West Virginia public school students would be required to continue practicing cursive through middle school, instead of that mandate ending in fourth grade, under proposed English learning standard changes.
The requirement to learn how to type on a computer would end earlier, in fifth grade, rather than sixth.
And juniors and seniors would no longer have to learn about at least one Shakespeare play and one play by an American dramatist.
The state Board of Education decided Wednesday to place these and other proposed English standards changes out for public comment until 4 p.m. June 12. After that, the board will vote on whether to finally enact the proposals, reject them or modify them.
You can read and comment on these proposed changes to Policy 2520.1A at wvde.state.wv.us/policies.
Links to this and proposed policy changes regarding other issues are in the blue box at the top of that page. The board also posted proposed preschool-related changes, in Policy 2525, for public comment for 30 days.
Board members also approved a search timeline for a new superintendent of the Schools for the Deaf and the Blind. Unlike most public schools, those Romney schools aren’t overseen by a county school board.
The state board plans to pick that new superintendent on July 8.
Board members approved the timeline after emerging from a roughly 20-minute closed session. They claimed exemptions from the state open meetings laws to discuss personnel matters or things possibly involving attorney-client privilege.
The schools’ current superintendent of administration, Mark Gandolfi, left the position Friday. Gandolfi is now the comptroller of the city of Cumberland, Maryland.
All votes Wednesday were voice votes with no nays heard. It was an online meeting.
The proposed English standards changes would leave the learning requirements mostly the same. Among the changes: Throughout the policy, specific examples of what teachers could teach to help students meet the standards would be cut.
The new proposal would expand the cursive standard into fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Teachers could teach traditional cursive or something 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, a lead coordinator in the state Department of Education’s Office of Middle and Secondary Learning, said that, ideally, there still won’t be direct instruction in cursive in middle schools if the changes pass.
“I think the emphasis there is not the word teaching so much as the continued practice,” Lemon said. “Ideally, a student has mastered cursive handwriting in those early years.”
She also noted that middle schoolers read social studies source documents that are written in cursive.
As for the Shakespeare requirement being cut, Lemon said “we’re thinking of it as opening curriculum options.”
“So teachers may choose to do as many Shakespearean works as they want,” she said. “They may want to do excerpts.”
But they could, if the changes pass, teach none.
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 would stay, but Shakespeare’s words would no longer be required to be studied as part of it.
Shakespeare, and at least one American dramatist, which the teacher could pick, would also be removed 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.”
Regarding removing the typing learning requirement in sixth grade, Lemon said “I would hope that, at any point, that if we have a student who missed a standard in a previous year, that we would remediate.”
West Virginia’s English standards are largely still based on the Common Core national standards blueprint.
When the board last amended the English standards, near the end of 2015, the board, and education officials in other states, were still seeing attempts to repeal Common Core. In West Virginia, Republicans, having taken over both chambers of the state Legislature for the first time in about 80 years, had pushed bills targeting the standards.
In late 2015, then-state schools superintendent Michael Martirano and current superintendent Burch, who was chief academic officer back then, presented the changes as being further away from Common Core than they actually were. Burch called the changes back then a “complete overhaul.”
Regardless, the 2015 changes did add something Common Core didn’t have: the requirement to learn cursive.
Despite some more legislative attacks against the standards after those changes, the learning requirements have survived to this day.