AUGUSTA — Maine legislators on the Education Committee rejected a bill Wednesday that would have thrown out the state’s math and English Common Core standards.

Instead, the committee unanimously approved substitute language that makes the process for reviewing the standards more transparent and rigorous.

Senate Chairman Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, suggested the new language, saying it addresses concerns about Common Core standards, which spell out what a student is expected to learn in the two subjects in each grade.

Critics, however, say some standards aren’t developmentally appropriate for students – teaching a particular math concept in fifth grade when some believe it should be taught in sixth grade, for example.

“My thought is to not throw out the standards and start over. That’s not a good place to go. But to develop a rigorous review process and go through these standards in a constructive way,” Langley said of the bill, L.D. 1492.

“This document always seemed so rigid, not a living, breathing document. I want it to be a living, breathing document that can change with the times,” he said.

Also Wednesday, the committee rebuffed a bill that would have delayed for a year having Maine students take new state assessment tests.

Both bills follow an anti-testing and anti-Common Core movement that has been felt nationwide.

NEW AVENUE FOR PUBLIC’S VIEWS

Since 2009, 45 states, including Maine, and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards. Since 2014, Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina have dropped them. Opponents say the standards are developmentally inappropriate and part of federal efforts to nationalize education. Advocates say having a common set of academic standards for students in multiple states would benefit the students and better prepare them for college or a career.

L.D. 1492, which now goes to the House for a vote, spells out a new standards review protocol that largely reflects the current process. But it adds some new features, including an online portal on the Maine Department of Education website where anyone can write a comment or suggestion about one of the state’s eight content standards for math, English, science, social studies, languages, career and education development, health education and physical education, and visual/performing arts.

Current law requires the department to review the standards every five years. But under the new language introduced Wednesday, comments submitted through the new online portal could trigger a review of any standard at any time, at the discretion of the Maine Department of Education.

The language approved Wednesday does not require an immediate review of the math or English standards, which are Common Core standards.

Rep. Will Tuell, R-East Machias, said he was happy with the outcome.

“I’m impressed with how you make something so complicated come together,” Tuell told the committee after the vote. “If anything else, we turned it into a government accountability bill, and that’s a good thing, too.”

Concerning changes to L.D. 1459, which would postpone taking assessment tests for a year, committee members said they think Maine students should still take new tests for math and English this spring, but that the results shouldn’t be used to evaluate teachers or to issue A through F grades for schools.

The committee agreed to table the bill to allow time to add language and remove references to delaying the tests.

“I think it’s clear we can’t throw the test out. A lot of work has been done to get where we’re at,” said Rep. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta. “I do think we should delay using the results for teacher evaluations and for A-to-F evaluation of schools.”

COMPLETING TEST TO TAKE LESS TIME

Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, who authored the bill, said she did not disagree with the changes, but urged the committee to wait several years before allowing the test results to be used for teacher evaluations. Currently, the state Department of Education plans to use this spring’s test results as a baseline, so next year’s results could be used to evaluate student progress.

“Using any of that data for teacher evaluations is concerning,” Espling said. “The state should not require any of the data be used – maybe allow districts to do it if they wished, but not require it for say, three to five years until we’re really on board with a new test.”

Several committee members agreed, as did state education officials testifying at the work session. But they noted that annual testing is required by the federal government and it remains a key way to measure student abilities.

The Maine Department of Education is using New Hampshire-based Measured Progress Inc. to develop and administer the new math and English tests that are replacing the Smarter Balanced test that was used for only one year. The company also will administer the SAT for high school juniors.

The new assessment tests for third- through eighth-graders will be shorter – the completion time will be six hours on average, compared with seven hours for the Smarter Balanced tests last year and up to 12 hours for the tests used before that. The SAT will take less than four hours to complete, compared with the seven- to eight-hour test administered to juniors last year, which included an extra component that has been eliminated.

Jaci Holmes, the federal-state legislative liaison at the state Department of Education, said teachers could start working with practice tests on Feb. 1, and the testing window will run from March 21 through April 15. The test results will be given to the department by June 30, she said.