By David Eggert, Associated Press
LANSING (AP) – Efforts to continue putting in place more rigorous and uniform national education standards in Michigan cleared a key hurdle Thursday when the Senate chose to let the state spend money on the benchmarks again.
Left until later, though, is a legislative decision on what new standardized tests should accompany the contentious Common Core State Standards in the 2014-15 school year.
Since Oct. 1, the state has been unable to spend money to help implement the math and reading standards in K-12 schools because of a provision in the budget pausing the work until the Legislature says it is OK to proceed. The standards won approval from the state education board with little fanfare three years ago but have since divided conservatives, despite winning broad support in the business and education communities and from Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.
Reflecting the tension among Republicans, the GOP-led Senate approved a resolution, which is not a bill and does not go to the governor, on a voice vote instead of taking a recorded roll call vote. The Republican-controlled House passed a similar measure last month and is expected to OK Senate changes next week. The state Education Department immediately resumed Common Core-related activities on Thursday.
“To help all our students succeed, our collective work needs to be focused on having rigorous standards; effective and valuable assessments aligned to those standards; and high quality and effective educators,” Superintendent Mike Flanagan said in a written statement.
The Common Core standards adopted by 45 states demand critical thinking and problem solving that backers say will give students an education that’s competitive with other countries. But critics question the benchmarks and associated tests, calling them a national intrusion into local control of public schools.
“It’s a national standard that will be increasingly referenced by our federal government as a tool to influence state education policies,” said Sen. Patrick Colbeck, a Republican from Wayne County’s Canton Township.
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.
Like the House, the Senate balked at allowing companion “Smarter Balanced” standardized tests to move forward and instead asked the state to report back by Dec. 1 on testing options. The resolution does not commit Michigan to a specific assessment, but it asks that assessments be given on computers, provide “real-time results” and be taken twice a year.
“We don’t want to be told by some bigger organization what our assessment program looks like,” said Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe.
A criticism of the existing Michigan Education Assessment Program tests and Michigan Merit Exam is that results do not come in time to help individual students. The resolution requires the state to competitively bid for the new tests. The Legislature plans to evaluate and fund assessment options when crafting a new budget next year.
The Common Core 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 says the standards cannot dictate curriculum and lets local school boards adopt different standards.
Flanagan’s move to immediately restart Common Core-related work drew scrutiny because the House has yet to give final approval to the measure.
“The Department of Education should not proceed with Common Core until action is completed by the Legislature,” said Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall.
But Education Department spokesman Martin Ackley said all that was needed was an “affirmative action” by both the House and Senate, which has occurred.
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