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Let the sun shine on common core test questions

Published October 7, 2013 1:44 pm

Let parent panel talk about test.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

The Utah Office of Education is facing a lack of trust from some parents over Common Core educational standards. But the state's superintendent is not helping the situation when he won't trust the parents, either.

Concerns over the Common Core led the Utah Legislature to set up a parental committee to review the questions Utah will use to test students on the Common Core next spring.

Now committee members are being told by Superintendent Martell Menlove that they must sign a nondisclosure agreement before looking at any questions, and the agreement forbids them from discussing the questions with non-committee members. The fear is that test questions will be leaked to students who will use them to cheat on the test.

That makes some sense. The answer keys to standardized tests should be closely guarded to maintain the integrity of the assessments.

But there's a bigger picture here. The entire purpose of this parent committee is to assure the public, not just a handful of parents, that the questions being asked are not straying into inappropriate subjects. Those parents are representing a larger group, and as such they may need to share some specifics with that larger group.

Consider the environment. As an example of a possible problem, Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, pointed to questions about animal rights and vegetarianism. (Stephenson also co-hosts a weekly program called "Red Meat Radio." How about a few questions about cholesterol, Senator?) 

And Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, isn't helping to calm parents' fears when he likens the situation to NSA spying. "It's confidential," Davis said of the test. "As soon as you allow it to be discussed and reviewed by unauthorized personnel, you no longer have that."

We're not tracking terrorists here. We're just making sure there aren't too many soy-based questions.

Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake City, is worried the questions will come out in the press. (If it would improve readership in the younger set, we may be tempted.) But even if the press had reason to go there, it would only be a question or two, not enough to turn the tide for any student.

It's worth remembering that standardized testing offers sophisticated tools for detecting cheaters, not the least of which is the student's performance history up to that point. Even if one of the parents came to be a leaker (which is highly unlikely), there's a good chance any student who tried to use the leaked material would still be caught.

So let the parents have a look. It won't be enough for the kids to fake brilliance.






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