Miss. House passes pair of low-impact Common Core bills

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi House members overwhelming approved a pair of bills Thursday that may immunize members against controversy over Common Core State Standards, but could have little effect over what's taught in the state's public school classrooms.

House Bill 156, approved 95-21, would remove references to Common Core from Mississippi law and replace them with the words "Mississippi College and Career-Ready Standards." In 2013, the state Board of Education began referring to the Common Core standards it adopted by that phrase.

The bill would also remove the requirement that the state and federal governments use a unified grading system for schools and districts. That could open the way for the state Board of Education to allow districts to keep their old grades for another year. Schools and districts were allowed to retain their 2013 grades if their 2014 grades were lower, but federal officials have indicated they won't allow a second grace year. Grades are widely expected to fall sharply in 2015 with the use of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test, and many superintendents favor a second grace year.

However, House Education Committee Chairman John Moore, R-Brandon, said he expects no changes in what schools teach.

When asked by Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, if the bill mandated changes in Common Core, Moore answered, "No, absolutely not."

Moore said the state board would still decide standards. After Thursday's vote, Moore said the board would continue to need standards changes approved by the federal government, as laid out by Mississippi's waiver from the requirements of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The state Department of Education does not oppose the bill.

"The standards are the standards, no matter what you call them," spokeswoman Patrice Guilfoyle said.

House Bill 395, which passed 92-25, specifies that local school boards should adopt books and curriculum. It also gives districts a little more wiggle room to vary from state-adopted standards and course progressions.

"There's been a lot of heartburn over the past couple of years that the federal government is about to mandate curriculum," Moore said. "In fact, in Mississippi, it's forever been the policy that the state Board of Education puts together standards and the local districts adopt curriculum."

The House skipped a bill by Gunn that would limit what vendors Mississippi could hire for state standardized tests. The Board of Education approved a one-year emergency contract with PARCC, but plans to seek proposals for new tests beginning next month. Gunn said his bill needs changes.

Moore told House members that the PARCC assessment would be given only this spring in Mississippi, but state education officials have said test vendor Pearson PLC will be eligible to seek a new contract.

The bills move on to the Senate. There, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves has been backing a bill that would create a nine-member commission to "recommend additional academic standards or propose changes to existing academic standards to the state Board of Education."

Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said Wednesday "the intent is not to replace the standards" but to "supplement" them.


Online: House Bill 156: http://bit.ly/1yP1yhr; House Bill 395: http://bit.ly/1y4UpFQ


Follow Jeff Amy at: http://twitter.com/jeffamy

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