The Kansas State Board of Education agreed Tuesday to plan for giving modified tests in English language arts and math in 2014 as the state continues its transition toward the new Common Core State Standards.
The decision came after the U.S. Department of Education informed the state in December saying it would relax some of its peer review requirements in order to help states continue moving toward new assessments that will be used starting in the 2014-15 school year.
It also came at the same time some members of the Kansas Legislature are proposing bills to block implementation of the Common Core standards, calling the standards a federal intrusion into state education policy choices.
During a separate discussion, though, state board members voted to send a letter to Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature expressing the board's belief that it has constitutional authority to set education standards.
Kansas is among 45 states that have adopted the Common Core standards, which are intended to guide instruction so students are better prepared for college or the workplace by the time they graduate high school.
Kansas officially adopted those standards in October 2010. It is now part of a consortium of states working to develop new standardized tests that will be aligned to those standards, but officials say those tests are not scheduled to be ready for another two years.
That has put Kansas, along with many other states, in a bind: While teachers are expected to organize their classes and lesson plans around the new standards, the annual state assessments in those subjects are still geared to the old standards.
On Tuesday, the state board agreed to contract with the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation at Kansas University to modify the current English and math tests in order to align them with the common core standards.
The department routinely contracts with the center to design and administer tests, and officials said the change calling for modified English and math tests next year should not increase the overall cost of the contract. The state board is expected to vote in April on renewing the annual contract with the center.
The federal government requires states to administer standardized tests in reading and math each year in order to qualify for certain kinds of federal funding. Students take the tests in grades 3 through 8, and once in high school.
Initially, the tests were required as part of the federal No Child Left Behind law, which mandated that 100 percent of students be proficient in reading and math by 2014.
Last year, Kansas received a waiver from No Child Left Behind. One of the criteria for receiving the waiver was the adoption of "college and career ready" standards in reading and math.
But Kansas still has to administer those tests to show its schools are making continuous improvement in reading and math scores, although schools will be graded using a different set of criteria besides the raw number of students above or below the proficiency line.