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S.C. Chief Declares State Will Leave Smarter Balanced After All

If you thought the South Carolina Board of Education's vote last week to stick with the Smarter Balanced assessments for the Common Core State Standards settled the issue, state Superintendent of Education Mick Zais has a chess move to show you, and he says: Checkmate.

In an April 14 letter to state board Chairman Barry Bolen, Zais announced he has made the decision to withdraw the state from the Smarter Balanced testing consortium, and that the board's April 9 vote to stick with the group is legally irrelevant. And he said he's dropping Smarter Balanced after consulting with both the legislature and the office of Gov. Nikki Haley, a fellow elected Republican.

Remember, that April 9 vote countermanded an April 3 letter the state education department sent to districts telling them to suspend the field-testing of Smarter Balanced because the state was withdrawing from the consortium.

"I want to have a high-quality assessment that meets the specific needs of South Carolina, at a competitive price. If we continue to focus only on Smarter Balanced, we lose any opportunity to consider alternatives," Zais wrote in his April 14 letter to Bolen (read the full letter below).

Zais tells Bolen that after the April 9 vote by the state board, he discovered that "the authority to exit the consortium lies solely with me." In so many words, he told the state board that it doesn't have the authority to decide this matter by holding a single vote on the state's standardized assessment. By sticking with Smarter Balanced, he said, the state is ignoring the opportunity to pick up another common-core-aligned test at (potentially) a better price.

Jacqueline King of Smarter Balanced told me that it's up to each state to decide who has the authority to pull out of the testing consortium. Remember, the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee has final say over which assessment the state uses in this case. But that decision only takes place after an assessment is field-tested. Will the state board and Zais get into a legal fight about Smarter Balanced? And perhaps most importantly, how will schools and districts proceed given this latest move by Zais, and who will give them what marching orders about their tests? 

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