The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

SB 1835 by *Gresham , Tracy, Haile, Johnson, Bowling, Campfield, Norris
HB 1549 by *Dunn
, Rogers, Weaver, White D, Casada, Matheny, Matlock, Spivey, Moody, Butt, McManus, Brooks H, White M, Forgety, Holt, VanHuss, Hill M, Faison, Rich, Haynes, Lamberth, Eldridge, Keisling, Bailey, McCormick, Brooks K, Dennis, Evans, Sparks, Durham, Dean, Swann, Wirgau, Ragan, Johnson C, Halford, Todd, Williams R, Lundberg, Coley, Lynn, Sexton, Marsh, Carter, Sargent, Lollar, Travis, Goins, Littleton

Let me start with an old  (and very true) saying: "There are two things you shouldn't watch being made:  One is sausage and the other is Law!!" In addition, I would add:  "Politics is the art of the POSSIBLE!"

This Conference Committee Report is NOT ideal by any stretch of the imagination, but it is what was POSSIBLE in the present political climate.  It can be ranted and railed against, or we can take the 'good' out of it, use it and be ready to pursue additional changes next January when the 109th General Assembly convenes.
As introduced and amended, this legislation dealt with requirements for the process of the adoption of any future standards by the State Board of Education and with student data collection. Because of the continued outcry from voters across the state and the actions on the House on March 14th, leaders understood the necessity of addressing Common Core and PARCC and chose this legislation as the vehicle to do so.  Each body refused to concur with the amendments the other body put on the original bill so it would go to a Conference Committee.

The Conference Committee was made up of Senators Gresham, Kelsey and Niceley, Representatives Dunn, DeBerry and Spivey. Then came the 'good' news and the 'not so good' news. 

At my insistence in the original bill as well as the subsequent versions, the non-common core standards that we already know about are named specifically.  The process of how ANY proposed future standards will be handled including, but not limited to, the named standards, is clearly laid out.

The process means that WE HAVE TO BE VIGILANT!
Proposed standards will be submitted to both the Senate and House Education Committees and will be posted on the State Board's web site at least sixty (60) day prior to a State Board vote.  That means that interested parties can contact members of the respective committees (if the legislature is in session, they could testify before the committee on the standards).  They would also have opportunity to appear and testify before the State Board of Education.  

Also included are limitations on joining any type of testing consortium without a 60 day notice being provided to the respective education committees and posting on the website. Again, watchful activists can make their voices heard.

Much of the report deals with limitations on data collection, most of which is pretty good, however, the weaknesses are the three references to FERPA.  As you may know the Obama administration has redefined the way data can be distributed under FERPA.  I believe we can come back next year to tighten that up.

The report prohibits PARCC from being implemented for the 2014-15 school year!! Yay!  TCAP will continue to be used for the coming school year.  During this time a request for proposal will be issued by the Department of Education in consultation with the Comptroller and in compliance with state procurement requirements. The report does require that the tests have been field tested, but the contract must come back to the Fiscal Review Committee which will give legislators and citizens access to it and opportunity to speak to it.  It was stated on the floor that they already knew of entities that would meet this criteria that were not PARCC or Smarter Balance.

Lastly, the report prohibits the adoption of any possible future 'common core state standards in any subject matter beyond math and English language arts'. Whether this provision is useful or not may be debated, but legislators wanted to include the language to make it very clear that no other standards that might be labeled 'common core' will be be adopted.

In my opinion, there were no 'bad' votes on this legislation.  I truly appreciate those, who, on principle, voted against the report and I GREATLY appreciate the consistent and persistent leadership of Rep. Rick Womick (R-Rockvale) on this very important issue.  But I also understand the overwhelming support the report received in both the House and the Senate.  This was one of those votes that was a true dilemma:  Take what we can get today, knowing that we can come back in 2015 with additional legislation or defeat this report and lose everything and watch PARCC be implemented this fall putting us in a far worse position.

The Conference Committee Report (found HERE) was adopted in the House 85-8 and in the Senate 27-0.