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Lawmakers plan to introduce legislation aimed at Common Core

More than half a dozen Common Core-related bills will come before the Legislature next spring, nearly all of them coming from Republican lawmakers who are skeptical of the education standards and aim to limit their reach.

“I think it’s going to be the hot-button issue,” said Rep. Syndi White, a North Conway Democrat and Common Core supporter who also plans to introduce a bill on the standards.

Common Core is a set of English language arts and math standards that have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia with the goal of better preparing students for college and careers. Previous legislative attempts to roll back the standards, which were adopted by the State Board of Education in 2010, have been unsuccessful. Many of the proposed bills for next session relate specifically to new tests that will begin in 2015, by delaying the start date and limiting the collection of student data, among other things.

Last week, the Business and Industry Association, a leading business group, came out in support of the standards, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has endorsed them. But Cornerstone Action, a conservative state group, has been vocal in its opposition, and the Republican National Committee denounced the standards last fall.

House Minority Leader Gene Chandler, a Bartlett Republican, said any bill aimed at getting rid of Common Core would likely have broad support among Republican lawmakers, but it would be unlikely to pass the full House, which has a Democratic majority. But there could be room to work with Democrats on other bills targeted at changes to specific aspects of the law, he said.

“I think the key thing is to try to make the changes necessary to make sure we protect the local control aspects of it,” he said. “Hopefully that’s what we can focus on as being a positive thing.”

Republican Reps. Lenette Peterson of Merrimack, Al Baldasaro of Londonderry, David Murotake of Nashua and several other Republicans plan to co-sponsor legislation to terminate all state involvement in the new standards.

“There is nothing good about Common Core,” Peterson said.

Murotake will also introduce a bill to delay the tests by two years. Teachers need more time to adjust to the content and teaching methods expected from Common Core, he said, and it’s unfair to begin the tests before people are ready. In states such as New York where the tests have already been rolled out, student scores have dropped dramatically.

In New Hampshire, the test results will help determine which schools need additional state aid and targeted reforms. Test scores could also factor into new teacher evaluations, which are in development.

“The attempt to deploy this sooner than people are ready is a mistake,” Murotake said.

If the test were to be delayed, however, the Department of Education would be at risk of violating state law that requires the state to give a test aligned with state standards, said Heather Gage, director of the department’s division of instruction. Delaying the tests could also jeopardize federal funding, she said.

Rep. Glenn Cordelli, a Tuftonboro Republican, will introduce a bill requiring test questions and answers to be posted online for review after the tests are given. He also wants to bring more transparency to the process of adopting future standards (uniform standards on science, for example, are in development). A bill he’ll introduce would keep authority to approve standards with the state board, but it would require a cost analysis and hearings to be held in each Executive Council district.

For Cordelli, privacy is also a major concern. He and Reps. Neal Kurk, a Weare Republican and longtime privacy advocate, and JR Hoell of Dunbarton plan to introduce bills aimed at limiting collection of and protecting student data. Common Core skeptics across the country say the new tests will collect sensitive student data that should be kept private. Unlike several other states, New Hampshire has not signed onto an initiative backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that would gather student data and make it available to private companies. But opponents here still say parents should have the final say over what information is collected about their children.

Not all of the bills are aimed at dismantling or delaying Common Core. White, a Common Core supporter, will introduce a bill to require that the Department of Education share the costs of new technology with school districts. She’s also a Conway School Board member and said it will cost the district $120,000 to buy the proper devices to administer the test.

“The state has to take some responsibility and help the districts with the cost of it,” she said.

If any Common Core legislation makes it out of the House, it will then go through the Senate, where Republicans have a 13-11 majority. Sen. Nancy Stiles, a Hampton Republican and chairwoman of the Senate Health, Education and Human Services Committee, said it’s too early to tell whether these bills would garner support there.

Next week, lawmakers will attend a daylong conference on the standards, with presentations from a New Hampshire teacher involved in writing them and other advocates. Rep. Mary Stuart Gile, a Concord Democrat and chairwoman of the House Education Committee, said she hoped the session would increase understanding of Common Core. On next session’s possible bills, she said there was always room for debate.

“There is a lot of discussion going on relative to this. I think that’s healthy,” she said. “And it feels good that we’re going to have a day for legislators next week to really grapple with this issue.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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