COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina schools would continue to implement Common Core education standards in math and reading, at least for a few years, under a compromise advancing in the Senate.
The measure, sent Wednesday to the Senate Education Committee, replaces a bill that initially sought to repeal the standards being rolled out in classrooms statewide after their adoption by two state boards in 2010.
The compromise requires a review of math and reading standards by 2018. It also mandates legislative approval for future changes to what students learn in the classroom, which will affect whether South Carolina adopts nationally developed science and history standards.
Sen. John Matthews, who has opposed efforts in the past few years to undo Common Core, supported the compromise.
"If we don't do something and give some direction, we're continuing to put the system in limbo," said Matthews, D-Bowman, a retired principal. "Doing nothing is the worst decision."
But a compromise is unwanted by staunch opponents of Common Core, who say they will fight to revert to the original bill.
Common Core outlines what skills students in kindergarten through 12th grade should learn to be ready for college and careers, replacing standards that varied state-to-state. Full implementation, including standardized testing on the new standards, is set for the upcoming school year.
Opponents call it a nationalization of public education. But Common Core, adopted in 45 states and the District of Columbia, is not federal. The initiative was led by governors and superintendents, through the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The Obama administration encouraged states to sign on through incentives.
Opposition from conservative groups has led to proposals in South Carolina and other states backing out of Common Core.
"States really want to take back control of their standards. We may determine we want to keep Common Core standards, but it would be a state decision and not part of a national consortium," subcommittee chairman Sen. Wes Hayes said of the compromise.
Debate continues about student testing aligned to the new standards. As amended, the bill requires South Carolina to pull out of a consortium of states developing a test with federal grants. This spring, 20 percent of students statewide will field-test that assessment for math and reading, to gear up for full testing in 2015.
The state Department of Education opposes backing out of the Smarter Balanced consortium. Superintendent Mick Zais, who opposed Common Core in his 2010 campaign, has nonetheless worked to implement decisions made before he took office. To toss the test but not the underlying standards creates confusion, said his spokesman, Dino Teppara.
"We don't view the assessment as the problem," he said.
Liz Jones, the agency's director of assessment, said 11 employees have worked three years on the test.
Opponents of Common Core want to stay with state-developed tests. But agency officials say new home-grown tests could take years. They contend the state risks losing out on hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money if it sticks with current state tests that don't assess college and career readiness.
Senators clearly grew frustrated by Zais' criticism of their compromise, distributed at the meeting in a letter. After much back-and-forth with agency representatives, Hayes told Teppara that until Zais can offer a solution, he doesn't want to hear from him.
"We're trying to find a solution. To basically come in and say, 'Well, I've been opposed to it all along. It's not a good thing, but what you're proposing is not a good idea.' Well, give us a good idea! That doesn't help us any," said Hayes, R-Rock Hill.
The amended legislation also incorporates a bill deleting the requirement that high school students pass an exit exam to graduate, something the Education Oversight Committee has advocated for several years. It would be replaced by tests relevant to students' pursuits beyond high school, whether that's immediately entering the workforce or going to college.