COLUMBIA - A bill that would keep Common Core in schools for several years advanced to the Senate on Wednesday.
Under a compromise, the bill moved to the Senate Education Committee. The original bill called for the repeal of Common Core standards in South Carolina. A series of amendments made by Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, would keep those standards, but it also called for a review of them by 2018.
Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, chairman of the education subcommittee, called the bill with its amendments "a work in progress." He added that he expects the bill will be highly debated in the full committee and when it hits the Senate floor.
"I don't know that the compromise is the end of the discussion," Hayes said after the meeting. "It moves the ball forward."
The controversial Common Core standards define what students in all grades must learn in reading and math. Because what students are learning will be changing, the state needs new standardized exams to evaluate whether they mastered that information. The state's tests, such as PASS and the exit exam, aren't aligned to the new Common Core standards.
The state Board of Education has agreed to use a new test that was developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which was made up of educators, researchers, policymakers and community groups from states nationwide.
Some have expressed concerns with that exam because it's computer adaptive, meaning the questions change depending on students' answers. No one has been able to say whether South Carolina has the technological capacity to test that way, said Dana Yow, director of public engagement and communications for the state Education Oversight Committee. Others have questioned whether it's fair for some students to take the exam with paper and pencil when others are taking it on computer, she said.
The subcommittee's compromise would pull South Carolina from the Smarter Balanced testing consortia, which would mean Smarter Balanced tests would not be administered during the 2014-15 school year. Instead, the amendment called for South Carolina to adopt an assessment aligned with Common Core and developed by the ACT, which would have to be approved by the federal government. At least one state, Alabama, plans to use that exam this spring.
South Carolina Department of Education staffers warned on Wednesday that keeping current state standardized tests would not be in compliance with federal requirements.
"You must have a test that is federally approved," said Liz Jones, director of the Office of Assessment for the department of education.
Not meeting the federal requirements could jeopardize $214 million in federal Title I money allocated for schools with a high percentage of low-income children. Superintendent of Education Mick Zais does not agree with the state backing out of the testing consortium only, said Dino Teppara, spokesman for the department.
"There shouldn't be any compromise when it comes to Common Core," Teppara added on behalf of Zais. "You are creating issues when you deal with the assessment but you're not dealing with the underlying standards themselves."
Fair argued during the meeting, however, that lawmakers must do something to get the state out of Smarter Balanced.
"The top concern, from my perspective, is to get out of the contract that the state board of education signed with Smarter Balanced," Fair said. "That's a horrible test."
Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, sponsor of the original bill, said he too has "great concerns" over the Smarter Balanced test. But he added he doesn't think the state will lose all of the federal Title I money.
Grooms said he would prefer that the current test administered to students be modified to meet federal standards. But he added he is happy the Senate is moving forward with the debate.
"Any efforts to move the bill to the Senate floor, I welcome," Grooms said. "Whatever the bill looks like right now, will in no way be the final product."
Staff writer Diette Courrégé Casey contributed to this story.
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