too long before the 2014-15 school year has started, if not after that start date. At least one GOP lawmaker on the study committee, Sen. Jerry Tillman, seems ready to pick a broad fight about the common core.

As other states begin serious considerations about common-core assessments, will there be conflicts between state boards (most of which approved the standards several years ago) and lawmakers about the best tests to pick? And will testing debates in many states become mixed with arguments about the common core?

UPDATE: Here’s another example of the dynamic I’ve highlighted above: At StateImpactNPR, John O’Connor highlights the big common-core issues at stake in Florida when Commissioner Pam Stewart meets with the state Senate Education Committee next week. Among them, according to O’Connor, are:

• What, if any, changes need to be made to Common Core standards, scheduled to be used in every Florida classroom this fall?

• Should Florida students begin taking a new test tied to Common Core in early 2015, or wait a year?

• Should the state suspend school and district grading or teacher evaluations during the transition? Or just modify the requirements?

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.