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Letter to the Editor - Ron Wolff

Article Date: 
11 April, 2014 (All day)

Dear Editor,
Although the controversy over the “common core” has been going on for a couple of years, my conversations outside of fellow educators have been limited to only a few individuals.  That began to change the night of the Republican Party Caucus meetings in my precinct.  I have been amazed at the lack of understanding and misinformation possessed by several individuals that I’ve talked with; thus the impetus for this response.  The purpose of this response is not to change the minds of those who are opposed, but to simply provide those who are honestly seeking information with the other side of the story.
It is important to understand that the “common core” is not a curriculum.  The core is a set of standards that have been established to guide the education of our students.  The development of the specific curriculum, the choice of materials and the instructional strategies/methods to be used during instruction rests with the state, local districts and teachers.
The “common core” is not a new idea.  Utah has had a core set of standards since 1984.  Until 2010, the core standards were established by Utah educators working with the Utah State Office of Education and the Utah State Board of Education.  In 2010, the Utah State Board of Education adopted national standards in the areas of mathematics and language arts.  All other standards continue to be those developed in Utah by our educators.
The standards in math and language arts developed at the national level did not come from the Obama administration or from the federal government.  The standards in both areas came at the suggestion of the governors and state superintendents from throughout our country.  The standards were developed by educators including several from the State of Utah.
President Obama’s administration did adopt the language arts and math standards as part of his “educational reform” package.  The current administration encouraged states to adopt their reforms by (1) tying federal grant opportunities to the adoption of the reforms and (2) providing waivers from certain sections of President Bush’s reform movement entitled “No Child Left Behind.”  For most educators, the provisions of No Child Left Behind were far more intrusive than President Obama’s reform package.  The adoption of an “educational reform movement” each time a new president is elected is a recurring event that we have dealt with for years.
All reform movements tend to require some type of accountability.  As of late, accountability frequently uses data regarding the academic progress of students to determine the success of teachers, schools, school districts and states.  This is true at both the state and national level.  For several years, Utah has used the results of the CRTs (Criterion Referenced Test or end of level test) as evidence that students are learning.  The CRT questions were developed by the teachers of our state.  They were found to be only partially adequate in measuring student progress, especially when it came to determining “growth” from one year to the next.  As the new standards in language arts and math were being completed and the acceptance of individual student “growth” as a means to determine success was being generally accepted, a search began for a better test.  The Utah State Board of Education and the Utah State Office of Education released an RFP (Request for Proposal) to find a company capable of developing academic tests that were capable of testing the new language arts and math standards as well as the science standards that had been developed by Utah’s educators and used in the past.   
Several different companies were considered with a committee composed of Utah residents making the final recommendation.  Those tests were administered to a number of our students at the close of the second trimester this year and will again be administered this spring.  The company selected (American Institute of Research) does develop tests for other purposes.  Most companies have some diversity in the products that they develop and sell.
We have been told by the Utah State Office of Education and the Utah State Board of Education that no data on individual students is sent to the federal government.  I both know and trust the individuals making those statements as well as the individuals responsible for the data collection.
As an educator that has served for 45 years including time in Ohio, Florida, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Idaho and Utah, I believe in the standards that have been set for the students in the State of Utah.  I understand the concern regarding federal intrusion in education, although a much larger issue for me is the constant changes being made by the Utah State Legislature.  Those of you who are still in the process of listening to both sides of the issue are encouraged to go directly to the Common Core Standards in the area of math and language arts and review the standards for yourself.  
Thank you for taking the time necessary to read this response.
Ron Wolff
Superintendent of  
Box Elder County