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Lawmakers: Don't gag parents on Utah Common Core testing

Published October 1, 2013 10:22 am

Superintendent says he doesn't want questions leaked to students.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Parents who vet the questions Utah students will be asked next spring on standardized tests should not be under a gag order, a Utah lawmaker says.

Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, raised the possibility in a legislative meeting Monday that the Utah Board of Education is trying to quash public scrutiny of its testing.

Parents picked for the committee are being asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement that could muzzle them from discussing the test questions with other parents, he said.

"We need to give these parents the freedom to speak about their experiences," Madsen said. "The parents are there representing all the parents of the state. … Transparency is always the better option."

Madsen agreed that parents should not be allowed to disclose specific test questions but said that a broader ban on public discussion undermines the whole point of having a committee.

The Legislature mandated the parent review committee in response to critics of the Utah Common Core, who fear Utah students will be exposed, in curriculum and testing, to political and cultural biases that many Utah parents reject.

Committee members are still being named, five each by the Utah Board of Education, the Senate president and the speaker of the House.

State Schools Superintendent Martell Menlove told the Legislature's Administrative Rules Committee on Monday that the nondisclosure statement is designed to ensure test questions are not leaked to students.

The superintendent didn't immediately suggest a way to reconcile the need to keep test questions secret with the need for transparency. He had learned of Madsen's concerns just hours earlier, he said.

Committee co-chairman Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, suggested the kind of question that might rankle parents and which deserves to be aired: any that promote People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals or a vegetarian diet.

Two Democratic members of the committee, however, argued for restricting public discussion by parent committee members.

Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, R-Salt Lake City, likened the issue to the one swirling around Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency.

"It's confidential. As soon as you allow it to be discussed and reviewed by unauthorized personnel, you no longer have that," he said.

Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake City, said it makes no sense to let review committee members speak in generalities.

"I don't see how you can separate a parent going to the press and talking about it without giving away information that should be confidential for the test," she said. "People say anything they want to the press and they report it."

But Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, sided with Madsen.

"Why wouldn't you allow a process where they could say, 'This is the dumbest thing imaginable and this is why?' " Dabakis said. "It's just common sense."

Menlove said he fully expects the parent committee to reject some questions.

But, he said, "We already have people who've made judgments about this test when it hasn't even been written yet."

kmoulton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @KristenMoulton