Senate panel advances bill expanding role of parent review committee

Published: Tuesday, March 4 2014 10:15 a.m. MST

Members of the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee voted Tuesday to recommend a bill that would expand the duties of a parent committee commissioned to review statewide test questions to also field complaints related to the Common Core.

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SALT LAKE CITY — A committee of parents appointed to review the state's year-end test materials may be tasked in the future with fielding complaints on Common Core if a bill approved by committee Tuesday becomes law.

SB257, sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, would expand the duties of the 15-member committee to include the review of complaints related to curriculum standards and instructional materials.

Stephenson praised the work of the review committee, which was commissioned in response to angst over the state's new computer adaptive testing system. He said there were fears that the Common Core-aligned test questions would promote social and political biases, and allowing a panel of parents to review the questions proved those fears to be largely unfounded.

"As a result, there’s a great comfort level with our test questions, and I think the process proved to be valuable and helpful in removing suspicion about the kinds of questions our students would be asked," Stephenson said.

But while those fears may have abated, he said concerns remain in response to the Utah Core Standards — a series of academic benchmarks in each subject area — and particularly the English language arts and math portions of the Common Core State Standards implemented as part of the Utah Core.

The Common Core standards have been voluntarily adopted by all but five states and describe the minimum skills a student should learn in each grade.

While the Utah Core, including the Common Core sections, is fully available for review online, Stephenson said it would be helpful to commission the parent review committee to field lingering concerns from Utah parents.

"This bill would have that same parent panel hear complaints about curriculum and instructional materials used in Utah," he said. "I feel very strongly that parents in the state of Utah need to have confidence in the material being taught."

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, questioned why another level of review is necessary if the committee's initial findings were positive. He also suggested that by attempting to remove biases, the bill potentially opens up Utah's curriculum to the ideological leanings of the review committee's members.

"Maybe we don’t need another committee and more time and things of another group, perhaps with their own political agenda, pouring through all this," Dabakis said.

The bill was heard by the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee due to a backlog of bills in the Senate Education Committee, Stephenson said. The bill received a unanimous recommendation from the committee and will now go before the full Senate for consideration.

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com

Twitter: bjaminwood

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