COLUMBIA, SC (AP) - By SEANNA ADCOX
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The Senate on Thursday unanimously approved a bill that replaces Common Core education standards with those developed in South Carolina by the 2015-16 school year.
The bill, which passed 42-0, is a compromise of legislation that initially sought to repeal the math and reading standards that have been rolled out in classrooms statewide since their adoption by two state boards in 2010. Testing aligned to those standards must start next year, or the state will lose its waiver from the all-or-nothing provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law.
But the state won't be able to use tests South Carolina officials helped create with 21 other states. A bid must go out by September for their replacement.
Republicans praised the compromise as taking back control of what's taught in classrooms.
"We're back on track," said Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville.
Democrats say the bill forces the Legislature to spend money on technology in classrooms, since high-stakes tests must be taken completely by computer by 2017. That was key to winning over rural legislators, said Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg.
Computer testing allows for a better assessment of both students' abilities and teachers' effectiveness because the difficulty of questions can adjust as students take the tests, depending on whether they answer correctly. But the state must spend money on improving technology both to and within schools to make that happen, Hutto said.
"It requires ourselves to do something we should have been doing all along in investing in the classroom," he said.
The state School Boards Association supported the compromise as ending uncertainty caused by years of debate and preserving, at least temporarily, the Common Core standards that districts have worked toward implementing since 2010.
"They have put numerous hours and resources toward that goal," said Scott Price, the association's lobbyist. "We can now move forward."
The bill would formalize action taken last month by the state Department of Education, which withdrew from the "Smarter Balanced" testing consortium after the House passed a similar version of the bill. Another vote in the Senate would return the amended bill to the House.
The Senate version steps up the timeline for replacing Common Core. A state review of math and reading standards must begin by January. Any changes would be implemented in 2015-16.
Sen. Larry Grooms, who initially wanted to throw out Common Core immediately, said he recognized that's not practical.
"Our teachers have already been pulled through a knot hole backward through this process, said Grooms, R-Bonneau. "We want to do this in an orderly fashion."
Many people oppose Common Core as a nationalization of public education. But Common Core, adopted in 45 states and the District of Columbia, is not federal. The initiative was led by governors and superintendents, through the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The Obama administration encouraged states to sign on through incentives.
Common Core outlines what skills students in kindergarten through 12th grade should learn to be ready for college and careers, replacing standards that varied state-to-state. It does not dictate how students are taught in the classroom. Opponents often confuse standards with curriculum. Local educators decide how the standards are taught.
Sen. Chip Campsen said the state also needs to set the standards.
"This is about maintaining control," said Campsen, R-Isle of Palms. "We shouldn't cede our authority over children's education to an outside process."
The issue also affects the state's economy, he said, because the state can't be responsive to businesses' workforce needs if decisions aren't up to South Carolinians.
Both the House and Senate budget proposals would spend about $30 million on technology next school year, focusing on rural districts. That was part of Gov. Nikki Haley's education budget suggestions, based on recommendations from the independent Education Oversight Committee, as the first of a three-year effort.