Judge orders Common Core payment withheld

Judge orders Common Core payment withheld

(Mo.) As a trial court judge barred the state from making payments to the national coalition developing a new set of student tests aligned to Common Core State Standards, lawmakers moved to enact legislation that would require the tests to be created locally.

Cole County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Green late last month issued a temporary restraining order preventing Gov. Jay Nixon, the education department and several other governmental agencies from “making any payments in the form of membership fees to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium,” of which Missouri is a member state.

The same week Green issued the TRO, State Rep. David Wood, R-Versailles, announced that he planned to propose legislation this month requiring a Missouri university to develop statewide student assessments.

“It doesn't matter what we change the standards to, because teachers will teach to what the test would be,” Wood told the Springfield News-Leader.

The Common Core standards – adopted in 2010 and 2011 by 45 states, including Missouri – were designed to ensure that students across the United States are learning the same skills and concepts. But critics have attacked the standards as a federal intrusion into local control of schools.

Several states have repealed the Common Core altogether or, as is the case in Missouri, agreed to review and perhaps rewrite them to meet local needs.

A legislative work group is meeting regularly to assess the standards and must make a recommendation next October as to whether the state should move ahead with Common Core, repeal them or adopt a modified version. The State Board of Education has the final say.

The lawsuit was filed in September by three residents claiming that the governor entered into an unconstitutional partnership with the Smarter Balanced group, one of two multi-state consortia designing Common Core-aligned assessments.

Plaintiffs Frank Sauer, Anne Gassel and Gretchen Logue argue that the agreement between their state and the group is an illegal interstate compact not authorized by Congress that shouldn’t be funded with taxpayer money. The three are also members of the Missouri Coalition Against Common Core.

Gassel told the Associated Press she hopes the judge will rule that Missouri no longer can be a part of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which could push the state further from the Common Core.

“It's a really important case when it comes to local control,” Gassel said. “The state should be about the business of setting its own tests (and) developing its own standards.”

According to reports, the court order cited more than $1 million in membership fees billed to the state in September. Court documents state that Missouri can still access the consortium’s assessments without being a member or paying membership fees.

Member states moving forward with Common Core are paying the consortium for the development of a comprehensive testing system that provides computer-adaptive summative and interim assessments, as well as formative resources for teachers to monitor student progress in real time.

Twenty-one Smarter Balanced states and the U.S. Virgin Islands participated in a field test of the new assessments last spring, including Missouri. More than 4.2 million students in grades 3-8 and 11 took the online tests, either in English or math. Most states plan to officially launch the assessments this spring.

Wood said his legislation would prevent teachers from continuing to teach Common Core regardless of what the board adopts. He said he wants the tests in place for online use by 2017 or 2018.

The lawmaker also said his bill would keep money in the state and support local universities instead of national testing organizations. He reported that he has spoken with members of the University of Missouri-Columbia's Assessment Resource Center, who have shown interest in the project and say they have the capacity to pull off an assessment of that size.

Smarter Balanced is transferring administration of its assessment program to the University of California and its National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing, or CRESST.

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