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On Wednesday afternoon, Republican gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Johnson called for the end of SAGE testing in Utah schools.
Not to be outdone, Gov. Gary Herbert issued his own call hours later, urging the state school board to abandon SAGE and Utah's statewide education standards for math and English.
"Today I am asking the state Board of Education to consider implementing uniquely Utah standards," Herbert said in a letter to the board, "moving beyond the Common Core to a system that is tailored specifically to the needs of our state."
Utah was among the majority of states that adopted the Common Core State Standards, a series of academic benchmarks that describe grade-level expectations leading up to high school graduation.
The standards were voluntary, but incentives offered by the U.S. Department of Education, as well as the standard's out-of-state origins, led to constant accusations that school board members had ceded control of Utah schools to the federal government.
And adoption of new standards coincided with the creation of a new year-end test, SAGE, which is taken on a computer and adapts in difficulty based on a student's correct and incorrect responses.
Federal law requires annual testing in most grades.
Johnson has frequently used Common Core as an attack against Herbert during the gubernatorial campaign, erroneously describing the standards as a federal program and implying that Herbert supported the standards because they were implemented during Herbert's term as governor.
In his letter to the board, Herbert suggested that Utah abandon SAGE testing in high school and evaluate the test's use in other grades.
He emphasized that it is the state school board, and not the state's governor, that enacts education standards. But he urged the board to review and update the grade-level expectations for Utah students.
"While there is clearly a great deal of misinformation being disseminated on this issue, there are legitimate concerns that I share with those opposed to Common Core," Herbert said. "As I have listened, it has become clear to me that the conflict, discord and divisiveness associated with these standards are not helping our students."
In a prepared statement, school board Chairman David Crandall said the board regularly reviews and amends its education standards, including a recent update to math standards from kindergarten through sixth grade, and earlier additions to Utah's math and English standards that differ from the Common Core benchmarks.
Crandall also said future review and changes will maintain a clear separation between grade-level standards and the curriculum taught in classrooms, which traditionally is determined by local educators.
"No set of standards is perfect, and we always look for more ways to improve upon them," Crandall said. "As has been our practice, we anticipate re-examining all academic standards at certain intervals with the input of professionals and community members throughout the state."
Johnson said SAGE and Common Core are top-down programs that take school control out of the hands of parents and local educators.
"I don't like Washington telling Utah what to do," he said. "I don't like Salt Lake telling the rest of Utah what to do."
Because SAGE does not affect a student's grade or a teacher's evaluation, Johnson said, it's unclear what good the test does for the state.
"It's got to factor into the kid's grade," he said. "As soon as the kids know it doesn't factor into their grade, what incentive is there for them to even answer the questions?"
He said it would be better to replace SAGE with a test that can fulfill state and federal requirements while also serving as an educational tool.
"I'm not opposed to [testing], in fact I would favor that we have tests at the end of the year to make sure our kids have learned," he said. "If those tests are Utah-based tests and they qualify for federal funding great."
Johnson and Herbert are both vying for the Republican nomination for Utah governor. The two candidates will face off in a primary election on June 28.