11 counties reverting to traditional high school math classes

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11 counties reverting to traditional high school math classes
By Ryan Quinn, The Charleston Gazette

Eleven West Virginia counties, including Kanawha and Putnam, have told state education officials they plan to revert next school year to the traditional high school math course structure that predated the national Common Core standards.

So far, 26 districts have indicated whether they will return to the previous structure of Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II or continue with the new “integrated” math courses of Math I, II and III, according to data presented Wednesday to the West Virginia Board of Education.

The integrated courses combine algebra, geometry and other math subjects in each course.

The traditional course structure focusing on individual subjects existed before Common Core, a set of math and English/language arts standards that, according to the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, have been adopted by more than 40 states in the hopes of establishing a rigorous set of national teaching requirements.

However, schools will be required to continue teaching to the Common Core standards even if they revert to the old course structure.

“It’s the same set of standards,” said Joey Wiseman, director of secondary learning for the West Virginia Department of Education. “It’s just how they’re grouped.”

The counties reverting to the traditional structure are: Brooke, Calhoun, Greenbrier, Hardy, Harrison, Kanawha, Mason, Morgan, Pendleton, Putnam and Ritchie.

Those staying with the integrated courses are: Barbour, Berkeley, Cabell, Grant, Lincoln, Logan, Marshall, McDowell, Mineral, Mingo, Monongalia, Ohio, Randolph, Summers and Tyler.

More districts could still decide to revert to the traditional structure, but Wiseman said counties that wish to transition in 2015-16 need to notify the state of their intentions before the start of the school year.

Wiseman said counties are generally OK if they want to switch and are allowing students who already have started the integrated path to finish with it, but department employees need to confirm that those counties planning to transfer students currently in the integrated course path back to the traditional course path have viable plans to do so. He said the department has yet to approve any such plans.

“I don’t foresee any of them not being approved because, basically, the counties have been very cooperative,” he said.

Because the Common Core standards were implemented statewide just this year — although some counties put them in place earlier — the most common issue is transferring students from Math I, which contains both algebra and geometry topics, to Geometry, a course that requires more previous understanding of algebra than Math I provides.

Wiseman said reverting counties are generally choosing to start off Geometry next school year with lessons to make up the needed algebra topics, although some are spreading out the algebra topics in what will still somewhat resemble an integrated course.

“We just want to make sure the standards and objectives are covered,” he said.

In February, the state school board voted to allow districts to revert back to the traditional math courses after Putnam, a continually high-achieving district that implemented the new course structure a year before it was required, noted concerns, including falling math-proficiency rates.

The option originally was approved as a waiver, but Clayton Burch, chief academic officer for the state department, said the board likely will make the choice permanent this fall.

Burch said districts have the option of allowing only some of their schools to revert, or even allowing traditional and integrated classes in a single school. So far, though, all counties that have expressed their intentions want to make the change district-wide.

The information came as state schools Superintendent Michael Martirano informed the board Wednesday of the time frame for the department’s review of the Common Core standards, launched in the wake of legislators’ failed efforts earlier this year to repeal the learning requirements.

In a speech announcing his run for governor, state Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, said he opposes the standards, and Common Core continues to be a topic in the national GOP presidential primary.

In March, following great opposition from state education officials — who said repealing the standards could disrupt West Virginia’s entire K-12 system, cost more than $100 million and threaten federal funding — the Senate Education Committee removed a mandatory repeal of the standards from a bill passed by the House Education Committee. The Senate version instead required Martirano to conduct a “comprehensive review of the standards.”

Regardless of the fact that the review bill died on the last night of the Legislative session, when the House didn’t concur, Martirano is moving forward with a review, albeit on a shorter time frame than the Senate suggested.

On June 18, the Department of Education will open a website, maintained by West Virginia University, for the public to comment on the standards. The department and WVU will spread the word about the site until it closes Sept. 30.

WVU will then analyze the comments and, from Oct. 21-Nov. 30, the WVU College of Education will “engage and facilitate educator advisory groups to perform a thoughtful review and analysis of the comments received on the standards,” according to an outline of the process Martirano provided.

These groups will contain both K-12 math and English teachers and higher education staff. The nonprofit Southern Regional Education Board, which includes West Virginia and 15 other member states, will provide experts to assist the groups and will also help in analyzing the comments.

WVU will then report to the state school board about whether the educator advisory groups recommended changes to the standards or not. Martirano said he is hopeful that the board would then place the possibly revised standards on a final 30-day public comment period by December, to finish up most of the process by the start of the 2016 Legislative session.

“I can’t disrupt our teachers every year through these processes; it’s very disconcerting,” Martirano said of standards changes, of which the state has seen several in the past few years. “That’s what the ultimate goal of this is, is to stabilize — to get a set of standards that we all can get behind, so we can move beyond this.”

Also Wednesday, board members recognized the career of Deputy State Superintendent Chuck Heinlein, who has twice served as state superintendent for interim periods. Heinlein, 63, is giving up a roughly $131,000 annual salary when he retires July 1.

He said he’s retiring to do things he’s been unable to do during his long career in education, like traveling the state with his grandchildren.

He said he started his education career 42 years ago when he began teaching social studies at Tyler County’s Sistersville Middle School. He later became a principal at Sistersville High School and, in 2006, joined the state education department as head of a principal leadership program.