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W.Va. lawmakers pushing for more math, ELA standards changes

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W.Va. lawmakers pushing for more math, ELA standards changes
By Ryan Quinn, The Charleston Gazette-Mail

State legislative leaders aren’t fully satisfied with the proposed changes to West Virginia’s K-12 math and English language arts standards, and are meeting Monday with the state Board of Education’s president to suggest additional alterations.

Amanda Pasdon, R-Monongalia and chairwoman of the House Education Committee, wrote in text messages to a reporter that at least she and Dave Sypolt, R-Preston and chairman of the Senate Education Committee, will have a private meeting with state school board President Mike Green.

“Some of the changes in the proposed standards are a step in the right direction,” Pasdon wrote. “We would like some additional changes to be considered.”

She declined to share specific preferred changes with the Gazette-Mail until after Monday’s meeting. She said they come after comparing West Virginia’s proposed new standards to “highly ranked states” and seeing “some opportunity to improve further.”

Speaker of the House Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said he plans to be at the meeting, along with Senate President Bill Cole or someone representing Cole’s office. Armstead said legislative staff’s comparison between the current and proposed new standards found that the changes aren’t “substantial.” If the state school board simply adopts the proposed standards as they were when it posted them for public comment about a month ago, he said the Legislature will take action in the upcoming session to make more modifications.

When asked why he opposes the state’s current education requirements, which are based on the Common Core national standards blueprint, Armstead referenced the anti-Common Core views of Jim Milgram, an emeritus Stanford University professor who was part of the “validation committee” that reviewed the standards.

He said he believes there are too many math standards in the early grades, but said standards throughout K-12 and in both subjects could be improved by incorporating proven standards from other states. He declined to name which particular states, saying he didn’t want to focus on one, and said lawmakers don’t yet have a list of what they’d like to change.

Before the state school board proposed the new standards, Cole, R-Mercer and a gubernatorial candidate, had pledged to repeal the current standards. Jacque Bland, communications director for the state Senate, said Cole wasn’t available to speak Friday about his views on the proposed standards and why he is opposed to the current ones.

“Senate President Cole will look at the changes, and if they are Common Core by another name, he will move to repeal them and replace them with West Virginia standards that work for West Virginia, with a renewed focus on fundamentals like reading by the third grade and improving student achievement in math,” Bland wrote in an email.

The state school board is expected to vote Thursday on approving the proposed new standards. Members of the public have until 4 p.m. Monday to go online to wvde.state.wv.us/policies and comment on the learning requirements so the state school board can consider their feedback.

State Department of Education officials, who’ve also released a comparison of the current and proposed new standards, said they drafted the revised learning requirements based on feedback from a previous, special online review of the standards and eight town hall meetings on the issue across the state.

That “Academic Spotlight” review — launched after lawmakers failed in their attempt early this year to repeal the current standards — allowed the public from early July until Sept. 30 to comment online on any of the more than 900 standards. State Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano has said the proposed new standards are no longer Common Core-based, despite the fact that much of the language in the current and proposed new standards remains the same, down to the same examples and ordering.

Joanna Burt-Kinderman — a district math coach in the state’s least densely populated county, Pocahontas, which scored among the top five counties in math on the Smarter Balanced test last school year — said the debate over whether or not the proposed standards are still Common Core is the wrong conversation.

“Regardless of what they’re called, standards across the country are very similar,” she wrote in an email to the Gazette-Mail. “You might say they have much in common. More standards review, designing new assessments will not change the fact that WV needs to compete in a nationally and globally connected economy. They will simply take time and money from the work that we really need to be doing, distracting us from the focus we need to maintain.”

Burt-Kinderman was one of the educators who reviewed comments submitted during the Academic Spotlight review, and said she supports the standards.

“We had a review process that was overwhelmingly in support of leaving the standards alone, yet we are still having this broken conversation — leaving kids, teachers and WV’s future to the wayside,” she wrote.

The Academic Spotlight review, which the education department publicized, garnered more than 240,000 online comments from more than 5,000 individuals. The exact number of comments and commenters differ from the report on the standards review compiled by West Virginia University, a parter in the effort, and the summation of the review in the new standards documents.

More than 90 percent of comments supported the standards, and although the website accepted comments from anyone over 18, self-identified West Virginia K-12 teachers were responsible for 91 percent of the comments. The department didn’t verify whether commenters actually matched their self descriptions.

“Content review teams” comprised of a total of 48 educators — including West Virginia teachers, school administrators and college faculty — reviewed the comments during two two-day sessions, focusing on the top five most-disagreed-with standards in each grade level or course and recommending changes.

According to documents the education department provided to the Gazette-Mail, even among the top five most-disagreed-with standards in each grade level or course, the percentage of comments that suggested a change of some sort was low compared to the percentage that said they agreed with the standards as is. The disagreement rate only hit 50 percent on some Trigonometry/Pre-Calculus standards for which there were only eight comments each, and it was 100 percent on some eighth grade Algebra I standards for which there was only one comment each.

Education department officials didn’t put all the revisions suggested by the content review teams into the proposed new standards, although the department’s comparison document says a majority were incorporated. In some places, the WVU report on the content review teams’ work suggested changes that weren’t proposed in the Academic Spotlight comments.

Part of a kindergarten standard, for example, that asked students to “print many upper- and lower-case letters” was moved up into a new “domain” in the proposed standards called Early Learning Foundations, and the word “many” was cut. The department said the deletion was to “make the standard more developmentally appropriate,” though the WVU report had instead suggested it was “developmentally appropriate” to replace the word “many” with “all.” Most of the 19 comments that disagreed in some way with the standard also suggested “all” instead of “many.”

In first grade, the Common Core-requirement that students know how to “print all upper- and lower-case letters” remains, but the new standards would add: “using proper letter formation and directionality.” That’s a direct recommendation from the report that directly reflects a comment.

For a standard that requires sixth graders to “quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and providing basic bibliographic information for sources,” the department didn’t include a suggestion of the WVU report and one comment to encourage “standardized techniques for citing sources” by specifying that students need to know the common Modern Language Association or American Psychological Association citation formats. But the proposed standards do add MLA and APA styles as examples to a similar standards in higher grades.

For an English language arts standard that required 11th and 12th graders to “delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. information texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning,” the new standards replace “seminal” with “influential” and nix the words “use of legal reasoning.” The report had said that requirement was “beyond the scope of an English classroom,” as some comments had argued.

These are just some examples of the changes. Burt-Kinderman, who led the review team that suggested changes to the high school math standards, said her group’s two major recommended changes — moving the study of complex solutions and the unit circle from the integrated course of Math II, which teachers said contained too much material, to Math III — made it into the proposed new standards.

When asked why lawmakers think the proposed standards need more changes even after educators mostly supported the current standards during the Academic Spotlight review, Armstead said he’s still hearing complaints about the learning requirements.

“We have a responsibly, as the elected representatives of the people of West Virginia, to have a role in how our education system is structured,” he said.

Burt-Kinderman said in a phone interview that it’s “totally crazy” that lawmakers are making decisions about standards, and said they and others should be focused on solving issues like poor Internet connections in schools and the approaching $120 million in cuts to the health plans of public workers, including teachers.

“Until then, stop wasting your time on talking about things you know nothing about,” she said.