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State school board member addresses common core

Article Date: 
18 October, 2013 (All day)

A representative from the Utah State School Board says those both in favor of and opposed to the Utah Common Core have the same concerns.
“We agree more than we disagree,” Tami Pyfer, a member of the Utah State Board of Education, told the Morgan County School Board at their October meeting. “We are concerned about the same things.”
Pyfer, a Logan resident, emphasized that the state common core is not a program, curriculum, teaching method or textbook. It is a set of standards, and they are not federal standards. In fact, she said, the federal government did not participate in the development of Utah’s standards. The state board of education, university math teachers and other “high quality people” developed the standards, she said.
Morgan County School Board member Neil Carrigan pointed out that no Utah professors participated in the development of the standards. It is the things built around those standards that have been questioned.
“I am keenly aware of the questions you get at the local level,” she said. “We are not going to please everyone.”
Pyfer admitted that there are vocal critics of the common core, but pointed out that there are more people supporting the standards.
“We have professionals standing behind us,” she said.
She said Utah’s common core standards are an attempt to better prepare high school graduates for college. Too many college freshman find it necessary to take remedial math and English courses, she said.
“We need to bump it up a little bit so they can go from high school to college,” Pyfer said. 
Although the standards are set at the state level, local boards of education are in charge of the curriculum, Pyfer said.
“The curriculum is under the perview of local school boards,” Pyfer said. “You have books or curriculum here that would never be adopted in Salt Lake or Cache Valley.”
In the same vein, standards in Utah are different than they are in other states.
“Our standards are unique to Utah,” she said. “We are different enough in our culture in Utah.”
For that reason, the state board does not adopt the Next Generation Science Standards in place in other states, she said.
The state board also has the continuing power to amend the common core standards, Pyfer said.
“There are no standard police watching to see how you implement the standards,” she said. “We are free to do what we like and can change the standards at our discretion.”
Pyfer said the state board has already amended the standards to add a cursive writing element.
The state board has also invited experts and higher education instructors to review the state standards and bring forward any recommendations they may have to change them.
“We have yet to have anyone take us up on that offer,” she said. “The leaders of the movement (against common core) have admitted the standards are fine, but not everything else that comes with it.”
Detractors are concerned with student privacy, especially as protected in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
“They are concerned with the federal intrusion into public education,” Pyfer said. “We are concerned as well.”
Pyfer said the state board has actively opposed state legislation that threatened sensitive student data, such as that related to teacher evaluations and the Student Achievement Backpack.
“We are working really hard to protect student data,” she said.
She said that while not related to the common core, data mining and over-testing “will not be happening with Utah students.”
Pyfer said Utah has had to report data to the federal government for the last two decades, but that data is aggregated and not separated out by name.
Pyfer also said she is concerned with high stakes testing and test results being used for purposes the tests were not originally designed for.
“We do not support high stakes testing,” she said. “Assessment is a good thing, a valuable tool. But when you misuse it, it can be very damaging.”
While Pyfer supports parental right to opt their children out of testing, she advises parents that if they do so, they are missing out on the opportunity to see “how kids are doing.”
Pyfer encourages parents to become educated about the common core, directing them to corestandards.org as well as the Utah State Office of Education’s website at www.schools.utah.gov/core/Utah-Core-Standards.aspx
“A lot of people talk about educational reform. I don’t like that,” she said. “We are taking something good and making it better. We are transforming, not reforming.”
Locals are rallying to become educated about common core, scheduling a discussion on the issue Saturday at 6 p.m. Some school board members have been invited to the gathering, and organizers welcome teachers as well.
The meeting will be held at a local residence 1375 S. Morgan Valley Dr.