House & Senate Debate Future of Education Standards

Mar 22, 2017

Del. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier.
Credit Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

Both the House and Senate are considering bills this year to change the state’s education standards once again. It’s a reoccurring theme at the statehouse since Republican lawmakers took control of the chamber in 2015.

In the Senate, lawmakers have approved a bill that does not replace the current college and career ready standards taught in schools, but calls for a cyclical review of those standards with the input of West Virginia teachers.

In the House, however, the discussion over potential changes is just beginning.

The bill taken up by a House Education subcommittee Wednesday would replace the state’s current standards with Math standards first used in California in 1997 and English standards from Massachusetts in 2001. Members of the subcommittee didn’t make changes to those provisions, but are recommending lawmakers give counties the flexibility to adjust state standards as they see fit.

House Bill 2443 would repeal Common Core standards in West Virginia and replace them with standards from that are almost 20 years old. Common Core, however, was repealed by the West Virginia Board of Education in 2015 and replaced with a new set of standards that were the result of statewide public hearings on the issue.

The five delegates on the K-12 subcommittee had previously discussed allowing counties to take the state’s current standards and make changes to them -- which could potentially result in 55 different sets of education standards in West Virginia. All five members voiced a need for counties to have flexibility in the classroom, but there was some question over how much.

Republican Delegate Steve Westfall of Jackson County questioned Sarah Stuart from the State Department of Education, about the impact of allowing counties to change just 5 or 10 percent of the state standards to address local education needs.

“I do have a little concern, and I’ll express why," Stuart said, "We are required to adhere to ESSA, Every Student Succeeds Act, and under ESSA, it requires that all states to have challenging, academic standards...and they have to be the same for all public schools in the state. So while, I think we could add 10 percent to the barebones standards that we’ve established at the state level...I do have some concerns with changing the standards for different counties just based on the language of ESSA.”

“Okay, so you’re saying... [we] would have a set of standards for all 55 counties, but if Wayne County wants to add a program for whatever; miner training or something, or Jackson County wants to have something for the Toyota plant, something that fills a need, then you could add to it?" Westfall asked.

“Absolutely,” Stuart answered.

Later during discussion, Westfall encouraged his fellow members to recommend to the full committee the importance of having a statewide set of standards, but to allow counties the flexibility to add additional programs where there’s need.

Delegates recommended adding permissive language in the bill to reflect that.

While all five members of the subcommittee voted to move the bill forward to the full committee on Education, some Democrats still expressed concerns about the implementation of the older California and Massachusetts education standards included in the bill, including Delegate Stephen Baldwin of Greenbrier County.

“The standards that we have in place were developed with the input of our teachers and of education stakeholders here, and the real issue? For me is continuity," Baldwin said, "High school seniors right now have been through four sets of standards. If we were to change again, that’s just gonna cause problems in the classroom, and that discontinuity would really affect a student’s ability to learn, much less a teacher’s ability to teach.”

Baldwin, who is a former member of the Greenbrier County School Board, also says he feels the fight over standards is more about curriculum.

“Curriculum is where counties and teachers have the flexibility to make decisions about how they teach what they teach, and standards just set a standard for what students ought to learn," Baldwin noted, "So I think those standards for what students ought to learn should be statewide standards, and then teachers and counties should have flexibility through their curriculum to figure out what’s best for them about how to learn that.”

Delegate Upson, who’s a sponsor of House Bill 2443, says teachers in her county want more flexibility when it comes to standards.

“Anytime that you give the state more control and you push that down to the local level, and you give counties the option to kind of decide what standards and assessments best meet the students that they serve," Upson explained, "Now, I know that because of the Every Student Succeeds Act, we have to have a uniform assessment, but I have gotten feedback from teachers in the Eastern Panhandle that we just mandate too much from in Charleston, and so they would like to see a lot more flexibility and control at the local level.”

House Bill 2443 has also been second referenced to House Finance, and Delegate Upson says the House will likely consider the Senate’s version of the bill which has already been approved by the chamber.