Educators fear Common Core bill could create confusion

Georgia could choose to stick with the controversial set of national academic standards called Common Core, but proposed legislation would prevent students from being tested on material tied to them.

That provision is one of several that have education officials still concerned about Senate Bill 167, which calls for a review of whether Georgia should stay with Common Core. SB 167 passed last week and is scheduled to be discussed in a House committee Wednesday. Georgia would, if the legislation becomes law, have a set of standards and no way to know if students are adhering to them.

“We’re working to get out of Common Core,” said Sen. William Ligon, the Brunswick Republican who has led the legislative fight against Common Core. “That’s the purpose of this.”

Education officials have expressed concern about limits the bill places on how student data can be collected and used and on its potential impact on how teachers are to be measured when Georgia goes to a new evaluation system this fall.

“It’s un-aligning all of the things we’ve taken a long time to put together,” said Angela Palm, director of policy and legislative services for the Georgia School Boards Association.

Educators had initially feared that Ligon’s bill would immediately pull Georgia out of Common Core. It doesn’t go that far, but it would make staying with Common Core a largely meaningless exercise.

Georgia’s curriculum and its standardized test, the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, are aligned to Common Core.

Starting this fall, SB 167 would allow school districts to offer a curriculum that is not aligned to Common Core. That flexibility would complicate the state’s process for evaluating teachers, which will be rolled out this fall and which will be tied, in part, to how students perform on the CRCT.

“This opens the door to some inconsistency,” said Melissa Fincher, associate superintendent for assessment and accountability for the state Department of Education.

Georgia is one of more than 40 states that have agreed to adhere to the Common Core standards. Business, military and higher education officials back the standards, arguing that they allow students to get a deeper understanding of academic material and harmonize when students across the country are exposed to that material.

The standards have come under fire from tea party activists, who argued that they are a federal intrusion into state control of public education. In Georgia, activists have pressed the case that Common Core standards are weaker than the standards the state used before.

As Common Core has come under political attack, some previous supporters have begun to pull back from them.

Gov. Nathan Deal has said he supports Common Core, but last year, with opposition building, he directed the state Board of Education to study whether Georgia should stick with the new standards.

The debate over Common Core has been a political headache for Deal as he seeks re-election this year. Two important constituencies — passionate tea party activists and contribution-making business interests — are on opposite sides of the debate.

Deal made clear Monday that his staff played a direct role in drafting Ligon’s legislation, which he views as a “very good compromise bill that allows us to go forward and doesn’t take the rug out from under the teachers.”

Among their concerns, education officials worried that SB 167 would limit how student data is collected and used. Ligon said the bill would not change what data is collected now and that he wants to make sure data that is collected is used solely for the purpose of educating students.

Ligon also disputed the contention that the legislation would keep Georgia students from taking national tests such as the SAT and the ACT. His focus, he said, was on making sure the state is in control of statewide assessments offered in Georgia.

This fall, the state Board of Education is expected to complete the Common Core review Deal ordered it to undertake. SB 167 would establish a 17-person panel to give the board’s findings a 90-day airing through public meetings and feedback from parents, students and educators.

After that 90-day period, the panel would have 60 days to come up with its own set of recommendations to the state board.

The panel could recommend — and the state board could agree — that Georgia should remain in Common Core.

SB 167, however, would prohibit the administration of a test to determine how Georgia students are faring under the new standards.

Federal law requires that states have academic standards and that they assess how students perform under those standards.

Given that reality, Georgia would need to develop a set of standards other than Common Core and come up with a separate test to see how students are faring.

Georgia had been part of a group of states that was developing a test tied to Common Core. Citing cost concerns and a lack of state control, Deal pulled Georgia out of that group.

Ligon said his bill merely echoes the governor’s sentiment.

“We’re moving toward the state of Georgia determining what its standards are going to be,” Ligon said. “We’re looking to establish new assessments based on those standards.”

By Wayne Washington
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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