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Amid criticism, Baesler announces plans to replace Common Core standards in North Dakota

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BISMARCK – North Dakota teachers will rewrite the state’s math and English standards in the coming months to replace the politically charged Common Core standards and set “clear and high expectations for all students,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler said Tuesday.

Public schools have used the current standards, developed in 2008 and based on Common Core, for the past three to six years.

Baesler said she hopes to have new standards “written by North Dakotans, for North Dakotans” completed by early next year and in place for the 2017-18 school year.  

“This process will be thoughtful, deliberate and transparent,” said Baesler, a Republican seeking a second four-year term in November. “I want to be absolutely clear that North Dakota teachers, parents and citizens will have ample opportunity to get involved in this process.”

The Department of Public Instruction will appoint two committees made up of about 60 elementary, middle, high school and university teachers to write the new standards. Three review committees made up of elected officials, business leaders and parents and other citizens will provide input on the draft standards, which also will be open to public comment, Baesler said.

The state will seek proposals from standardized testing firms for tests that align with the new standards, Baesler said. She anticipates using the Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced test again in spring 2017. That test had a bumpy rollout in spring 2015 but is running smoothly this spring, she said.

State law requires the tests in English and math be given to students in grades 3-8 and 11.

Baesler told reporters she believes the new standards will be more acceptable than the nationally driven Common Core standards, which outline what a student should know at the end of each grade to ensure they have the skills to succeed in college and the workplace.

House lawmakers narrowly defeated a bill last year that would have forced North Dakota to withdraw from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a 15-state group that develops tests for the Common Core standards. Critics argue the California-based consortium and Common Core standards allow out-of-state entities and an overreaching federal government to make decisions better left to the states.

Smarter Balanced opponents, including state Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, filed a lawsuit last June against Baesler and other state officials, claiming the consortium is an unlawful compact and seeking to end North Dakota’s membership. The lawsuit is still pending in Burleigh County District Court.

Last month, Baesler won a slim victory over Four Winds High School teacher and vocal Common Core critic Joe Chiang for the GOP letter of support at the state party’s convention in Fargo, with delegates voting 54 percent to 46 percent. Chiang is running in the June 14 primary and could take the race all the way to November, as he and Baesler are the only candidates and the top two vote-getters advance.

Baesler acknowledged Tuesday that the convention saw a resurgence of anti-Common Core and anti-Smarter Balanced sentiment brought by supporters of state Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, who lost his bid for the GOP endorsement for governor.

“What that did was affirm that this is a process that we need to begin at this point in time, that this is what our community, our state wants to do,” Baesler said.

She said she can’t predict how much of the Common Core standards the committees will retain.

“I think that will be the biggest contributing factor to this review process is the experience that our teachers have with these current standards and looking at other states’ standards, to make the adjustments that they feel necessary,” she said.

Nick Archuleta, president of North Dakota United, a union representing teachers and public employees, said districts have invested “an awful lot of money” in teaching and training teachers to the Common Core standards. He said teachers want to fine-tune the standards and “make sure that these standards continue, but that they are relevant for the students they are teaching.”

The budget for developing the new standards is $453,580, DPI spokesman Dale Wetzel said. The current set of standards cost about $510,000 to develop and $1.1 million to implement, he said.

The deadline for applying for both the writing and review committees is June 1. Applications will be posted Friday on the DPI website at www.nd.gov/dpi.

Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at mnowatzki@forumcomm.com.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.

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