SD Senate panel approves Common Core study

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PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota should conduct a study aimed at helping settle the fight between supporters and opponents of the Common Core standards now being used for math and English in the state's school districts, a legislative committee decided Tuesday.

The measure's main sponsor, Sen. Ernie Otten, R-Tea, said a study was needed to provide data that could be used to determine whether the new standards — used in nearly all states — are better than the state rules they replaced.

Supporters contend the new standards will improve education by setting more rigorous requirements. Opponents argue the Common Core standards take away local control from school districts and could hurt student achievement by encouraging confusing curriculum in schools.

"The opposing views on this are so far apart, no common ground can be found," Otten said, adding that he became involved as the public debate intensified in the past six months.

"I can't reconcile those two positions," Otten said. "We have to find our way through this mess."

However, opponents of the measure said the proposed study panel likely would be packed with Common Core supporters because many of the panel members would be appointed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a backer of the new standards.

The Senate Education Committee voted 5-2 to send the measure to the full Senate for further debate.

The bill would create a 23-member panel that would include legislators, school teachers and administrators, parents and others. The committee would compare Common Core standards and associated tests with the standards and tests previously used for math and English in South Dakota. It would report its findings to the Legislature by Dec. 1, 2015.

South Dakota school districts this year began implementing the Common Core standards, which were developed in an initiative started by the governors and chief education officers of 45 states. The standards establish what students should know in math and science at each grade level.

Otten said South Dakota's education system needs to be improved because about 20 percent of students entering college have to take remedial math and English classes. He said his proposed study would provide data to help determine what standards should be used to improve student achievement.

Mark Chase, president of the South Dakota Family Policy Council, said he is worried a majority of the study panel members would be supporters of Common Core. The study also would focus on the standards, but he said much of the problem is the flawed curriculum being used to teach to those standards.

Otten said he believes a fair and impartial study panel can be appointed.

Sen. Blake Curd, R-Sioux Falls, said the proposed study is flawed because it would compare Common Core standards with prior standards that did not lead to adequate student achievement. If the study finds Common Core standards should be scrapped, the state would have nothing to replace them, he said.

But Sen. Bruce Rampelberg, R-Rapid City, said standards need to be studied. Even though South Dakota students score slightly above the national average on college entrance tests, those scores have remained about the same for a decade, he said.

Lawmakers also will consider bills that would require additional hearings by the state Board of Education before Common Core standards in other subjects could be adopted and limit the distribution of information about individual students.

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