Utah Withdraws From Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium Developing Common Core Tests

Utah Withdraws From Consortium Developing Common Core Tests

The Utah state school board on Friday voted 12-3 to withdraw from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium -- one of two state-based consortia working off of $360 million in federal Race to the Top money to have outside companies develop assessments that test the Common Core State Standards, the Salt Lake Tribune reports.

Utah's withdrawal means the state won't have a say in the composition of these tests anymore. But it can still choose to test students with SBAC's exams when they're ready for primetime. By withdrawing from the consortium, however, Utah will be able to select its Common Core-based tests without prior connection to any one group, which some say could have been perceived as a conflict of interest.

The Common Core national math and reading standards -- adopted by 46 states, including Utah, two years ago -- have come under fire, with right-wing critics contending they facilitate federal intrusion into state education matters, and skeptics across the board charging that they simply won't work.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the voluntary benchmarks were strongly pushed by the Obama administration through its $4.35 billion Race to the Top education-grant competition, which rewarded states bonus points in their applications if they instituted changes like "college and career ready" standards.

Brought about through the collaboration of governors, state schools’ chiefs and Gates Foundation funding, the Common Core standards emphasize teaching fewer things, in greater depth. Some of the most controversial aspects include teaching algebra in ninth instead of eighth grade, and the potential de-emphasis of literature in favor of informational texts.

The tests themselves are still in development and are scheduled to be operational by 2014-15. Instead of molding to the traditional “fill in the bubble” format, some of the Common Core assessments will be administered on computers and feature more open-ended questions.

According to the Journal, conservative lawmakers and governors in at least five states, including Utah, have been pushing to slow down implementation of the Common Core — their concern being adoption of the standards has formed a de facto national curriculum that could eventually be extended into areas like science.

"I just don’t know that we need to be in Smarter Balanced at this time," Utah state school board member Dave Thomas told the Salt Lake Tribune regarding the decision to withdraw from the consortium. "Given all the controversy surrounding it and the fact that I don’t know that it benefits us right now, that’s the reason I vote to withdraw."

On the other hand, fellow member Kim Burningham said he didn’t understand why the board would withdraw from the consortium, when being a part of it didn’t obligate Utah to anything.

"To suddenly withdraw from that opportunity for getting input seems to be shutting our eyes, and I’m afraid it’s just for political reasons," he told the paper. "I don’t see any reason to do it."

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