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Common Core debate comes to Huntington


The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The debate surrounding Common Core standards in West Virginia was far from over Thursday night at Marshall University.

A town hall meeting regarding Common Core provided the opportunity for about 100 people to submit questions to a panel of state and local teachers, education officials and experts, as a part of a statewide evaluation of the standards by the West Virginia Department of Education called West Virginia Academic Spotlight.

The meeting was one of a series of town hall meetings to discuss the Common Core standards, which have been adapted to create West Virginia’s Next Generation standards, in the wake of a legislative challenge to repeal the standards earlier this year.

The goal of the event was to provide information about Next Generation to members of the public and encourage them to participate in the ongoing evaluation of the standards.

Panelists, including teachers and education officials, largely spoke in favor of the standards when asked, which was informative but considered to be misleading by two local politicians who have been vocal in their opposition of the standards, Del. Jim Butler, R-Mason, and Del. Michael Moffat, R-Putnam.

Questions about specific subjects, like handwriting and math, data and privacy, and communication between teachers and staff in the education system and parents of the students they teach were submitted to and addressed by the panel.

Those questions that were not addressed during the meeting would be addressed on the state department of education’s website.

Organizers aimed to ensure the difference between standards and curriculum as they pertained to Next Generation were clear, even as one person questioned how standards and curriculum could be separated.

“The standards are goals,” said Kristin Sobotka, a ninth-grade English Language Arts teacher at Cabell Midland High School. “How you reach those goals, that’s your curriculum. Every ninth-grade English teacher may find a different vehicle to get to those goals. We may share the same anchor texts, but we’ve got a different way of teaching those units. It’s the same goal, just a different vehicle to get there.”

When a question about the issue of data collection and privacy arose, Clayton Burch, chief academic officer for the state, said West Virginia has some of the most stringent data privacy laws in the country, and those laws are included in the contracts the state makes with testing agencies.

To that end, Barbara Zingg, a math teacher at Washington High School in Jefferson County, West Virginia, said she wanted to be sure people strictly were addressing the standards, as opposed to government involvement and data mining, when talking about Next Generation.

“It’s essential you separate the conversation about the standards from the conversation about other aspects,” Zingg said. “We’re focused on the standards. The goals we are setting for students in West Virginia, those are valid goals that will prepare them for the rest of their lives. If you can eliminate the stuff on the outside and just look at the standards that we are asking our students to be able to know and do, that’s what we support. We support the goals and standards.”

Del. Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell, serves on the House Education Committee, and he was in attendance at Thursday’s meeting.

He agreed with the other delegates that the meeting was pro-Next Generation, but he said it underlined the need for the debate to continue.

He said he couldn’t predict what would happen during the next legislative session, but overall he has been encouraged by the debate.

“It’s a confusing subject for those of us who are not trained educators,” Rohrbach said. ” I suspect, as is the case in most fights in the legislature, the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle. I think those of us up there are trying to figure out where the middle is.”

Sybolt said he left the meeting with mixed feelings.

“The teachers did a good job explaining some of the benefits,” he said. “But there were also some detriments that weren’t covered. It was a good presentation for a pro-Common Core group, but with so many of the questions imposed by writing and not being able to follow up, that was detrimental to the conversation.”

Butler said he felt the meeting was helpful in clarifying some information about the standards, but he did not feel like the matter was hashed out as well as it could have been.

The state department of education is accepting feedback on the standard on the Academic Spotlight website until Wednesday, Sept. 30.

The department is seeking actionable suggestions about the standards, and those interested in providing feedback can do so at


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