State board to consider Common Core standards revisions, testing reductions

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State board to consider Common Core standards revisions, testing reductions
By Ryan Quinn, The Charleston Gazette-Mail

The West Virginia Department of Education is recommending that the state Board of Education take previous reductions in science and social studies standardized testing and make them permanent, while still determining what to do with the Common Core-based math and English language arts standards.

Clayton Burch, the department’s chief academic officer, said its math and English experts are combing through West Virginia University’s report on the “Academic Spotlight” review of the state’s Common Core standards. The review was launched in July with the help of WVU and other partners and allowed the public until Sept. 30 to comment online on any of the more than 900 math and English K-12 standards.

The website required feedback on specific standards, rather than general critiques. Despite the fact that more than 90 percent of comments supported the education requirements, the report recommends revisions to about a hundred of the standards, from wording clarifications to a few deletions.

Part of the issue with changing the Common Core standards, which have been adopted by more than 40 states, is that West Virginia’s current Smarter Balanced standardized summative assessments for math and English are based off the standards. Burch said that any time standards are changed, there’s a risk of putting those learning requirements out of alignment with tests.

“That’s going to be the next big question: If the new standards are adopted, is the current assessment aligned?” he said.

The statewide summative exams, those that test students’ knowledge around the end of the school year, don’t count toward students’ grades or hold them back from graduation. However, 11th-graders who score “proficient” on them — something only about a fifth of juniors managed statewide in math last school year, and only about half managed in English — can stay out of remedial courses in college. Students also can prove they don’t need remedial courses through other tests, like the ACT.

The exams, which allow West Virginia to compare itself with other states taking Smarter Balanced tests, also are supposed to be used eventually to assign schools and counties A-F grades and become part of evaluations for math and English teachers. However, the state school board has delayed both of those efforts, and it’s unclear what the federal government will require states to do for teacher evaluations, if Congress passes an update to No Child Left Behind, the central federal law that regulates K-12 education.

Alongside considering changes to the standards, Burch expects the state school board, which begins its two-day monthly meeting at noon today in Charleston, to take up on Friday the department’s proposal to eliminate standardized summative exams in social studies for all grades and reduce the science standardized summative tests from grades three through 11 to just grades four, six and 10.

For math and English, the federal government requires exams in grades three through eight, plus 11th grade. For science, it requires the tests at least once at the elementary, middle and high school levels. It has no such requirements for social studies.

“I don’t think we’ve found anything that the more we test, the more proficient we get,” Burch said of the recommended testing reduction. He said exams are only “snapshots” of how students perform one day out of the school year.

Last school year, the state school board approved the same testing reductions in social studies and science, but the department’s new recommendations, which have to be put on a 30-day public comment period this week before ultimately being approved, would make the reduction permanent. Two other statewide tests — the ACT Explore, given to all eighth-graders, and the ACT Plan, given to all 10th-graders — have been retired by the company that gives the tests, and the soon-to-be-retired ACT Compass, which was given to all high school juniors, also won’t be given this school year.

According to the WVU report on the standards review, “content review teams” comprised of a total of 48 educators — including West Virginia teachers, school administrators and college faculty — came up with the roughly 100 recommended revisions after meeting last month to review the 251,431 comments submitted on the standards review website by 5,277 individuals. WVU officials urged the teams to focus on the top five most-disagreed-with standards in each course or grade level.

Although the review website accepted comments from anyone, the report said 84 percent of respondents self-identified as educators, and West Virginia K-12 teachers were responsible for 91 percent of the comments, which could be as simple as pressing the website’s thumbs-up button on standards they agreed with. Education department spokeswoman Kristin Anderson said there was no process to verify that the respondents actually matched the demographic data they provided, like whether they were teachers, parents or in some other role.

Despite a previous comment to the contrary by a WVU official, comments from non-West Virginia residents ultimately were considered by the content review teams. The report said these represented only 25 respondents, or less than one half of 1 percent, and the majority of them had email addresses ending in, “evidencing they were connected in some way to West Virginia’s public education system.”

Wyoming County — with about 23,000 residents, according to 2014 U.S. Census estimates — provided the highest percentage of comments, at 8.9 percent, roughly 22,500. Kanawha County, the state’s most populous county, with about 190,000 residents, came in second, at 8.6 percent of comments, or 21,600. Kanawha did have the highest rate of respondents — 8.8 percent, or 464 individuals — followed by Mercer County, at 6.5 percent. At 62,000 in population, Mercer had more respondents than other, more populous counties, like Berkeley and Monongalia.

Burch said he didn’t yet know to what extent the department’s recommended policy changes, which he hopes to have ready by the end of the workday today, would reflect the WVU report. The proposed standards changes also must be put on a 30-day public comment period by the state school board this week, before the board ultimately approves them, likely before the 2016 legislative session revs up.

The House of Delegates passed a bill this year to repeal the Common Core standards, but it failed to reconcile that iteration with a Senate version that would’ve required only a study.

When asked if he thought the results of the standards review process — considering its 5,277 respondents and vastly greater support of the standards than opposition — were a valid justification for big changes to the standards, Burch complimented the amount of feedback.

“I’ve got almost two decades in education,” he said, “and I’ve never had, actually, so many people want to talk about standards.”

The state school board meeting begins at noon today in Room 353 of Building 6 of the Capitol Complex. It will continue at 9 a.m. Friday in the same location.