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April 21, 2014

Panel approves new school benchmarks

Roundtable OKs English, math metrics by landslide; change to cost upwards of $50M in first three years

INDIANAPOLIS — A panel of Indiana business and education leaders were met with boos and jeers from attendees after they voted overwhelmingly Monday to support new math and English standards set to replace the Common Core in classrooms this fall.

Indiana was one of the first of 45 states to adopt the national benchmarks in the Common Core in 2010 in an effort to create consistently high standards across state lines. The adoption sped through under former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, and it wasn’t until later that opponents criticized the lack of local input.  

The legislature passed a bill in 2013 pausing the standards’ implementation, and Pence signed legislation in March to make Indiana the first state to formally abandon them. Indiana is blazing ahead of other states with interest in ditching the Common Core. About 100 bills have been introduced this year to repeal or pause the use of Common Core in classrooms, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.

State law requires Indiana to adopt “the best standards in the United States” by July.

The approval from the Education Roundtable — co-chaired by Pence and Superintendent for Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and flushed with lawmakers, business leaders and education officials — means the standards passed one of the last hurdles before adoption. They will go before the State Board of Education on Monday for final approval.

Members voted 21-2 in favor of the English benchmarks with one member abstaining. The math standards were approved 21-3.

Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Danielle Shockey said a supplemental glossary with definitions of what critics called vague terms in the standards will be available for interested school corporations, along with recommended reading lists numerous national evaluators requested.

Several Roundtable members said developing tests to accurately assess the standards is a pressing concern, considering school ratings and teacher evaluations both are tied to testing.

A cost analysis by the Legislative Services Agency estimates the transition to new standards could cost the state about $10.5 million next school year, $23 million to $32 million in 2015-2016 and $17 million to $26 million annually beginning in the 2016-2017 school year.

Despite the Roundtable’s strong vote in support of the guidelines, some expert evaluators and members of Hoosiers Against Common Core were unconvinced that the planned replacement for the national standards are much different.

Analysis of earlier drafts of the English standards for sixth through 12th grades show about 90 percent were either directly from the Common Core or edited versions of those standards. Those benchmarks were used as a baseline to craft the proposed standards, along with previous standards in place in Indiana.

Education officials last week said no formal analysis is planned to evaluate how much of the Common Core is left in the final draft.  

About 200 people filled a Statehouse hallway before the Roundtable meeting to hear Terrence Moore — an assistant professor of history from Hillsdale College who opposes Common Core and who reviewed an earlier draft of the standards.

“If these standards were to come to me as a paper, I would put an ‘F’ on it and write one word: plagiarism,” Moore said. “They want us to believe these are entirely new standards. Well, they’re not.”

One audience member watching the Education Roundtable meeting let out a chuckle when the governor repeated his call for “uncommonly high” benchmarks written “by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers.” His praise for the transparency of the evaluation — there were three public hearings and more than 2,000 comments submitted online on the first draft — brought laughter.

Many held up signs that read, “Governor Pence, are you listening?”

State Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, was one of the few who voted against the draft. He declined to comment on why he opposes those standards.

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