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Comments on the West Virginia academic spotlight final report

Nov 18, 2015 by

Sandra Stotsky –

This inadequate report, dated November 9, 2015, is based on feedback for revision from the wrong people. Why are the residents of West Virginia the wrong people? Because most residents, including most K-12 teachers and most legislators, are academically unqualified to evaluate a set of K-12 state standards for mathematics, science, or English. In a democracy, the general public needs to be able to see and approve the standards for its public schools. And to provide feedback to local school boards on curriculum content. But the general public and the staff at the West Virginia Department of Education are not academically qualified to revise academic standards in any subject. That is why higher education experts in Massachusetts were asked to help write standards for every major subject in 2000-2003 when I was in charge of developing or revising the Bay State’s standards at the time.

The West Virginia Department of Education understandably wants to reach out to a wide range of residents in the state for feedback. But that is not how problematic K-12 standards in any subject get revised. Subject experts (not administrators and not K-12 teachers for the most part) at West Virginia’s own fine universities need to be asked to revise Common Core’s inadequate secondary standards so that college readiness in West Virginia means that a growing number of the state’s high school students will be prepared for STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) in its colleges/universities and be able to participate occupationally at high levels in the state’s growing economy.

The State Legislature needs to ask the presidents of its public and private universities/colleges to select experts in mathematics, science, and English who teach undergraduate courses in these subjects to review the state’s standards to determine in particular if the secondary sequence leads to college-readiness and to issue a public report. That determination cannot be made by the state’s residents, the West Virginia Department of Education, the Commissioner of Education, or the State Board of Education. That determination must be made by those academically qualified to judge whether the sequence of secondary standards, especially in mathematics and science, would prepare West Virginia’s high school students for college level work. A report from such an independently chosen body (chosen by the state’s college presidents, not by the West Virginia Department or Board or Commissioner of Education) should then be the basis for public hearings.

1. Because feedback came from mostly the wrong people, it is not surprising that the changes that are being proposed are for the most part extremely trivial. Example: ELA.10: R.C1.6 “Analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of complex ideas or events in informational texts, including the order in which the points are made, how they are developed and interact.”

Proposed is: “Remove comma after “made” and insert “and.” Reconsider use of the word “unfolds.”

Many other changes proposed were simply more understandable paraphrases of Common Core’s poorly worded standards.

2. Some of the substantive changes proposed are questionable. Example: ELA.11.R.C3.5 “Analyze seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth century U.S. foundational informational documents of historical and literary significance … for their themes, purposes, and rhetorical features.”

Proposed is adding at the end: “and current relevancy.”

3. Many of the respondents to the state-wide electronic survey asked for examples for many standards because so many are so vague. But the West Virginia Department of Education neither proposed nor provided examples. Why not? That would tell us what level of reading difficulty was expected, and whether literary quality was expected by the West Virginia Department of Education.

4. West Virginia students deserve something better than Common Core’s mediocre standards for English language arts.

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