West Virginia students must continue practicing cursive through middle school, instead of just through fourth grade, and juniors and seniors won’t have to learn about at least one Shakespeare play, the state Board of Education decided Wednesday.
The requirement to learn how to type on a computer will also now end earlier, in fifth grade, rather than sixth.
The state school board placed these and some other proposed English learning standards changes out for public comment in May.
The board gave final approval Wednesday for the changes, in a voice vote with no nays heard. The state Department of Education said 21 people provided official comments on the proposals.
The cursive standard will expand into fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Teachers can teach traditional cursive or a style called joined italics, which allows students to pick up their pens or pencils while writing a word, though letters must still be connected.
Andrea Lemon, an Office of Middle and Secondary Learning lead coordinator in the department, previously said that there ideally still won’t be direct cursive instruction in middle schools — instead, “continued practice” would be emphasized.
Throughout the policy, specific examples of what teachers could teach to help students meet the standards will be cut. But Shakespeare was the rare required author, and that will be cut, too.
The current standards that require Shakespeare include one requiring students to “determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the literary text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful.”
That standard will stay, but Shakespeare’s words will no longer be required to be studied as part of it.
Shakespeare, plus at least one American dramatist, which the teacher could always pick, will also be dropped from this standard: “Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production of a play or recorded novel or poetry), evaluating how each version interprets the source text.”
Heidi Zumbrunnen, Wheeling Park High’s English department chair, commented that “some may elect to not incorporate him at all which would be a disservice to our students as they study nuances of language.”
Brian O’Neel, a parent, commented that “I have an idea! Let’s make public education in West Virginia even more of a laughingstock in the mind of the entire planet by taking away the requirement to read one — just one — measly Shakespeare play. Yeah, that’s the ticket!”
“Shakespeare is arguably the foundation of Western literature and thus our culture,” O’Neel wrote. “No playwright has had his works produced more, either as plays or as movies. No artist has had such an incredible impact. So many of the idioms we use, so many of our ideas and words we employ, they come from this man’s pen.”
The department wrote in its response to these comments that “this revision provides greater teacher autonomy in the selection of dramas and other literary works for student study. Instructional resources, such as texts, are adopted at the county level. As the instructional leader of their classrooms, teachers are best suited to make curricular decisions to meet the learning needs and interests of their students including which authors and texts to study.”
Jan Barth, the department’s assistant superintendent over the Division of Teaching and Learning, said “I might want to teach Dante, I might want to teach Homer, I might want to teach Shakespeare.”
“Whatever I want to do, I should be able to teach that in the classroom,” Barth said. “So we tried to leave that broad and open to the teacher creativity.”
Also Wednesday, the board changed its officers.
Vice President Miller Hall, the board’s only Black member, was selected as the next president. Financial Officer Tom Campbell became vice president, and Scott Rotruck took his spot as financial officer. No other board members were nominated for these positions, there was little discussion after the nominations were made. The board approved the selections in voice votes with no nays heard.
Outgoing president Dave Perry nominated Hall to replace him. Perry had served two consecutive terms, the most allowed by state law.