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Lawsuit Targets Common-Core Tests as 'Illegal Interstate Compact'

A lawsuit filed against Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, state schools chief Chris Nicastro, and other state officials last week argues that the state is funding an "illegal interstate compact" by providing money to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of two consortia developing tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

The lawsuit  argues that Missouri's funding of Smarter Balanced cedes the state's sovereignty over its K-12 policy to the consortium. According to a report in the News Tribune newspaper, the plaintiffs claim that Smarter Balanced was never authorized by Congress and is in violation of the U.S. Constitution. 

The suit was filed last week by Fred N. Sauer, a political activist who is listed as an associate fellow at the National Legal and Policy Center and president of the Missouri Roundtable for Life, as well by Anne Gassel and Gretchen Logue. The suit states that the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is funding Smarter Balanced to the tune of $4.3 million through a line-item payment to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). 

The U.S. Department of Education gave a total of $360 million to both Smarter Balanced and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly called the stimulus package. That grant is scheduled to end on Oct. 1. To oversee ongoing assessment work, such as the development of new test items and testing platforms, Smarter Balanced has formed a partnership with the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST) at UCLA. Smarter Balanced itself, however, is operating separately from CRESST at the UCLA Graduate School of Education. 

I wasn't able to locate the $4.3 million payment referenced in Sauer's lawsuit in the Missouri education department's budget, and I've asked the department for confirmation that there is such a line item.

A spokeswoman for Smarter Balanced, Jaci King, wrote to me in an email that Missouri is one of 10 states that have signed memoranda of understanding with Smarter Balanced to continue their membership in the consortia, and are slated to send payments to the UCLA Graduate School of Education (not CRESST). CORRECTION: I originally reported that 11 states had signed these memoranda, but count that includes the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

King, however, said she wasn't sure if Missouri had sent in its first payment for Smarter Balanced membership yet. An additional seven states are also expected to sign such memoranda, King added. She said Smarter Balanced had no comment about the Missouri lawsuit's claims.

In its general aims, the lawsuit from Sauer and the two other plaintiffs resembles the lawsuit brought by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal against the state school board. Jindal has argued in Louisiana courts that the tests from PARCC, which the state education department has planned to administer, amount to an illegal takeover of state education by the federal government.

Jindal unsuccessfully sought to have the courts block the PARCC tests from being administered, but that case is still in the court system. (Separately, Jindal has sued the federal government over common core, claiming that Obama administration illegally coerced states into adopted the standards.) 

Check out the Education Week map that shows states' common-core testing plans for the 2014-15 academic year. Missouri plans to use Smarter Balanced in grades 5 and 8, as well as a "scaled down" version in grades 3, 4, 6, and 7.

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