Five facts about Utah’s education standards

Governor Gary Herbert believes strongly in local control of education. Utah–not the federal government–should be in control of what is taught in our schools and how it is taught.

In response to growing concern from some parents and teachers, last summer the governor called for expert and public review of education standards while addressing other issues of concern in education.

Gov. Herbert outlined immediate steps to move forward in resolving these concerns:

  1. A legal review and report from the Attorney General’s Office in regards to Utah’s adoption of the Common Core Standards in mathematics and English language arts. In the legal review, the attorney general clarified that Utah is in control of our academic standards, and local districts’ and charters’ control the curriculum. You can read the Attorney General’s review here.
  2. Utah experts in mathematics and English language arts, led by Utah Valley University President Matthew Holland and Dr. Rich Kendell, to evaluate education standards in these subject from a higher education perspective to ensure they will prepare students for postsecondary success. A group of higher education experts from Utah universities found that, when compared to the previous standards, “the new standards, if implemented properly, would better prepare students for college or work.” You can read the Standards Review Panel report here.
  3. Parents, teachers, community members and organizations across the state were invited to review current standards and give feedback online. Over 7,000 people responded to the survey, leaving comments on various areas of concern regarding the new standards. Comments on specific standards as well as general concerns were forwarded to the higher education experts who considered this input as part of their review. Click here for a summary of the survey.

The governor’s efforts have been aimed at investigating concerns so we can move forward with what we all agree is important – providing the best education possible for Utah students.

Problems noted in the reviews were not about the standards themselves, but about implementation, including lack of adequate teacher training, updated textbooks and materials and support for parents.

It’s time to put the politics and contention aside and work on improving outcomes for our students by providing better support and materials for their teachers and parents.

Five facts about Utah’s education standards:

FACT: Utah’s educational standards are controlled by the Utah State Board of Education.

A legal review confirmed that Utah is in control of its education standards and could make changes as appropriate. The adoption of common standards in math and English language arts did not cede this control. The Utah Core Standards in English language arts and mathematics are based on the Common Core State Standards, and are not federally controlled. As has been the case since formal standards were first adopted in 1984, Utah continues to be in control of our education standards, and Utah – not the federal government – will decide its own way to implement the Utah Core Standards in all subject areas.

In a recent poll 41 percent of Utahns said they somewhat opposed or strongly opposed the “Common Core standards,” but when they were given a description of the standards – one that did not include the words “Common Core” – the same group was 57 percent in favor or strongly in favor of the standards (Utah Policy).

FACT: Local districts and schools, not the federal government, are in control of their curriculum. They have the flexibility to choose the textbooks and materials that best serve their students’ needs.

In Utah, the standards are just that: standards. Schools create plans for students to meet these minimum benchmarks for student achievement by using their own curriculum, their own materials and instructional practices. Standards determine the outcome we try to reach, but not the avenue to get there.

Both federal and state law protects school district and charter authority and control over their curriculum. Governor Herbert will continue to guard against any attempt to weaken Utah’s authority when it comes to education, including local control of curriculum.

FACT: The federal government is not writing your child’s math, English or science tests – Utah educators are.  As in years past, Utah continues to control end-of-level assessments in these tested subjects.

While other states worked together to develop new assessments aligned with the Common Core Standards, Utah developed its own computer adaptive tests. Utah began piloting computer adaptive testing in 2008, two years before it adopted the math and ELA standards. The feedback from pilot schools and districts was so positive that the Legislature funded the development of a Utah-specific computer adaptive test to be used with all students statewide. Students began taking the Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence (SAGE) test in the spring of 2014.

Each test question in SAGE has been developed and/or reviewed by Utah educators, parents and other stakeholders who evaluated the questions for things such as accuracy and accessibility, as well as cultural, gender and ethnic sensitivity.

FACT: Utah’s new standards in math and English language arts are more rigorous than our previous standards.

The need for many college freshman to take remedial math and English classes is a significant concern. The skill gap between high school and college costs students and their parents precious time and money.

The State Board of Education joined with other states in raising educational standards in these two areas to help teachers better prepare students for college courses or entry into the workforce. The Standards Review panel reaffirmed that “the new Utah Core Standards were an improvement over the state’s previous (2007) standards. In all but a few instances, the teams found that the new standards were more rigorous than the previous standards and were designed with appropriate research and ‘best practices.’”

FACT: The Utah Core Standards do not contain requirements related to data collection or data reporting.

For decades the Utah State Office of Education has collected and reported student performance data as required by the federal government. A student’s identifying information is removed, and reported in groups.These requirements have not changed with the adoption of new standards.

What has changed is the increased attention to exactly what types of data are being collected, what is being done to safeguard that data, and increased parent notification and involvement. Legislation is being developed at the federal and state level to ensure adequate protection, while still allowing the use of data to improve programs and ensure efficient and effective use of taxpayer dollars.