Wednesday, December 11, 2013

State board rejects SmarterBalanced; chooses KU to develop Common Core tests

By PETER HANCOCK, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA, KAN. — The Kansas State Board of Education today effectively dropped out of a multistate consortium that is developing student assessments aligned to the controversial new Common Core standards for reading and math.

Instead, the board voted to to continue contracting with Kansas University's Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation to design and administer the tests that students take each year to measure how well the schools themselves are meeting state and federal performance standards.

That's the same group that has developed and administered state assessments for Kansas schools for the last several years.

The 8-2 vote came after a lengthy discussion among board members. And it came only after the board deadlocked in a 5-5 tie on the recommendation of an advisory committee to use the SmarterBalanced Assessment Consortium as the primary test to be given each year to students in grades 3 through 8, and once in high school.

Kansas had been a governing state in SmarterBalanced, one of two multistate groups that received federal grants from the Obama administration to develop new tests aligned to the Common Core standards.

"I will vote in favor of the motion, with extreme reservations," said board member Janet Waugh, D-Kansas City, one of three members who switched their vote after the motion to go with SmarterBalance failed. "I feel we need to adopt SmarterBalanced, however I also feel we need to get off dead center."

But board member Ken Willard, R-Hutchinson, said sticking with KU to develop and administer the tests would be safer politically, mainly because that option is expected to cost only about $5.1 million a year, once the test is fully developed.

That's about half a million dollars more than KU currently charges the state for testing services. But it's $1.3 million less than it would have cost to contract with SmarterBalanced.

"There is a political component to this decision," Willard said. "There will be people weighing in on this across the street (in the Kansas Statehouse) after our decision is made."

Carolyn Campbell, D-Topeka, whose district includes Lawrence, said she could not support dropping out of the SmarterBalanced project, saying the political concerns did not matter to her.

"I've always put the children first and what is best for them," Campbell said.

Although the CETE tests will be less expensive than SmarterBalanced, officials noted that they also won't have as many kinds of "technology-enhanced" items that require students to use higher-level problem solving and critical thinking skills.

They will also have fewer "adaptive" features, which require students to show competency at one set of knowledge or skills before they proceed to the next level.

In addition, though, deputy education commissioner Brad Neuenswander said the Kansas Board of Regents has not yet determined whether the CETE exams will meet their standards for gaining entrance into credit-bearing courses.

But CETE officials said they are hopeful of getting approval from the higher education community.

"CETE is pleased to continue to develop the next-generation assessments for Kansas," said Marianne Pearie, co-director of the center. "We intend to reach out to the Board of Regents and hope to involve them in developing a test in (English language arts) and math at the high school level that truly measures a student's academic readiness for post-secondary education."

Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker said after the vote that she would immediately call officials at SmarterBalanced and inform them that Kansas will no longer serve as a governing state in the consortium.