A bill that would change the way Utah students are tested moved closer to becoming law Monday.
The House on Monday passed HB15, a bill that's part of what state education leaders have called their top priority for this legislative session. The bill would replace Criterion Referenced Tests (CRTs), now given to most Utah students once a year, with computer-adaptive tests at a cost of $6.7 million.
Computer-adaptive tests change in difficulty as students take them to adapt to their skill levels. They also provide immediate results. Proponents say they help teachers better pinpoint students' strengths and weaknesses. Several Utah school districts have been piloting the tests for several years.
"Technology is not a nice-to-have. It's not a frill. It's a necessity," said bill sponsor Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper. "As policymakers we need to begin to utilize the technology out there available to our students."
Rep. Dean Sanpei, R-Provo, questioned whether the bill would commit Utah to basing its tests on academic standards developed with a "federal consortium."
Hughes replied that it would not, saying the bill has been amended and now says the tests will be aligned to common core standards, defined as standards developed and adopted by Utah's state school board.
Proponents of Common Core standards, which were developed by a consortium of states, say they'll increase rigor. Utah has already adopted them. Some, however, remain wary, seeing them as a blow to local control, though it was up to states whether to implement them and they were not developed by the federal government.
For the most part, House lawmakers were overwhelmingly supportive of the bill, passing it 72-0. The tests would be implemented by the 2014-2015 school year.
"Once the test is administered, the teachers have immediate access and can respond accordingly," said Rep. Kay McIff, R-Richfield. "That, in and of itself, is a huge gain."
A companion bill, SB97, also gained initial passage in the Senate on Monday. That bill, sponsored by Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, would allow school districts and charter schools to apply for matching grants to help them implement online testing by helping them to pay for additional software, computers, technical support and teacher training. That bill, which has a $20 million price tag, must pass the Senate one more time before moving to the House.
HB15 now moves to the Senate.