LANSING (AP) – Michigan moved a step closer Thursday toward continuing to implement more rigorous and uniform education standards that supporters say will improve classroom teaching and better prepare students for college, but delayed deciding whether companion standardized tests should also take effect.
With days to spare before a new state budget begins, the Republican-led state House approved a resolution that would lift a “pause” on new national math and reading standards that have become contentious since their adoption by the state education board three years ago. The measure now goes to the GOP-controlled Senate, which is expected to hold hearings next week but not act before the new fiscal year.
The Common Core standards adopted by 45 states – and developed by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers – demand critical thinking and problem solving that backers say will move Michigan away from the current system that does not allow kids to focus on “core” concepts and instead gives them a surface-level education that is uncompetitive with other countries.
But critics question the benchmarks and associated tests, calling them a national intrusion into local control of public schools.
The measure approved on a bipartisan 85-21 vote with some Republicans opposed would reverse legislators’ earlier decision to block state funding for the Common Core initiative in the budget year that starts Tuesday.
Lawmakers balked, however, at allowing companion “Smarter Balanced” standardized tests to move forward, instead asking for the state education board and education department to report back by Dec. 1 on testing options.
“It’s inherent upon them to do their due diligence on this, to come back with an honest assessment of what their recommendations are,” said Rep. Tim Kelly, a Saginaw Township Republican who recently held more than 17 hours of hearings on Common Core. “What we’re kind of looking for is a Michigan-specific (test), if you can.”
The new assessments would replace the Michigan Educational Assessment Program test and Michigan Merit Exam in the 2014-15 school year. The computerized tests give results quicker to guide teachers and go beyond multiple-choice questions to gauge analytical skills and real-world problem solving.
The Common Core standards have divided Republicans, with GOP Gov. Rick Snyder and the business community backing them and some conservatives and tea party interests opposing them.
The standards spell out, grade by grade, the reading and math skills that students should have as they go from kindergarten through high school.
The resolution includes provisions designed to address fears lodged by some Republicans and Democrats. It would keep curriculum and textbook decisions at the local level, bar the collection or sale of non-education data and let local school boards develop different standards.
While the federal government was not involved in developing the standards, it has provided $350 million to two consortiums developing Common Core tests. The U.S. government also encouraged states to adopt the standards to compete for “Race to the Top” grants and seek waivers around some unpopular proficiency requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.
“I agree that on the surface, having a common core of standards sounds good. However, this process of securing free government prizes to help our schools seems suspect,” said Stefanie Huffaker, an Imlay city mother of six who has home-schooled some of her children while others have attended public school.
The House voted after a committee earlier in the day passed the measure 11-5. The House removed an attempt to make the governor, lawmakers, state and local superintendents, principals and local school board members take any test measuring students’ college readiness, with the results being made public.
The Senate’s timeline to vote is unclear, except that hearings are likely to be held soon.
“The majority leader is interested in looking into it,” said Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville. “I don’t think we’re going to meet an Oct. 1 deadline.”
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