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Herbert on Common Core: 'We are going to settle this question once and for all'

Published: Thursday, July 17 2014 1:00 p.m. MDT

Gov. Gary Herbert is interviewed at the Capitol in Salt Lake City, Thursday, March 13, 2014. The governor announced Thursday that he has directed the Utah Attorney General's Office to conduct a thorough review of the state's commitments and obligations under the Common Core State Standards.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Citing a discord that has grown "in volume and intensity," Gov. Gary Herbert on Thursday announced that he is directing the Utah Attorney General's Office to review the state's adoption of the Common Core State Standards.

Herbert said his office has received an increasing number of comments from parents, educators and lawmakers, both in support and opposition to the Common Core.

He said the state needs to resolve the contention surrounding Utah's statewide education standards in order for focus to return to where it belongs: helping Utah's 600,000 public and charter school students succeed.

"It seems we are too often talking past one another, using different terms to describe shared frustrations," he said. "The term 'Common Core,' in fact, has become so contentious that it is dividing us on things we all actually agree on, like the need of local control, setting high standards and preparing our students to succeed."

In addition to the review by the attorney general's office, Herbert announced that a committee of higher education representatives had been formed to review whether Utah's current standards adequately prepare students for careers and higher education.

A website has also been launched at utah.gov/governor/standards where residents can post concerns regarding the Common Core, but Herbert cautioned that comments should be specific and related to the actual content of the Core.

"If there is a standard or grade level benchmark that you disagree with, I want to hear about it," Herbert said.

The Common Core is a series of academic benchmarks, voluntarily adopted by all but six states, that are designed to better prepare children for higher education by outlining the minimum skills in mathematics and English that students are expected to master at each grade level.

The Core has drawn vocal criticism for being hastily implemented in some states and in many cases is mistakenly perceived as a federally mandated program that interferes with local control of curriculum.

Local control has been a key issue for Common Core opponents in Utah. Herbert said the attorney general's office has been specifically directed to review the question of state and school district control of curriculum and that "we are going to settle this question once and for all."

"For those who are concerned that (Common Core) has become some kind of a mandate, I want to re-assert that, in Utah, parents and teachers, principals and local school board members, in cooperation with the (the State School Board), are, and always will be, the primary decision makers," Herbert said. "I state unequivocally today that we will not cede that responsibility to anyone else."

Herbert also referenced concerns regarding student data privacy and SAGE, the state's new computer adaptive testing system, which are not part of the Common Core but are frequently misattributed to the education standards.

He said he was committed to working with lawmakers, educators, the Parent Teacher Association, local school boards and other stakeholders to address privacy and testing concerns, as well as to ensure that teachers are adequately trained to implement the new standards, that schools receive the necessary technology to conduct tests and that parents are empowered to help children with the sometimes challenging homework that stems from the new math standards.

"I recognize that there are bound to be bumps in the road during the rollout of any new program," he said. "But I state here today that where there are problems, we will fix them."

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