Legality of Common Core Review Process Questioned

March 19, 2014

Investigative Reports

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Common CoreState law requires that before changes are made to state educational standards and assessment tests, a group of parents, business and industry representatives, community leaders and educators must review the proposals.

But educators dominated two main review groups for the Common Core standards adopted in 2010 by the S.C. Board of Education and state Education Oversight Committee, documents reviewed by The Nerve show. South Carolina is part of a 22-state consortium developing Common Core math and English language arts assessment tests for K-12 students.

Based on a “consensus” of S.C. Department of Education (SCDE) and Education Oversight Committee (EOC) staff members, the “procedures for adopting education standards were modified to accommodate the timeline for adopting” the Common Core standards in the Palmetto State, according to the June 2010 “Common Core State Standards Initiative Comparative Review Report.”

The report was prepared by the SCDE for the S.C. Board of Education (SBE) and EOC. Melanie Barton, the EOC’s executive director, provided The Nerve with the report on Monday when questioned about the review process.

In a written response to The Nerve, Barton said although she was “not involved in the cyclical review” when the Common Core standards were adopted in 2010, the two review panels identified in the report “did include parents, but how many I do not know.”

Parents opposed to Common Core have packed recent legislative hearings on Common Core bills. Barton did not respond to The Nerve’s questions about whether parents who are non-educators should have played a greater role in the initial review process for Common Core standards, given the recent controversy.

State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley and sponsor of one of the Common Core bills (S. 300), said at a Senate Education Committee hearing last week that the SBE and EOC “didn’t follow what we laid out in law for them to amend or change our existing standards.”

“There was not a review; they (the standards) were adopted, and that’s part of the problem that I see,” said Grooms, who opposes Common Core. “Whether you think Common Core standards are wonderful, or whether you think they’re bad, we didn’t follow the law.”

Contacted this week by The Nerve, former Democratic state superintendent of education Jim Rex, who was in office when the June 2010 Common Core report was prepared, said he couldn’t recall specifics of who was involved with the review process before the SBE and EOC adopted the Common Core standards in 2010. But he added, “I know there were meetings and discussions prior to the adoption of Common Core.”

He referred questions about specifics to Valerie Harrison, the former state deputy superintendent of the SCDE’s Division of Standards and Learning, who was one of six members of the “Common Core Comparative Review Process Leadership Team,” according to the June 2010 report.

Harrison, now dean of the School of Education at Claflin University, could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

The Nerve this week sent written questions about the state review process to SCDE spokesman Dino Teppara, who said he would provide a response but didn’t reply by publication of this story.

The state Education Accountability Act of 1998 (Section 59-18-350 of the S.C. Code of Laws) says the SBE, “in consultation with” the EOC, “shall provide for a cyclical review by academic area of the state standards and assessments to ensure that the standards and assessments are maintaining high expectations for learning and teaching.”

“At a minimum, each academic area should be reviewed and updated every seven years,” the law states. Both the SBE and EOC have to approve any recommended changes under the law.

According to the law, “As part of the review, a task force of parents, business and industry persons, community leaders, and educators, to include special education teachers, shall examine the standards and assessment system to determine rigor and relevancy.”

But educators were the primary players in the review process for Common Core standards, according to the June 2010 report.

The 130-page report said teachers, school and district administrators, representatives of professional organizations and higher education representatives were “identified and designated” for two state Common Core review teams – one for math standards and the other for English language arts standards.

“Because South Carolina’s cyclical review process places a high premium on the participation of a variety of stakeholders, nominations were solicited from the SBE, the EOC, and South Carolina public school districts,” according to the report.

The report identified participants on the 17-member math and 18-member English language arts review panels. All of the listed participants were identified by school district, schoolwhether K-12 or post-secondaryor regional educational centers. The Nerve’s review found that at least 32 of the 35 listed participants worked in the education field.

According to a 2009 “Memorandum of Agreement,” which was included in the report, involving the SCDE, SBE and EOC, staff from the SCDE and EOC “shall agree on the composition of a small group which may include agency staff persons, SC curricular leaders, and postsecondary educators in the content area to conduct a comparative review” of the “recommendations of a national and/or international group regarding what students should be learning in an academic content area.”

A timeline that was included with the report shows the review panel process for the Common Core standards taking place from January through March of 2010, with approval of the recommendations by the SBE and EOC scheduled for May through July of that year. The report noted that although the final version of the Common Core standards was “embargoed until June 2, 2010,” participating states received a “confidential copy” of the version “so that a final alignment” between South Carolina and Common Core standards could be completed before final approval of the standards was requested from the EOC on June 14, 2010, and the SBE on July 14, 2010.

In June 2010 – the same month the Common Core report was issued – South Carolina joined the “Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium,” based in Washington state, as an “advisory” state, according to an agreement signed by then-Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican; Rex; and then-State Board of Education President Tim Moore.

Gov. Nikki Haley and Superintendent of Education Mick Zais, both Republicans, along with Gerrita Postlewait, then-State Board of Education president, reauthorized South Carolina’s “advisory” status in June 2011; in June 2012, the Palmetto State changed its membership status to “governing,” records show.

A governing state has “fully committed to this Consortium only and met the qualifications specified in this document,” according to a “Memorandum of Understanding.”

The Nerve reported last month that when a federal grant that supports the consortium ends in September, member states, including South Carolina, will have to pay membership fees to continue in the group.

The Nerve calculated the initial membership cost, based on figures supplied by the Smarter Balanced group, would run from about $2 million to more than $3 million, depending on the level of services provided, for S.C. students in grades 3 through 8. That wouldn’t include the cost to the state of administering and scoring the assessment tests.

South Carolina Policy Council analyst Dillon Jones contributed to this story. Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.