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Utah adopts federal standards for curriculum, causing some to worry about a loss of local control of schools

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SALT LAKE CITY — With a unanimous vote from the State Board of Education, Utah became the 35th state Friday to adopt common grade-level expectations.

Representatives from Utah, the District of Columbia and 47 other states worked for more than a year to develop the math and language arts benchmarks, which were released in June. For schools, the standards will mean new curriculum and computer-adaptive testing capable of giving teachers near-instant results — though the full effects of the decision won't unfold for several years.

"This is one of the most exciting things we'll likely ever do as a school board," said board member Laurel Brown, who lives in Murray. "I'm happy we're at the point where we're locking arms with other states, working together to do what's best for students."

At Friday's meeting, the board's discussion was short, focusing on two main issues: Will Utah maintain local control of curriculum and will the standards improve achievement in Utah?

Though the effort was state-led and adoption is voluntary, President Barack Obama offered extra points to participating states in the federal Race to the Top competition.

"It makes me nervous whenever the federal government gets involved in state issues," said board member Craig Coleman, who lives in Genola. "The fact that Utah did not make the list of finalists for the Race to the Top makes it a lot easier for me to vote for these standards. I hope we can keep control local."

According to a Thomas B. Fordham Institute report published July 21, the common standards are similar to Utah's current math curriculum and "clearly superior" to Utah's reading program. While the Washington, D.C.-based think tank gave Utah a "C" grade for its language arts program, the new standards scored a "B+."

"I'm excited to see the changes that will come of this," said Dixie Allen, the board's vice chairman. "These are rigorous, rigorous standards."

Superintendent Larry Shumway said he hopes consistent, nationwide standards will help Utah better prepare students to compete on a global scale.

"If we didn't think it was going to boost literacy, we wouldn't adopt it," he said.

e-mail: estuart@desnews.com