Lawmakers dig into standards, reforms

Key lawmakers said Wednesday’s meeting on Idaho Core Standards, assessments and task force reform recommendations has set the stage for education policy to take shape.

The House and Senate education committee members joined forces for the 90-minute meeting, the first of three joint meetings planned this legislative session.

Jan. 15 Joint Session
Sens. Steven Thayn and John Goedde and Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, right, participate in Wednesday’s meeting at the Statehouse.

No bills were introduced. The meeting served as an overview of the Idaho Core Standards and the 19 other recommendations issued in August by Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education.

“Today was really laying the foundation, at least for my committee’s vision, of where this state can go,” said House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle. “This was a 30,000-foot-level view of things and my committee has the opportunity to dive into each one of these recommendations and say ‘OK, what is it going to take for a mastery system in Idaho?’”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna offered an overview of the Idaho Core Standards in English language arts and math – and the education system in general.

Luna stressed that standards need to be raised, since last year, 90 percent of Idaho’s students met the old standards in reading, but about 50 percent of students in college required remediation.

“Our standards in our K-12 education, quite simply, were not high enough,” Luna said.

Later, task force chairman and State Board of Education member Richard Westerberg summarized each of the 20 reform recommendations.

Along the way, pushback came from several of the same lawmakers who have questioned the standards, Idaho’s version of Common Core.

Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, said he was concerned about over-testing students and wondered how end-of-course assessments compared with the Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test.

Pearce also suggested the new standards have not been proven, and could be risky. “I’m nervous about taking Idaho education into an experiment.”

After the meeting, Sen. Russ Fulcher, the Meridian Republican who is running for governor this year, said he continues to have questions about standards, testing and safeguarding student data.

“One is the influence on the curriculum  ­– who controls that?” Fulcher asked. “The argument is it is still controlled locally, however, when you’ve got the testing criteria not controlled locally that’s got to drive the curriculum influence.”

More than 100 Idaho educators were involved in developing the Core standards and corresponding assessment, Luna said, and districts will still decide which texts to use and what is taught in their classrooms.

Luna said there is widespread agreement among educators and business leaders about the new standards and early adopters – such as Kentucky – have experienced positive results.

Hy Kloc committee
Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, is pushing for a pre-K pilot program in Idaho this year.

“Core standards, and the adoption of them, has been a unifying event in education,” Luna said. “That’s something we haven’t see in some time.”

Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, pushed Westerberg on why the task force didn’t recommend pre-K. Kloc has written a bill to create a public-private partnership to test pre-K in Idaho.

“That’s not one of the issues that came to the top for us to work on,” Westerberg said. “Preschool was one thing that didn’t get enough votes, frankly, to move forward.”

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