Federal judge rejects anti-SBAC lawsuit

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U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit seeking to throw out Idaho’s standardized tests aligned to Common Core.

The 10 plaintiffs did not have standing to challenge the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium exam on federal constitutional grounds, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill said in a seven-page ruling on April 11.

Winmill’s ruling thus gave plaintiffs a 30-day deadline — to either amend their complaint or let the matter drop. The plaintiffs filed no followup complaint, effectively bringing the lawsuit to a close.

Still, one of the attorneys who pursued the case expressed optimism Monday.

“While we could have refiled the case on behalf of Idaho parents, we believe in the present political climate that Common Core is on its way out as states realize the value of local control of education,” Eagle attorney Christ Troupis said Monday. “We hope Idaho follows that course soon.”

Idaho lawmakers have made no serious run at repealing the Idaho Core Standards — the state’s version of Common Core, launched in 2013. A few lawmakers have made attempts to repeal the SBAC exam, but none have passed the Legislature.

The federal lawsuit focused not on Common Core itself, but on a controversial online exam known by several names. It is often called the “SBAC” exam, for the public entity that developed the test for Idaho and 14 other states. It is sometimes called the ISAT, or Idaho Standards Achievement Test.

By whatever name, the test has drawn criticism from legislators opposed to Common Core, and from school administrators who support the new standards in math and English language arts.

Idaho students first began taking the online SBAC exam in 2015, at the troubled launch of a three-year state trial. Students are again taking the test this spring. Under federal law, the state must administer standardized tests to third- through eighth-graders, and in one grade of high school.

The lawsuit sought to sever Idaho’s contract with the SBAC, one of the two multistate groups providing tests tied to Common Core. Plaintiffs called the SBAC “an unlawful multistate compact.”

Winmill rejected the plaintiffs’ case — saying that their status as taxpayers was not sufficient to establish standing in a federal constitutional complaint.

The federal lawsuit had been filed in September by 10 plaintiffs, headed by Brent Regan, chairman of the board of the conservative Idaho Freedom Foundation. The foundation had also provided financial backing to the lawsuit.

Idaho Freedom Foundation president Wayne Hoffman declined comment Monday. So did Gov. Butch Otter, listed as a defendant in the case.

Meanwhile, state superintendent Sherri Ybarra said the State Department of Education would continue to stay the course on SBAC. While acknowledging concerns with SBAC, Ybarra has said Idaho should complete the three-year SBAC test run before deciding whether to keep or replace the exam.

“With the testing window currently open, we will continue to support districts as they administer the ISAT assessments,” Ybarra spokesman Jeff Church said Monday.

The lawsuit split along ideological lines within the Idaho Republican Party. Defendants included Otter, Ybarra and State Board of Education President Don Soltman, an Otter appointee. Attorneys for the plaintiffs were Bryan Smith, who unsuccessfully challenged 2nd Congressional District Rep. Mike Simpson in the 2014 GOP primary; and Troupis, who lost to Attorney General Lawrence Wasden in that same GOP primary.