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(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kynslie Ballamis, left, and Jade Torbeck use an iPad to help learn about American history at Bennion Elementary School in May. With new academic standards continuing to divide some educators, lawmakers and parents, Gov. Gary Herbert is asking the Utah Attorney General’s Office to reexamine the state’s adoption of them.
Utah guv wants academic standards re-examined
Education » A new website will invite the public to raise concerns about the content of specific requirements.
First Published Jul 17 2014 10:03 am • Last Updated Jul 18 2014 07:58 am

With new academic standards continuing to divide educators, lawmakers and parents, the governor will ask the Utah attorney general’s office to reexamine the state’s adoption of them.

Gov. Gary Herbert will ask the attorney general to look into what, if any, federal entanglements have been involved in Utah’s adoption of Common Core State Standards in math and language arts. He’s also convening a group of Utah experts to review the standards from a higher education perspective.

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And his office has created a webpage to solicit comments about specific standards from the public.

Herbert said Thursday morning he’s heard positive and negative feedback about the standards — which outline what students should learn in each grade.

But he said it seems both sides are "talking past one another using different terms to describe shared frustrations" and it’s time to try to do something about it.

He said Utah parents, educators and school board members are the ones who "should determine what is taught and how it is taught."

"I state unequivocally today that we will not cede that responsibility to anyone else," Herbert said. "We as a state need to resolve these contentious matters."

The state school board adopted the standards in math and language arts in 2010 in an effort to improve education in Utah, and they’re already being used in classrooms statewide. Utah education leaders have hailed them as more rigorous than the state’s previous standards.

Since their adoption, however, a group of vocal opponents in Utah have decried the standards as federal overreach, though they were not written nor required by the federal government. The federal government did, however, encourage their use.

In more recent years, opposition to the standards has grown in Utah and nationwide among some who worry about a lack of textbooks to reflect the standards and about the new way they teach math, which many parents say has them struggling to help their kids with their homework.

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Most other states also adopted the standards, but in recent months, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Indiana decided to drop them.

Herbert said the group of Utah experts he’s convening to look at the standards from a higher education perspective will make recommendations to the state school board. That group will be led by Richard Kendell, a former Utah System of Higher Education commissioner.

"I don’t want to presuppose the outcome of this review but I want to emphasize that Dr. Kendell and his team of experts may in fact recommend some standards be removed, some standards might be made more rigorous and some standards might not be changed at all," Herbert said.

Gayle Ruzicka, head of the Utah Eagle Forum and a vocal Common Core opponent, called the announcement Thursday "a giant step." She said she believes the governor’s actions will lead to Utah dropping the standards.

"I think what he’s trying to do is create a situation where everybody has input and now can see that we need to change things if we are going to have local control," Ruzicka said. "We don’t have local control now. We have federal control."

State education leaders also said Thursday they welcome the governor’s actions, though they’ve already spent years trying to reassure the public that the standards are not federal, don’t impede local control and are good for kids.

"I don’t think there’s anything necessarily new here, but obviously the concern here, and the hope, is we’ll be able to come to some resolution," said retiring State Superintendent Martell Menlove.

David Crandall, head of the state school board, said he agrees with the governor that the state needs high academic standards and to maintain local control over schools.

"We want to make sure we’re not getting into anything we don’t know about," Crandall said.

JoDee Sundberg, an Alpine school board member who also sits on the boards of the state and national school boards associations, called the governor’s plan "the right thing to do."

"I think this will clear up a lot of concerns people have had and misinformation," Sundberg said.

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