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W.Va. Department of Education wants less standardized testing

The West Virginia Department of Education wants the state school board to, at least temporarily, reduce statewide standardized testing and allow math classes to be taught in the order they were before the movement to Common Core-based standards.

At Thursday’s board meeting, the department plans to recommend allowing schools to eliminate social studies standardized testing in all grades — ending about a decade-long streak of testing in that subject, said department spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro. It also will request that science standardized testing be done only in grades four, six and 10, instead of grades three through 11.

The department also will recommend that county school boards be allowed to choose between continuing to offer the “integrated” high school math courses of Math I, II and III, which were implemented in anticipation of West Virginia’s new Common Core-based math standards this year, or revert to the traditional classes of Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II.

According to Thursday’s board agenda, the requests for stopping social studies testing this spring and reducing science testing are based on “continued comments from superintendents, principals, teachers, students, parents, [and] legislators about the amount of testing required of students.”

The requests also are based on the fact that, unlike math and English/language arts, neither subject is a factor for state accountability to the federal Department of Education, and the department expects that the changes would decrease the time schools must commit to the exams and reduce “disruptions to instructional time.” Cordeiro said states must provide math and English/language arts testing data to the federal government to be eligible for Title I funds, which go to schools with high numbers of free- and reduced-lunch students.

The department argues that this year’s remaining standardized math and English/language arts tests might, regardless, “require students to use science and social studies content as they solve problems, read informational text or primary documents, etc.”

If approved by the school board, the waiver would last only for this year and would have to be renewed for further years, Cordeiro said.

The eighth-grade West Virginia Golden Horseshoe exam would remain because it’s not part of the regular standardized social studies test.

The math class waiver would go into effect next school year and also would have to be renewed for further years.

The Gazette asked Cordeiro to speak with Michele Blatt, chief accountability and performance officer, and Clayton Burch, chief academic officer, about the recommendations, but neither called a reporter.

Teachers, parents and others in education have been commenting for some time that there is too much testing required for students. When asked why the department is just now recommending stepping back on standardized testing, Cordeiro said, “We’re looking at the big picture, and this is a time when we have a lot of high-stakes accountability.”

Cordeiro said she hasn’t heard any conversations within the department saying that its recommendation to relax social studies and science testing is to help teachers better focus on math and English/language arts for the new standardized test that is replacing the Westest this spring. Statewide math and English/language arts proficiency rates dropped in the last school year from 2012-13.

The integrated math courses — which the high-ranking Putnam County school district had requested a single-county waiver from — each combine algebra and geometry topics, alongside “trigonometry and data and statistics,” according to the agenda request.

Putnam Schools Superintendent Chuck Hatfield told the school board last month that his district actually started teaching the integrated classes in the 2012-13 school year — earlier than the state required.

Since that time, Hatfield said, the district has lost three “top-notch” math teachers as a result of their opposition to the required course structure. Before integrated math, 68 percent of Putnam ninth-graders were at mastery level or above, but that amount dropped to 56 percent under the new structure. Other Putnam students also saw drops.

Hatfield said that, in October, 27 teachers — about 90 percent of the county’s secondary math teachers — attended a meeting about their concerns, saying the course structure neglected geometry.

Trigonometry, probability and statistics concepts were “short-changed or even nonexistent,” and the average to below-average students struggled in the courses, which were designed only for college-bound students and do not include review of prior concepts, the teachers said. All voted to request a return to the old math teaching model.

The state Board of Education will meet at 10 a.m. Thursday in the Capitol Room of Building 7 on the Capitol Complex, in Charleston. If necessary, the meeting will continue on Friday at 9 a.m. at the same location.

Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazette.com, 304-348-1254 or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.

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