SC Leaders Play Ping Pong with Common Core Tests

Published April 17, 2014

South Carolina’s state superintendent will pull the state from national Common Core tests, he said in a letter a week after the state board of education voted to keep them. The week before that, the South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE) told school districts to stop Common Core pilot tests underway, because the state was pulling out.

Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Utah have all dropped the federally funded Common Core tests, which are intended to measure new national K-12 curriculum mandates in English and math.

‘An Important Victory for Parents’
In an April 3 memo, Deputy Superintendent Nancy Busbee announced the department was “taking steps to withdraw from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium” (SBAC).

Citing proposals in the state legislature, Busbee explained dropping the federally funded Common Core testing organization would let the department secure new tests before this fall.

“Districts are therefore allowed to suspend the Smarter Balanced field testing currently underway in select South Carolina schools,” she wrote.

Those pilot tests were scheduled for the last few weeks of this current school year.

Withdrawing from SBAC is “an important victory for parents here when it comes to giving them a voice in what their children are going to be learning in their schools in South Carolina,” said Ellen Weaver, president of the Palmetto Policy Forum.

Conflicting Orders
Because of the conflicting decisions, school districts have flooded the board with phone calls seeking clarification, said state board Chairman Barry Bolen.

He argues the state should complete the pilot and look at the data from it before dropping the tests for another set. Bolen said he might be willing to support a different set of tests, but he called the SCDE’s decision “awful timing.”

“I’m not going to be railroaded into voting something out that we spent two years of time and money implementing, and in the middle of a pilot test,” said Bolen.

When asked about the pending legislation that would pull South Carolina out of SBAC for good, Bolen said, “If it does pass, then we’ll deal with it.”

A state senator is currently blocking a Common Core repeal bill sponsored by Sen. Larry Grooms (R-Charleston). The House in April approved a different bill repealing Common Core and its tests.

“If we continue to focus only on Smarter Balanced, we lose any opportunity to consider alternatives,” state Superintendent Mickey Zais said in his letter.

Who’s On First
Despite the board’s vote, the SCDE remained firm in its decision school districts could drop the pilot test. Earlier this year, it took the first steps toward withdrawing from SBAC by letting school districts suspend the field tests, said Anna Burns, a SCDE spokeswoman.

With the end of the school year fast approaching, this leaves school districts with the difficult choice of determining whether to listen to the state superintendent, the department he leads, or the state board of education. 

Image by South Carolina State Library