West Virginia is transitioning to the new Common Core standards in public education. These standards are supposed to improve the quality of education in the state and provide a basis for accurately comparing our students with those from other states.
However, the shift in how we deliver public education has been beset by a series of problems.
The state Department of Education did a poor job selling the benefits of Common Core to parents, causing confusion and leaving the door wide open for opponents of the new standards to gain momentum. The state Legislature came close to repealing Common Core because of strong objections from constituents.
Teachers, who have been pulled in different directions by changing standards over the years, were not thoroughly instructed on Common Core. That oversight put them in a bind since they and their schools will be evaluated in the future over how well their students master the new standards.
Currently, West Virginia students in grades three through 11 are taking—or preparing to take—their first Common Core standardized tests, called Smarter Balanced Assessment. That’s off to a rocky start.
Students take the tests online, but most schools are limited in the number of computers available and, in some cases, schools have bandwidth issues, making the administration of the tests complicated and time-consuming. One education official, who did not want his name used, told me, “The logistical issues are horrible.”
The state Board of Education, foreseeing some of the problems, opened up the testing window from 30 days to 36 days prior to the end of the term. But even then, it may be difficult to get every student tested. The testing only affects Math and English-Language Arts, but other subjects are impacted by the loss of instructional time.
“It’s a mess,” said West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee, who claims he’s getting an earful from teachers. “We just didn’t think of all this stuff before we threw this out there.”
Meanwhile, in Wayne County some students and their parents are in an open revolt against the Common Core standards. The Huntington Herald-Dispatch reports nearly 200 students at Spring Valley High School have brought notes from their parents saying their children will not take the Smarter Balanced tests because they object to Common Core.
School officials decided to call an assembly to explain the state has no provision to opt out of testing.
The saving grace for the moment is that this year is essentially a trial run on the Smarter Balanced tests. Starting next year, the standardized test scores will be used not only to measure student achievement, but also to evaluate the performance of teachers and their schools.
It’s evident the state Department of Education and our public schools have a lot of work to do before then.