Lawmakers mum about meeting on Common Core standards

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Lawmakers mum about meeting on Common Core standards
By Ryan Quinn, The Charleston Gazette-Mail

State legislative leaders still haven’t said what specific further changes they’d like the West Virginia Board of Education to make to the state’s Common Core-based math and English language arts K-12 standards.

Lawmakers met privately with board President Mike Green Monday, ahead of the board’s expected vote this week to approve standards alterations that it put out for public comment last month. Delegate Amanda Pasdon, R-Monongalia and chairwoman of the House Education Committee, told the Gazette-Mail before the meeting that some of the changes the board put on public comment are a “step in the right direction,” but legislators want more modifications.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Pasdon didn’t return requests for comments.

In a statement emailed to the Gazette-Mail by spokesman Jared Hunt, House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said, “We had a thorough and candid discussion Monday regarding the Legislature’s continuing concerns regarding our state’s standards for educating our children. While we are pleased the State Board is taking steps to repeal Common Core, we are hopeful that the Board will also take seriously our concerns regarding what will replace these standards. We will await and consider with great interest the actions the Board of Education takes in determining how we will proceed.” Hunt said Armstead had no comment past the statement.

Armstead previously said he feels there are too many math standards in early grades, and that the Legislature would take action to make more modifications if the board this week adopts only the changes it has already proposed.

State Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano has said the proposed new standards are no longer based on Common Core. But they do include much of the exact same wording, down to the same examples and similar ordering. Changes include the requirement to teach cursive, some higher-grade math standards moved to different courses, calculus course standards and what state education officials say is an increased emphasis on multiplication tables.

Armstead said state Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, planned to either attend or send a representative to the meeting with Green. State Senate communications director Jacque Bland said Cole wasn’t available to discuss the meeting.

“The priorities are making sure children are reading by the third grade, and improving achievement in math at all levels,” Bland said in her email.

In a voicemail, Senate Education Committee Chairman Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, said he didn’t attend the meeting and referred a reporter to Bland.

On Tuesday, through state Department of Education spokeswoman Kristin Anderson, Green emailed this statement: “I met with legislative leaders yesterday to listen to their perspectives on upcoming education issues so I am prepared to make informed recommendations to our state board.”

Green would not say which other board members or lawmakers were at the meeting, or say whether legislators had requested specific changes.

“I have to refer you to them [legislators] because I don’t have any information I can provide you on what they want to do,” Green said later.

“I’m not trying to be evasive here,” he later said, when pressed for more information. “… It’s their meeting, not mine. I was just invited to show up.”

Anderson wrote that a tight timeframe and a need to respond to every comment would mean the public comments submitted on the currently proposed changes wouldn’t be available before this week’s board meeting. The normal 30-day comment period on the new standards, which was required for the board policy change, ended 4 p.m. Monday, and the meeting begins 10 a.m. Thursday in Room 353 of Building 6 of the Capitol Complex in Charleston. It could continue in the same place 9 a.m. Friday if the board doesn’t make it through the full agenda Thursday.

The 30-day public comment period follows a previous, special online review of the standards and eight town hall meetings on the issue across the state. That 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. It garnered more than 240,000 online comments from over 5,000 individuals.

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 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. Education department officials said they then used the feedback to draft the standards changes that the board placed on public comment last month, though the department didn’t include every revision the content review teams suggested and made some changes they didn’t propose.

At its meeting, the board is also expected to vote to make permanent the recent reduction in standardized testing in two subjects that don’t have Common Core-based standards: science and social studies. All end-of-school-year social studies standardized testing will be eliminated and tested grades in science will drop from 3-11 to just four, six and 10.