North Dakota Superintendent of Public Schools Kirsten Baesler has announced the membership of a 33-strong task force to address student assessments in the state. The formation of the task force comes after a bruising debate in the Legislature over controversial Common Core standards, and a rocky rollout of Smarter Balanced Assessment testing at the end of the 2014-2015 school year.
There was some controversy over this task force back in June with legislative critics of Common Core and Smarter Balanced saying they feared they would be excluded. I spoke with Baesler at the time and she told me that legislative appointees to her task force would come from the state House and Senate education committee chairs, Rep. Mike Nathe and Senator Tim Flakoll respectively. Given that both of these men have been outspoken proponents of Common Core, one might understand where lawmakers opposed to that policy might have feared they would be excluded.
Baesler’s press release announcing the task force (see below) expressly addresses the controversy, announcing the inclusion of an anti-Common Core lawmaker and citizen activist, but couched in a bit of “I won” phrasing.
Most task force members were nominated by stakeholder groups. Baesler personally selected additional members, including Jim Kasper, of Fargo, whom Baesler chose as a business and industry representative. Kasper was the primary sponsor of legislation to end North Dakota’s membership in Smarter Balanced and prohibit the Department of Public Instruction from supporting North Dakota’s new math and English learning standards. The bill was defeated in the House.
Previously Rep. Nathe objected to Kasper’s inclusion on the task for, arguing that he doesn’t serve on the House Education Committee and lacks the requisite expertise. “Why would I appoint someone who doesn’t sit on our committee and doesn’t understand the education committees?” he told me in June. “Why, just because he’s the loudest? Just because he’s the prime sponsor of the bill?”
That jab in the press release about Kasper’s legislation failing in the House is somewhat ironic. While it’s language was problematic in some regards, one goal it sought to accomplish was creating a task force to enact education standards and assessments from the state level (as opposed to participating in a national consortium like Smarter Balanced).
Though she has vigorously denied this when I’ve brought it up to her, this sort of seems to be what Baesler is doing with this task force. Yes, Kasper’s legislation failed, but Common Core critics seem to be getting at least a little bit of what they want in a thorough review of the state’s existing assessments, albeit in a process that has been set up by Baesler who is demonstrably in the tank for Common Core.
UPDATE: Rep. Mike Nathe responded to this post to say that the legislative language the task force is based on was part of an amendment offered by himself and House Majority Leader Al Carlson during conference committee. He says Kasper had nothing to do with that.
Meanwhile, last week a state court heard the first oral arguments in a lawsuit seeking to declare North Dakota’s participation in the Smarter Balanced Consortium to be an unconstitutional interstate compact, a legal argument which has so far been successful in Missouri.
You can read the full member list here.
You can also read the current list of assessments students are required to take here.