The Legislature's Education Interim Committee recommended taking action that would allow educators to increase using technology in determining how to help students improve academically.

"Times have changed," said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, during a meeting of the committee at the start of this week's legislative special session. He is sponsoring the proposed legislation, which passed the committee 14-2.

"We're moving into a wonderful time in the 21st century in forming instruction and providing accountability at the same time," Stephenson said.

The committee's recommendation is to allow the State Board of Education to exempt a school district or charter school from state testing requirements.

Sevier and Juab school districts are prepared to pilot computer-adaptive testing but don't want to also keep doing the state-required testing, including the Criterion-Referenced Test. The CRT is an end-of-level exam used for supplying data for the federal mandate No Child Left Behind.

Logan School District wants to pilot computer-adaptive tests and college entrance exams but be exempt from the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test, which students are required to pass before graduation. They plan to continue with the CRTs.

A few other school districts are interested in trying out computer-adaptive testing and other exams suggested by the Governor's Blue Ribbon Panel on Assessment.

Officials with Davis, Tooele, Millard, Carbon and Beaver School Districts have expressed interest. Officials with East and West Jordan School District say they may be interested in piloting after the district split in July 2009.

Rep. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, and Rep. Brad Last, R-St. George, voted against exempting districts and charter schools from state testing. After the vote, they said they felt they needed more time to study the issue and would like to wait and address it in the regular session.

"That's a huge policy change to make on the fly here," Urquhart said. "It needs a fuller discussion."

The two lawmakers said they are also concerned about doing away with the current state-required testing and having districts all doing different testing.

There is no fiscal note attached to the bill. The State Office of Education has funded, with federal mineral lease revenue used for rural school districts, three school districts' pilot programs: $50,447 for Logan; $48,891 for Juab; and $225,375 for Sevier.

State Superintendent Patti Harrington said she is talking with officials in the U.S. Department of Education to ensure using computer-adaptive testing instead of the CRTs will still meet the requirements of NCLB — and not endanger NCLB funding for the state.

A computer-adaptive exam changes to fit a student's ability. For example, if a student answers a question correctly, the next question is different than if the previous question had been answered wrong.

A computer-adaptive test, typically taken several times during the school year, also lets the student, parent and educators know immediately how the student is doing academically and what changes need to be taken. This is compared to the CRT, which is given at the end of the school year and is labeled an "autopsy" by some educators.

Tasked with revamping the state's testing program, the governor's panel has been working on a proposal to ax the CRT, the UBSCT and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills — a test that 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 computer-adaptive and administered through the Northwest Evaluation Association.

However, this $65 million proposal is on hold due to the state budget cuts.

The panel opted, on Tuesday, to wait a year, see how the testing pilot programs go and then reassess the issue.

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