The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

September 2, 2013

West Virginia Next Generation Standards: A state superintendent’s perspective

Dr. James B. Phares
Guest Column

— I believe that if we raise expectations, our students and educators will rise to meet those expectations. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS), what we call West Virginia Next Generation Content Standards and Objectives (CSOs), are supported by the Governor’s Office, legislative leadership and the West Virginia Board of Education (WVBE) but more importantly they clearly embody what parents, students, educators, legislators and the business community have demanded: an improved education system that prepares students for college and the workforce.

If you say “beware of Common Core State Standards” then I say beware “if West Virginia retreats from its commitment to the West Virginia Next Generation Content Standards and Objectives.” These standards are a critical step forward in providing all of West Virginia’s students with the first-rate education they deserve.

As an educator I have witnessed young children begin their musical careers on a recorder. “Mary Had a Little Lamb” resonating from classrooms is common place. As time goes by, these same students graduated to other instruments and began tapping out Tchaikovsky. Teachers raised the bar for these students and their musical talents excelled.

That’s exactly what the West Virginia Next Generation CSOs do. They set a high bar for our students. They ensure that West Virginia’s children are equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to thrive in both college and career and compete in a global economy.

West Virginia, along with 45 other states, voluntarily adopted the standards. The state has never relinquished control of public education to the federal government, and local school boards retain their same level of authority as they had prior to the adoption of the standards in 2010. They were developed by a thoughtful and transparent process led by the National Governors Association (NGA) and Council for Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The process relied on teachers, experts from across the country (including West Virginians), and feedback from key stakeholders and the general public. NGA and CCSSO received nearly 10,000 comments in response to the draft standards, which were incorporated into the final standards. Before the WVBE adopted the standards, they were discussed in various public forums and released for public comment as part of the policy development process.

The (standards) draw from the best existing education practices in the country and are benchmarked to the top performing nations around the world, ensuring that West Virginia students, through the implementation of the West Virginia Next Generation CSOs, are well prepared to compete with their peers abroad for the jobs of the future. This means our students will be held to the same high standards that are in place in other states. Our students’ academic opportunities will be based on their effort to take advantage of a higher bar and will not be hindered by where they live.

The standards reflect the real-world expectations of what is necessary for students to succeed in postsecondary education and the workforce, including critical thinking, problem solving, and effective communication skills. To this end, the West Virginia Next Generation CSOs were developed using evidence that includes scholarly research; surveys on what skills are required of students entering college and workforce training programs; and assessment data identifying college and career-ready performance, among other data. By adopting these standards, West Virginia will be on track with national college and career readiness exams. The nation currently monitors the math and English language arts achievement of a sample of fourth, eighth and 12th graders on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The West Virginia Next Generation CSOs closely correlate with that exam. Also, the ACT exam is being revised to reflect the CCSS.  They are a set of goals that outline what students should be able to know and do in each grade in English and math.

It is also important to note that the CCSS and the West Virginia Next Generation CSO are standards and not a curriculum. Decisions about how to teach the standards, such as curriculum, tools, materials and textbooks, are left to local decision-makers and the teachers who know their students best.

Also note that no personal student data is going to be shared or sold to vendors. This myth must be debunked immediately. The WVBE and the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) do not turn over student Personally Identifiable Information. The WVDE has always strictly adhered to privacy and confidentiality requirements and has a history of erring on the side of extreme caution with respect to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. West Virginia will not collect household income, religious affiliation, biometric data, medical records, hobbies, etc. Nor will there be any linking of our data with other states’ data.

The WVBE and WVDE as well as school districts across the state have invested real time and resources in preparing teachers and administrators for the West Virginia standards. Regional Educational Service Agencies (RESAs) have trained more than 4,000 teachers on the standards through a series of regional professional development sessions.  In turn, those teachers will train the remaining 20,000 West Virginia teachers with professional development opportunities in the home counties. In addition to providing training and information through several webinars, conferences and meetings across the state, embedded classroom professional development is about to take place in every classroom this fall.

Our teachers are working hard to raise the bar. We must all stand with them as they seek to improve our educational system.

(Phares is superintendent of West Virginia schools.)