A bill that would allow school districts and charter schools to try out computer-adaptive testing programs and be exempt from state testing requirements was passed by the Legislature on Friday.

The proposal passed the House unanimously Friday afternoon. It cleared the Senate Friday morning, 22-5.

The bill limits the test pilot program to three rural school districts, two urban school districts, and five charter schools.

"This would ensure this exemption just isn't going to be given willy-nilly," said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper. He is sponsoring the legislation.

The pilot program would end June 30, 2010.

Utah State Office of Education officials are to report, by November 2009, to the education interim committee on how the pilots went and whether computer-adaptive testing should be used statewide and replace some currently required state exams.

"A pilot is a safe way to find out how a new program is going to work," said Brenda Hales, USOE associate superintendent for student achievement and school success.

She is also on the Governor's Blue Ribbon Panel for Assessment which is tasked with examining how to revamp the state's testing system.

The governor's spokeswoman, Lisa Roskelley, after hearing of Friday's legislative approval, said the pilot programs are a good opportunity to try out the testing in some districts and "see if it accomplishes the goals in mind."

Last school year Sevier piloted the computer-adaptive test and still did the state-required tests — which was a lot of exams for the kids.

Some of the state-required tests would have to be given in the next couple of weeks unless Sevier received an exemption. They started computer-adaptive testing last week.

The computer-adaptive test is generally given three times a year so as to better monitor students academically. "It identifies the instructional level of every student so teachers can address those specific needs," said Sevier District Superintendent Brent Thorne.

This is compared to the state-required Criterion Referenced Test which is given at the end of the school year. CRT data is used for the federal mandate No Child Left Behind.

In Friday's Senate discussions, some lawmakers asked why USOE officials hadn't gotten permission already from the U.S. Department of Education regarding whether exempting districts and charter schools from the CRT would endanger the state's NCLB funding.

But Stephenson told the Senate he is confident Utah can show federal education officials computer-adaptive testing is more rigorous and provides more accountability than the current system and "we will be able to get that approved."

After the Senate vote, State Superintendent Patti Harrington said she believes that securing legislative approval for the pilots before going to the federal government gives the state a "strong case."

The bill's House sponsor, Rep. Merlynn Newbold, R-South Jordan, ensured lawmakers, "We are in no way wanting to jeopardize those monies."

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