SALT LAKE CITY — Both Gov. Gary Herbert and his re-election challenger, Jonathan Johnson, called for the end of SAGE testing and Utah's use of the Common Core academic standards Wednesday.
In a letter to the Utah State Board of Education, Herbert noted the ongoing controversy of Utah's 2010 adoption of the Common Core, a set of standards developed by a national education consortium that raised the bar for student performance in math and English.
He asked the board to adopt "uniquely Utah standards," while maintaining high academic expectations for students, keeping the federal government out of Utah education decisions, and preserving local control.
"We have learned what works and what does not," Herbert's letter states. "I believe it is an appropriate time to fix those areas that have not worked and improve on those that do."
In a prepared statement, Johnson also reiterated his opposition to the standards.
"I strongly believe Utah's students will benefit greatly from more localization and personalization," Johnson said.
Since the implementation of the standards began, educators have cited insufficient preparation and curriculum inadequacy as problems adding to the controversy of the standards. Concerns of federal overreach into Utah's adoption of the standards has also been a source of debate.
But in 2014, Herbert commissioned two studies to settle "once and for all" the questions of whether the state ceded educational control to the federal government by adopting the standards, and whether they were an improvement from the previous standards.
One of the reports, conducted by the Utah Attorney General's Office, determined that while Utah was required to adopt "college- and career-ready standards" through its waiver from No Child Left Behind, it still maintains control of what standards and curriculum are adopted. The state also did not receive federal funds to adopt the Common Core.
Local school districts also maintain control of the curriculum they choose to use in the classroom, while state education leaders approve academic standards for Utah students.
The other report was conducted by teams of local education professionals, who found that the Utah Core Standards are more rigorous than the state's previous standards, requiring students to engage in higher analytical thinking in reading and writing.
State education leaders have also changed Utah's standards several times since their original adoption in 2010. New math standards for students in kindergarten through sixth grade, for example, were adopted by the board last month.
In a prepared response to the governor's letter, State School Board Chairman David Crandall said education leaders are aware of the implementation challenges and have worked to revise academic policy as necessary while maintaining local control.
"No set of standards is perfect, and we always look for ways to improve upon them," Crandall said. "As has been our practice, we anticipate re-examining all academic standards at certain intervals with the input of professionals and community members throughout the state."
Herbert also echoed concerns over the student assessment of growth and excellence, known as SAGE, which was created locally as a standardized test to measure student proficiency through the lens of the Utah Core.
Since the test began in 2014 following state legislation, several legislators have criticized the test and the amount of time it takes students and teachers out of the classroom. This year, lawmakers passed bills removing SAGE from the evaluation process for teachers and that give high schools the option of not administering the test to 11th-graders.
But the governor called for a review of the test's effectiveness and the elimination of its statewide mandatory status for high schools.
"With your endorsement of this plan," Herbert told board members, "I will ask the Utah Legislature to consider legislation making this change, even if possible in the upcoming special session," which convenes May 18.
Johnson noted an ongoing concern that because the test doesn't affect student grades, and no longer affects teacher evaluations, some students aren't inclined to participate in full effort.
"If we're not using the SAGE testing to evaluate teachers and we're not using it to help children learn, what is the purpose of SAGE testing?" he said. "The implementation of SAGE testing was a mistake."
Crandall said board members "look forward to working with legislators during a special session" on SAGE and other education issues.