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House passes bill increasing parent review of test materials

Published: Monday, Feb. 24 2014 1:35 p.m. MST

By a wide majority, members of the Utah House on Monday approved a bill that increases the number of parents serving on a committee that reviews statewide test materials. (Shutterstock) By a wide majority, members of the Utah House on Monday approved a bill that increases the number of parents serving on a committee that reviews statewide test materials. (Shutterstock)

SALT LAKE CITY — After significant revisions that drew praise for compromise, a bill increasing parent review of the state's computer adaptive testing easily passed the House on Monday in a 66-4 vote.

HB81, sponsored by Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, expands the current 15-member review committee to include 30 members and shortens a parent's term of service from four to two years.

The bill initially would have granted any parent of a public school student advance access to testing materials, but lawmakers and educators raised concerns that allowing that level of access could compromise the integrity of the roughly $28 million test.

"I felt like initially I stepped into a bear trap," Kennedy said of the response to his bill.

Kennedy said his intention is to balance the need for secure test materials with the right of parents to be aware of the materials presented to their students. His bill is partly in response to angst over the state's new computer adaptive testing system, which sees individual students taking a unique test that automatically adjusts itself in response to accurate and inaccurate answers.

The test will be administered statewide for the first time this spring and is the key component of Utah's school grades.

Kennedy said he appreciated the opportunity to work with members of the education community, as well as other lawmakers, to reach a compromise that both reflects parental rights while preserving the security of test questions.

"We’ve had significant discussions with the state office to make sure we reached an adequate compromise," he said.

During debate on the bill, several lawmakers stood in support of the proposal. Kennedy's work on the issue was praised as reasoned and exemplary, and Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, said the sponsor "worked his tail off" to address concerns related to the bill.

Gibson said the crux of the bill — a review committee of parents bound by nondisclosure agreements and appointed by the House speaker, Senate president and State School Board chairman — had been debated during the 2013 session and the new bill merely adjusts the specifics for greater transparency.

"We don’t need to spend a whole lot of time, hopefully, hashing out a bill that we passed last year," Gibson said.

The bill will now go before the Senate for consideration.

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com Twitter: bjaminwood

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