'Symposium' on new AZ school standards draws crowd

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- Critics of Arizona's new school standards faced off against the state's top education official during a state Senate "symposium" Wednesday that showed the new standards still face a tough challenge as they are implemented.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal told a crowd filling the Senate's largest meeting room Wednesday he believes they're right for Arizona students. But three critics denounced the standards and a new test replacing AIMS, the state's current standardized test.

The state Board of Education adopted the Common Core standards with little opposition in 2010. But in the past year the standards have become a political hot potato as conservative Republican critics attacked them as a poorly conceived, federally driven effort that usurps states' rights.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer renamed the program "Arizona's College and Career Ready Standards" last month in an effort to defuse the furor.

Although the standards are in place, money is still needed to pay for the new test, which is expected to cost much more than the state's old AIMS test. And Brewer needs the testing in place if she is going to implement a new school performance funding plan she's pushing that will reward higher-achieving schools.

That means the Legislature will have a big say in Common Core's continued implementation when it returns in January.

Republican Senate President Andy Biggs organized and moderated Wednesday's event, which featured critics from the Goldwater Institute, a charter school executive and a retired education reform professor who worked on the Common Core standards validation committee.

Goldwater's Jonathan Butcher called the new standards untested and argued for an opt-out for schools that can show they have higher standards. Heritage Academy business manager Jared Taylor said Common Core's development had limited input from teacher and parents, called the standards too low or plain inappropriate and said federal "Race to the Top" money flowing to states that adopt the program show it is a federally driven effort.

"There's no way to know what the effect will be on students," Butcher said.

Sandra Stotsky, the retired educator, criticized what she called lower math goals and reading and writing standards that set the bar far too low.

The standards were developed by the states, led by governor's and education leaders. They have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia.

Huppenthal defended Common Core, saying it gave local school board complete control over curriculum and doesn't lower standards. He said he studied the effects of standards on education outcomes and believes that the new standards are needed to prepare students for higher education and career training they'll need in the 21st Century.

"We came to our conclusion that indeed standards were good to set, that they had positive educational outcomes, that they need to be focused and they need to be clearly high standards,' Huppenthal said. "And we believe absolutely in our analysis that the career and College Ready standards, that they meet those criteria."

The hearing was packed with supporters and detractors of the new standards.

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