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Nevada lawmakers, critics debate Common Core standards

A legislator read a graphic sex scene from a book he said is approved under the new academic standards of Nevada schools.

A woman repeatedly shouted from the audience at lawmakers, calling them liars.

Government officials and lawmakers called out critics as they argued.

Tuesday’s meeting of the Legislative Committee on Education was anything but ordinary as heated discussion revolved around one topic for nine hours — the Common Core — and what’s coming with them as Nevada public schools phase in the new state standards.

Nevada, like many states, is taking a harder look at what was set in motion years ago, wary of what critics perceive as federal pressure to adopt Common Core. Under law, the federal government cannot dictate schools’ academic standards or curriculum.

Tuesday’s heated conversation marked a shift in the state’s perspective. Nevada lawmakers approved the use of Common Core four years ago with only one dissenting vote in the Assembly, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dale Erquiaga pointed out to the committee on Tuesday.

The Nevada Board of Education has reaffirmed that in three votes after receiving little dissenting public comment, he said.

“Like them or not, they’re our standards,” said Erquiaga, emphasizing that although the Common Core is law in Nevada, individual school districts retain freedom in choosing textbooks and instructional materials for getting students to those standards.

However, lawmakers of about 15 states have introduced legislation to undo the standards or replace them with something else.

Indiana recently reversed its adoption of Common Core, and the New York Assembly approved a two-year delay in using common core assessments to evaluate teachers and principals.

While no Nevada lawmakers sought similar action Tuesday, several committee members expressed concern about the security of student data and lack of local control over Common Core, which are standards that states must accept in their entirety.

Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Henderson, also asked for a detailed list of all data to be collected by the new student-data system and what will be done with each piece of information. Eric Creighton, chief operating officer of Infinite Campus, said that can and should be done. Infinite Campus is providing the digital system for Washoe and Clark County school districts’ tracking of students from preschool through high school. The state is also tracking each student through its new standardized tests, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, to be used by all Nevada schools and created by a third party funded by the federal government for its work.

The consortium will be receiving test results for every student in addition to personal information: ethnicity, gender and whether students are English language learners and classified as special education, said Joe Willhoft, executive director of the consortium. The consortium won’t be able to identify students by name, ID numbers or birth dates because that information stays with the district, he said.

“We’re taking great care to retain student data and privacy,” he said.

But members of Stop Common Core Nevada and the American Principles Project weren’t convinced, concerned the consortium will pass student information to the federal government or other parties.

Concern and discomfort are understandable with change, said Assemblyman Elliot Anderson, D-Las Vegas. But it’s not reason to reverse direction.

“You’re uncomfortable Common Core isn’t going to work,” he said. “But do you feel what we’re doing right now is working?”

Depending on the source, Nevada’s schools are either 49th or 50th in the nation, he said.

Contact Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279. Find him on Twitter: @TrevonMilliard.

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