AUGUSTA — In the midst of anti-testing and anti-Common Core sentiment across the nation, the Legislature’s Education Committee heard testimony Monday on whether Maine should drop the five-year-old Common Core math and English standards and delay statewide testing for a year while it switches to a new test.

Maine’s 2015 Teacher of the Year, the head of the Maine State Board of Education, and representatives from the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the business-backed Educate Maine all testified against L.D. 1492, which would eliminate the Common Core standards and have the state create a group to come up with new standards.

“Change is hard. We know that. But change is needed to keep up with the changes in the workplaces,” said Ben Gilman of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. “Stay the course. What example would we all set for Maine students if – just when the task gets hard and some people don’t like the outcomes – we quit?”

Supporters of the bill said the standards are confusing, represent federal overreach into local education decisions, and, in some cases, are developmentally inappropriate, particularly for younger children.

A similar bill to eliminate the standards failed last session.

“Today we see parents disenchanted with schools, kids not expected to attend school, teachers burning out on the profession, communities frustrated that their schools are losing their core values, politicians claiming that schools are ‘dead horses,’ and education is unraveling,” the bill’s author, Rep. Will Tuell, R-East Machias, told the Education Committee.

Several parents said they struggled to help their children with homework, and an elementary arts teacher said the standards particularly hurt young children.

“The Common Core standards have forced out imaginative play, creativity, and hands-on learning from our kindergartens and even preschools in favor of skill and drill and other forms of rote learning,” said Robin Brooks, who teaches in Augusta.

Several states have rejected or changed the standards. Beginning in 2009, 45 states and the District of Columbia adopted the standards, and since 2014, Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina have dropped them. Some states have slightly changed the standards and renamed them, removing the reference to Common Core. Among the new names: CA Standards (California,) PA Core (Pennsylvania) and Connecticut Core.

Acting Education Commissioner Bill Beardsley said the department was neither for nor against the bill, but acknowledged the tension between Common Core and Maine’s traditional standards, which are “generally briefer, broader, less prescriptive, yet encouraging of unique Maine interests.”

“It is our preference to stabilize the teaching and learning environment in Maine schools this year,” Beardsley said.

Several top educators praised the standards. Jennifer Dorman, the 2015 Maine Teacher of the Year, said the standards allow for deeper, more meaningful learning. She shared emails from several County Teachers of the Year and Talya Edlund, the 2016 Teacher of the Year, in support of the standards.

“Yes, these standards are rigorous, and yes, these standards are different than the ones we knew in our own schools,” Dorman said. “Parents and the public ask ‘why?’ The answer is because we are preparing students for the jobs of the future – some of them don’t even exist yet. … The focus is now on teaching the process of learning, rather than teaching students a specific skill set about a certain topic.”

The bill was also opposed by the Maine School Management Association and the Maine Principals’ Association.

“Starting over from scratch, as this bill proposes, wastes time and effort, with no assurance of a better outcome,” said Elaine Tomaszewski, deputy executive director of Maine School Management Association.

The testing bill before the committee, L.D. 1459, would delay any statewide assessment for at least one year. The Legislature voted last spring to drop the state’s math and English tests given to students in third through eighth grades and 11th grade – the Smarter Balanced test used by 18 states – after one year because educators and parents said the tests were flawed and difficult to administer and take.

In December, the state announced it would use New Hampshire-based Measured Progress Inc. for new math and English tests to be administered this spring. L.D. 1459 would make that test optional this year.

“The department understands the challenges caused by the testing turnaround of the past year, yet (we) do not believe the best resolution is to stop testing,” testified Jaci Holmes, the federal-state legislative liaison for the Maine Department of Education. “Rather, the department commits to a test for this year that is far less frustrating to schools and students.”

But the bill’s author, Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, said she thinks the process has been rushed. “I feel that this process gives students and teachers very little time to prepare,” she testified.

Other states, facing similar concerns or problems with Common Core-aligned tests, have adjusted their testing schedule. California got an additional year to assess its Common Core-aligned test, while Massachusetts is currently considering legislation that would impose a three-year moratorium on testing and forbid the use of test results as a graduation requirement or in evaluating teachers, schools and districts.

Under No Child Left Behind, there were penalties for states that did not test or had high opt-out rates, but the federal Department of Education never imposed any of the penalties. Under the new federal education law, known as Every Student Succeeds Act, annual standardized testing is still required but there are no penalties and more decision making is shifted back to the states and local districts.

Also Monday, several parents of children with epilepsy testified in favor of a bill that would allow trained non-medical personnel to administer an emergency medication, but multiple medical groups opposed it.

Rep. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, said he introduced L.D. 1491 because the drug can be a life-saving intervention, but it must be administered rectally within three minutes – too short a time to wait for 911 or a nurse who might be out of the building. Medical personnel, including representatives of the Maine Association of School Nurses, the Maine State Board of Nursing and the Maine Medical Association, said they opposed the bill because the treatment requires a level of medical expertise only a nurse or medical specialist could provide. They also said the bill was written too broadly and could apply to many other medical treatments.

All three bills now go to committee work sessions.


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