In a time of looming state budget cuts, a $65 million proposal to revamp testing for all the state's school districts will have to wait.

The Governor's Blue Ribbon Panel on Assessment recommended Tuesday holding off on implementing a new testing structure — of which $45 million would be needed for technology alone.

Instead, the panel suggests allowing three school districts to go forward with testing pilot programs. The panel would then examine the data and re-evaluate the issue in one year.

"I think it's a good recommendation, given the fiscal realities we're dealing with," said panel member Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper.

But some panel members are frustrated at delaying the original testing proposal.

"We know what path we need to move down. I believe moving forward is the right thing to do," said panel member Dixie Allen, a state school board member.

Allen was the only panel member who voted against the recommendation Tuesday. The approximate 20-member panel includes education officials, legislators, parents, teachers and administrators.

Some panel members are disappointed because Stephenson told them in the August meeting he supported the testing plans and would find the funding — at least the $45 million technology segment.

Tuesday, speaking to the Deseret News, Stephenson said he felt bad about the state funding issue. "I was hoping the economic downturn would be shallower than it has proven it to be," he said.

Stephenson said he had hoped the $100 million that the Legislature set aside would be available and some of that could be used to help launch the testing proposal.

"I guess we can blame the economy," Stephenson said. "And I guess we need to find who do we blame for the economy."

The panel's original plan called for eliminating three tests: the Criterion-Referenced Test, which is an end-of-level exam used for supplying data for the federal mandate No Child Left Behind; the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test, which students are to pass before graduation; and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, which shows educators how Utah kids are doing as compared nationally.

Instead, students would be assessed with a variety of tests, including EXPLORE, PLAN, Accuplacer and the ACT. Some of the other tests are through the Northwest Evaluation Association.

The panel's new recommendation for the pilot programs will be presented to the governor this week. In order for the pilot programs to go forward, the districts will have to be exempt from state-required testing.

Legislation will be considered in a special session starting Thursday to allow the State Board of Education to exempt a school district or charter school from testing requirements under the Utah Performance Assessment System for Students.

Sevier, Juab and Logan School districts are prepared to pilot some or all of the panel's originally recommended testing programs.

Last school year, Sevier School District used the current state-required tests while trying out an assessment-based testing program from the Northwest Evaluation Association, which meant a lot of testing for the students. The district would prefer to simply use the program from Northwest, a nonprofit assessment organization based in Oregon.

USOE officials are talking with the U.S. Department of Education regarding NCLB requirements and how it will be handled with the three test-piloting districts.


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