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‘Next Generation’ or not, science standards coming to WV schools

‘Next Generation’ or not, science standards coming to WV schools

Melissa Smith (left), a sixth grade science teacher at Stonewall Jackson Middle School, helps students Desirae Rucker, Brianna Dotson and Braylee Knox work out a problem during class. Smith has been one of the Kanawha County teachers who, as part of a pilot program, has been teaching the Next Generation Science Standards this school year, ahead of their statewide adoption next school year.

For all the controversy involving the West Virginia Board of Education and the Legislature over the state’s adoption of Next Generation Science Standards, which will take effect statewide next school year, the National Science Teachers Association doesn’t recognize that West Virginia actually adopted them.

National Science Teachers Association Executive Director David Evans, whose organization helped develop the standards, said that’s because of West Virginia’s change to just one “performance expectation” in the standards.

Performance expectations — such as “ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century” — are the leading portions of the standards that tell teachers what students must learn to do.

The only alteration to the Next Generation performance expectations the state school board settled on, after retracting previous changes that received even more criticism, was to alter the word “rise” to “change” in that global warming performance expectation, which is for West Virginia sixth graders.

The board also added the words “natural forces” to the previous draft of a performance expectation that now reads “debate climate change as it relates to natural forces, greenhouse gases, human changes in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, and relevant laws and treaties.” But that was a West Virginia-only standard for elective high school environmental science courses.

Evans said not labeling West Virginia a Next Generation-adopting state “doesn’t mean that we’re really finding fault with the new West Virgina standards.” He called the state’s new science standards a “terrific improvement” over its current standards, which aren’t based on Next Generation.

He said the modification won’t change the services his organization provides to Mountain State science teachers, nor will his group develop any Next Generation materials that “wouldn’t be 100 percent appropriate for the teachers of West Virginia.”

“I can’t imagine that it will really make a difference in what teachers teach,” Evans said of the performance expectation change.

As of February, his organization recognized 17 states plus Washington, D.C., as Next Generation standards adopters, and he said West Virginia is one of several more states that have science standards fairly close to Next Generation.

He said his group requires states that want to be labeled Next Generation adopters to adopt all the performance expectations as written, though he noted Michigan is considered an adopter even though it added to some performance expectations to make them more locally relevant. While he said the labeling requirement may seem arbitrary, he said it’s applied uniformly.

How teachers actually teach the standards — and whether the one word changed in that one performance expectation will have any impact — could depend on how much standards training they get, where that training comes from, what’s tested, whether anyone continues to monitor their teaching and what textbooks and other instructional materials they’re using. West Virginia’s standards document itself doesn’t include all the information supporting how the standards were intended to be taught.

The new science standards will be the first to require West Virginia students to learn about climate change in mandatory courses.

Nearly unreported in the national media attention that West Virginia received during the debate over its changes to the global warming performance expectations is the fact that the state school board left much of the Next Generation standards out of the version it adopted.

The state school board put only the performance expectations into its policy, and among the states actually considered Next Generation adopters, there are at least two, Iowa and Michigan, that also only included the performance expectations.

The Next Generation standards blueprint, available online at, includes “clarification statements” for each performance expectation, shown in red.

The clarification statements better explain what the performance expectations mean, but in doing so some include language that could raise even more opposition from fossil fuel supporters and those who deny the overwhelming scientific consensus that human greenhouse gas emissions from energy sources like coal are warming the planet. The clarification statement for the performance expectation about the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures — the performance expectation West Virginia changed — states:

“Examples of factors include human activities (such as fossil fuel combustion, cement production, and agricultural activity) and natural processes (such as changes in incoming solar radiation or volcanic activity). Examples of evidence can include tables, graphs, and maps of global and regional temperatures, atmospheric levels of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, and the rates of human activities. Emphasis is on the major role that human activities play in causing the rise in global temperatures.”

Not only are the clarification statements missing from West Virginia’s policy, but so are the paragraphs of information under the three headings that comprise the Next Generation Science Standards’ so-called three-dimensional learning: Science and Engineering Practices, Disciplinary Core Ideas and Crosscutting Concepts. Evans called the “three-dimensional learning” the “heart” of the Next Generation standards.

“The way you demonstrate completing those performance expectations is intimately tied to all three of those legs of the Next Generation Science Standards stool, if you will,”

One of these Disciplinary Core Ideas under West Virginia’s altered performance expectation reads, in part, “Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming).” The Disciplinary Core Ideas on the Next Generation website are clickable, this one linking to the online Framework for K-12 Science Education by the National Research Council, another partner in creating the Next Generation standards.

Such clarification statements and three-dimensional learning components are missing not just from the controversial global warming standards — over which some lawmakers this year tried to block implementation of all the standards — but from all the science standards in West Virginia’s policy, down to the kindergarten level performance expectations like “Construct an argument supported by evidence for how plants and animals (including humans) can change the environment to meet their needs.” (Missing clarification statement: “Examples of plants and animals changing their environment could include a squirrel digs in the ground to hide its food and tree roots can break concrete.”)

“We try to keep our standards format in alignment with all of our content area policies,” read an email sent in response to the Gazette-Mail’s questions about why the department put only performance expectations in the policy it submitted for the state school board’s approval. Robin Sizemore, science coordinator for the state Department of Education, and Joey Wiseman, the department’s executive director of middle and secondary learning, signed the email.

“The additional items you are speaking [about] are available to assist teachers with the understanding and implementation of the standards and can be found on the NGSS website as a resource,” the email stated.

The department denied the Gazette-Mail’s request for phone interviews. Betty Jo Jordan, executive assistant to State Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano, wrote in an email that department staff had provided several responses to a reporter’s questions and “we believe our previous responses are sufficient and have no further comments.”

A January 2015 Gazette-Mail open records request for communications surrounding changes to the science standards showed that former state school board member Wade Linger, who said he didn’t believe human-influenced climate change is a “foregone conclusion,” asked education department officials to remove the standards’ references to the Framework for K-12 Science Education because it included what he called “social justice” concepts.

“I hope that stuff is not in the standards,” he wrote in an email dated Oct. 1, 2014, to former board President Gayle Manchin, current Vice President Lloyd Jackson, board Operations Director Donna Peduto and Clayton Burch, who’s now the education department’s chief academic officer. “It would be fine for social studies, but not as a science standard.”

“We had both Robin and Teresa comb the policy and the standards — could not find social injustice at all — only mention was in the framework which we are not adopting,” Burch wrote back to Linger around 1 p.m. Oct. 6, 2014.

“Thanks,” Linger wrote in a reply several minutes later. “The term is ‘Social Justice.’ Please ensure that the standards do not reference ‘Social Justice’ through the Framework. I realize that we are not adopting the Framework, but if we leave a reference to it in the standards, the damage will still be done.”

West Virginia’s policy regardless references the framework, though not as extensively as the Next Generation standards online.

When the standards became an issue during this year’s legislative session, Linger said the state school board had already “fixed” the standards regarding climate change.

But Erin Tuttle of the American Principles Project — a think tank that opposes the Common Core standards, the Next Generation Science Standards, gay marriage and other issues — was advising West Virginia lawmakers who wanted to block the standards. She took issue with parts of the standards that aren’t in West Virginia’s policy, noting West Virginia was one of the “lead partners” in developing the standards and, according to its application to aid in the process, allocated state resources toward adopting them before they were finished.

“That’s someone who is die hard wanting to do whatever is going to come out of there,” Tuttle said. “ It’s not that preposterous, you know, that they would implement your Next Generation Science Standards like the rest of the country is implementing the Next Generation Science Standards.”

Tuttle, who said coal states perhaps may not want to “indoctrinate” students with these standards, said, “West Virginia was a partner on it. It’s not like they have a different idea, those were their ideas when they helped write those standards.”

Deb Hemler, a professor who trains science education teachers at Fairmont University and is co-executive director of the state branch of the National Science Teachers Association, said one can’t teach the science standards very well without going to the Next Generation website and viewing the parts of the standards West Virginia’s policy doesn’t include.

She said her organization and Sizemore have been directing teachers to the full version of the standards on the Next Generation website as part of training sessions, and her group and Sizemore have been promoting a “crosswalk” document that helps educators match up the state’s performance expectations with the additional information on the Next Generation website.

“All of that is available online, we just have to do another click to get to it,” Hemler said. “ All of our training does include the three-dimensional learning, we focus all of our professional development and training on that, and so does the state department.”

Hemler, who said she’s helped draft four iterations of science standards for the state since the 1990s, said the trimmed-down version of the standards the state adopted “never ever made me raise an eyebrow” because the state’s always been particular about its standards formatting requirements, something that used to frustrate her.

“It’s not that the state department is trying to withhold,” she said. “It’s not a conspiracy, it’s a formatting thing.”

However, she said she didn’t know why the clarification statements were omitted from the science standards. West Virginia’s math and English language arts standards do include additional clarifying information under many standards.

When asked about what oversight exists to ensure teachers actually teach the standards, state Office of Education Performance Audits Executive Director Susan O’Brien said school principals are supposed to check lesson plans and provide feedback to teachers “on a fairly regular basis.” As for her office, which periodically does reports on schools, O’Brien said the review teams that go into schools are mostly comprised of school principals who can tell when standards aren’t being taught.

Earlier this month, Kanawha County Schools, the state’s largest school district, adopted Discovery Education online-only “techbooks” for middle school science courses next school year. The techbook includes the three-dimensional learning facets — though Rosalie Rhodes, Kanawha’s science curriculum specialist for the middle and high school levels, said she couldn’t recall seeing the clarification statements —and puts the one changed West Virginia performance expectation under the theme of Earth and Space Science, in the unit of “Weather and Climate,” and under the concept of “Anthropogenic Changes.”

“All over the Earth, human (“anthropo”) activity contributes to climate change,” the section reads. “In this concept, you will learn how emissions from the cars we drive, the furnaces or fires that heat our homes, and even the gas passed by the cattle we raise all contribute to the mix.”

And a video teachers can use informs students about the sources of acid rain, smog and the greenhouse effect:

“All three problems have similar sources: the burning of fossil fuels for energy. The United States bears special responsibility for these problems. While the United States only has about 5 percent of the world’s population, U.S. citizens consume 25 percent of all the energy used. Americans are also the source of 17 percent of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.”

It then explains what state and national governments can do to protect the environment.

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

Funerals for Thursday, August 22, 2019

Booth, Paul - 2 p.m., Bartlett-Nichols Funeral Home, St. Albans.

Cummings, David - 1 p.m., Waybright Funeral Home, Ripley.

Gregor, Kathy - 5 p.m., Good Shepherd Mortuary, South Charleston.

Lore, Madge - 11 a.m., Cunningham Memorial Park, St. Albans.

Sanders, Wetzel - 2 p.m., McGhee-Handley Funeral Home, West Hamlin.

Stalnaker, Lillian - 11 a.m., Little Kanawha Memorial Gardens, Flatwoods.