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The state's top education officials won't exactly ease back into the school year when they meet Friday.

Instead, the state school board will tackle contentious topics related to new Common Core standards, including whether to continue teaching cursive in Utah and whether to drop out of the leadership of a group of states developing tests based on the Core.

The Core — new academic standards voluntarily adopted by Utah and more than 45 other states and territories — describes the concepts students should learn in each grade to be ready for college and careers. But the Core standards don't include cursive. Utah's previous standards included instruction in cursive in third grade.

"There are some who think that as kids become more [proficient with] technical devices that cursive is going to go the way of the abacus, but there are others, including myself, who think cursive ought to be in there," said Brenda Hales, state associate superintendent. "I think handwriting is always going to be a skill kids need."

The board is scheduled to discuss the issue Friday, possibly giving direction to a new committeetasked with making recommendations on cursive. The committee will likely meet throughout the next school year to examine and discuss research related to cursive, said Tiffany Hall, K-12 literacy coordinator at the state office, who will chair the committee.

Utah schools may still teach cursive even though it's not part of the Core, but the committee will work to give statewide direction, Hales said.

"It's a wonderful opportunity for us to look at something that we've always done and say to ourselves, 'You know, why do we do this, and what is the best way to do this?'" Hall said.

The board may also discuss Friday whether to continue Utah's leadership role in a group of states working to develop tests based on the Core, called the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. In recent months, some Utah conservatives have criticized both the state's adoption of the Core and its involvement in the consortium, saying both will result in less local control over classrooms and federal intrusion.

State education leaders defend the Core, calling the standards more rigorous than Utah's old ones and noting the standards were not developed or imposed by the federal government.

Still, some are nervous about Utah's leadership position within the consortium, which has accepted federal money to develop the tests. Proponents, however, say Utah's role gives it more input into how the tests are developed. State education leaders also plan to issuerequests for proposals to explore options when it comes to the testing.

Michael Petrilli, executive director of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative Washington D.C.-based think tank, said it seems premature to him to pull out of the consortium now before seeing how the tests turn out. Plus, he said, it could cost Utah more money to develop new tests on its own.

"All that means is that Utah will have less influence over what ends up on that test," Petrilli said of the idea of ending Utah's leadership within the consortium, "so if the concern is Utah doesn't have enough control over its destiny, I'm not sure it makes a lot of sense."

The board will also discuss, among other issues Friday, whether to make achievement data, by individual teacher and classroom, available online to the public. —

State school board meeting

P The state school board will meet Friday at the State Office of Education, 250 E. 500 South in Salt Lake City, beginning at 8:15 a.m. and continuing until about 5 p.m.

O See the agenda online. >