SALT LAKE CITY — Any parent in the state would have access to statewide high-stakes test materials — before the test is administered — under the terms of a bill advanced Tuesday by the House Education Committee.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, is the latest effort by lawmakers to respond to lingering concerns over statewide adaptive testing, which will be administered for the first time this spring.
The adaptive tests automatically adjust to become more or less difficult based on an individual student's answers and have been criticized for aligning with the controversial Common Core State Standards.
A 15-member parent review committee, bound by nondisclosure agreements, was established to review test materials, but Kennedy said he believes greater access is necessary in the name of transparency and parental responsibility.
"The balance between parental rights, I think this bill draws that balance," he said.
But state education officials and some lawmakers argue that greater access to test materials comes at the expense of test security. Computer adaptive testing cost the state several million dollars to develop and is to be used in connection with teacher evaluations and compensation, as well as school grading.
"This testing is the main basis for grading schools, and therefore I’m sure you want, as we want, the most accurate data we can possibly gather to analyze as we make those decisions," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Martell Menlove said.
Menlove also spoke positively of the 15-member review committee, which met in November and spent a week examining test questions. He said some members of the committee expressed that they had participated with the intent of finding fault with the process but ultimately provided positive feedback.
LeAnne Wood, a member of the parent committee, told lawmakers the review had been successful and represented a collaborative solution that preserved parents' rights while also maintaining the integrity of the test.
"I was there for the 40 hours. I was there with the other 14 people, and I value that process," Wood said. "I’m concerned that we might be putting in a process that would compromise thousands, millions of dollars of our state funds that need to go to other areas."
Several changes were made to the bill Tuesday to address the potential of parents abusing access to the test, such as the requirement that any review be done at the State Office of Education and that parents be bound by nondisclosure agreements.
Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain, also said he intends to bring forward an amendment on the House floor that would fine a parent up to $1,000 for disclosing test materials.
Despite those changes, committee members said the potential risk was too great considering that a productive review process is already in place.
"As I see it, the two risks that I think are paramount is that something we do would make our test invalid, and an associated risk is that it would cost a lot of money," said Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful.
Nielson presented the idea of a continuum, with the 15-member committee on one end and full, open access to test materials on the other. He then asked Associate State Superintendent Judy Park, who oversees statewide testing, where on that continuum the risk of a compromised test becomes greater than the benefit of parent access.
"My recommendation is that I think our current process is a good process, and I would hope our current process can continue," Park said.
HB81 ultimately cleared the committee with a 10-5 vote, but some of the lawmakers who cast votes in support expressed a lukewarm attitude toward the bill moving forward.
Rep. Steven Eliason, R-Sandy, asked whether the bill is an example of perfection being "the enemy of good," and Rep. Rich Cunningham, R-South Jordan, said the bill warranted further debate, but he was not yet convinced of its merits.
"I'm still very skeptical," Cunningham said. "I'm going to vote 'yes' because I'd like to hear the debate on the floor."