PHOENIX — State schools chief Diane Douglas is backing legislation to allow school districts to choose whatever tests they want for their students — including keeping the Common Core standards she wants to kill.
“A one-size-fits-all approach to state testing is not the best way to truly measure student success,” Douglas said in a news release Monday. The state superintendent of public instruction said she supports HB 2180, which would provide a menu of tests from which schools could choose.
What’s significant about that is that Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, said he crafted the legislation to ensure schools that want to use the AzMERIT test, which is linked to Common Core, have the right to do so, even if the state Board of Education is directed by the Legislature to come up with alternatives to the academic standards it adopted in 2010.
But HB 2180, which already has passed the House and awaits Senate floor debate, appears to run counter to legislation sponsored by Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley. His HB 2190 would absolutely bar schools from using Common Core — or anything connected with it.
It gained House approval last week and now goes to the Senate Education Committee.
Douglas, who campaigned on a platform of killing Common Core, refused multiple requests to clarify what was in her news release. Instead, press aide Sally Stewart released a statement saying her boss supports both measures.
That statement, however, concedes there may be problems, saying Douglas “has offered up some amendments” for both proposals. And Stewart said Douglas met with Finchem on Monday “to express her concerns.”
Neither Stewart nor Finchem would provide details of that meeting.
At the heart of the issue is the hot-button question of whether Arizona should continue to mandate the Common Core academic standards. Foes contend these are being mandated on states with little local input.
Despite last week’s House vote on Finchem’s legislation, the Senate has shown little desire to kill the standards outright. But there is some sentiment for providing some flexibility.
Boyer said that’s where his legislation comes in.
In November, the state Board of Education adopted AzMERIT, short for Arizona’s Measurement of Educational Readiness to Inform Teaching. Those tests, linked to Common Core, are supposed to start being administered starting later this month.
Boyer said he thinks the state will move away from Common Core — at least as a mandate. What he wants is flexibility for both traditional district-based public schools and charter schools.
“I’m giving extra options to the AzMERIT test, which is the Common Core test,” he said.
“I suspect that since most districts and charters have been implementing Common Core for the last four years that the bulk of them, maybe 90, 95 percent, will still use that anyways,” Boyer said. “I’m just giving choice to the districts and charters, the few that want to use a different assessment.”
Finchem insisted there is no conflict between his measure to wipe out Common Core and legislation permitting schools to keep using a test linked to those standards.
“They don’t have that choice,” he said of that option. Anyway, Finchem said, his bill deals with curriculum while what Boyer is pushing deals with the tests assessing academic achievement.
Boyer, however, said the two issues cannot be separated. “Assessments do drive curriculum,” he said.
“I do want curriculum freedom for districts and charters,” Boyer explained.
There are limits.
Boyer’s legislation requires the tests be nationally recognized.
“I didn’t want something that was created by Joe the barber in his backyard,” he quipped.
In her prepared statement, Douglas said she supports the intent of Boyer’s bill to let schools select whatever test they want. Douglas said if that bill falters, she wants lawmakers to let school boards decide whether to administer the AzMERIT test at all.
Follow Howard Fischer on Twitter at @azcapmedia.
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