South Dakota Supreme Court "Oks" Common Core Assessments

Last week, the South Dakota Supreme Court found in Mauricio v. Daugaard that South Dakota’s Common Core assessment are constitutional and follow state law.


How did the Common Core Standards originate?

In 2009, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers initiated an effort to develop a national, uniform set of standards in English language arts and mathematics for grades K-12. These standards are referred to as the Common Core State Standards. 

In February 2009, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) which authorized educational incentive grants to be administered by the Secretary of the United States Department of Education (USDOE). Later that year, the USDOE introduced the Race to the Top Fund, which invited states to apply for grants authorized under ARRA. The fund recipients were based on various criteria, including a state’s “commitment to adopting a common set of high-quality standards . . . and to improving the quality of its assessments.”

In April 2010, the USDOE announced that it would provide “funding to consortia of States to develop assessments that are valid, support and inform instruction, provide accurate information about what students know and can do, and measure student achievement against standards designed to ensure that all students gain the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in college and the workplace.”

To be eligible for a grant, a consortium of states would need to include “at least 15 States, of which at least 5 States must be governing States.” As a result, two consortiums were formed to take advantage of the assessment funding. One was the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Ultimately, South Dakota joined the SBAC as an advisory state, and later as a governing state member. South Dakota agreed to implement the SBAC’s assessment in mathematics and English language arts no later than the 2014-2015 school year.

In 2014, the SBAC’s funding ended. Since that time, the SBAC has operated in cooperation with the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA). Later in 2014, South Dakota entered into an agreement with the Regents of the University of California that the State would continue to participate in the SBAC. The agreement also established an annual fee that in 2014-2015 was approximately $700,000.00.     

How did this case get to the South Dakota Supreme Court?

In November 2015, the plaintiffs filed a complaint against the State. They alleged (1) the SBAC constitutes an interstate compact in violation of the Compact Clause of the United States Constitution, which requires congressional approval of certain interstate agreements and compacts and (2) the SBAC assessments violate SDCL 13-3-55, which requires that “every public school district shall annually administer the same assessment to all students in grades three to eight, and in grade eleven. The assessment shall measure the academic progress of each student.” Because the SBAC assessments are computer adaptive, the plaintiffs maintained that the assessments are different every time that a student takes one.

What was the South Dakota Supreme Court’s ruling?

First, the Supreme Court found that the SBAC consortium does not require congressional approval. Specifically the Supreme Court ruled that the SBAC is not a compact or agreement that requires the consent of Congress. “It does not enhance the states’ power [with regard to] the national government. South Dakota, along with other states, decided to implement Common Core State Standards and properly entered into an agreement to develop assessments with respect to those standards.”

Second, the Supreme Court found that the SBAC assessments do not violate SDCL 13-3-55. Specifically, the Supreme Court ruled “the assessment draws the questions from a bank of potential questions, and each test must meet the requirements of the test blueprint. The assessment is meant to gain a more complete picture of an individual’s educational progress. There is little logic behind the plaintiffs’ assertion that academic progress can only be measured if all students answer the same questions so that individual results can be compared to that of other students. In such a comparison, all students may fail certain educational benchmarks but one or more students may appear to succeed simply because his or her failure was less severe than other students. If the Legislature wanted to ensure that each student answered identical questions to determine academic progress, it could have defined assessment or test in such a way.”