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Editorial: State needs rigorous school standards

From The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington, W.Va.:

There was good news and bad news in the 2015 Nation’s Report Card results released this week.

West Virginia was one of the few states to show some progress in reading on the national assessment that looks at how 4th-graders and 8th-graders are doing across the country. But the Mountain State, as well as Ohio and Kentucky, saw their math scores follow the national trend and decline.

Those mixed results will certainly add another level of complexity to the ongoing debate over West Virginia’s public school standards.

Over the past few years, the state has been implementing its Next Generation standards, based on the Common Core initiative launched in 2010 by the National Governors Association. Those standards have become a political “hot potato,” with some Republican lawmakers working to repeal the standards completely and state education leaders who recommend keeping the rigorous standards with some possible adjustments.

The stakes are high, because regardless of the ups and downs, West Virginia is below the national average on all of the key measures.

But the 2015 results did show West Virginia 8th-graders gaining four percentage points in reading, and 4th-graders gained a point, too. That progress raises real questions about the wisdom of throwing out the state standards and starting over.

On the other hand, the declines in math will resonate with those who oppose Common Core and many parents who have complained about how the curriculum has been implemented. The new approaches in math stress concepts more than just the formulas and multiplication tables memorized by older generations.

That makes sense because today’s students have a world of computers to do the calculations, but they need to understand how math can be utilized to innovate and solve problems. Unfortunately, those changes in instruction have left too many parents out of the loop. When their children need help with homework, they are unable to provide much help.

Clearly, changes are needed on the math front, if not in the goals of what students learn, at least in way the curriculum is handled and how parents are engaged.

But lawmakers need to understand the risks of repealing the state schools standards without a solid plan for improvement. That upheaval could cause setbacks in the areas where students are making progress, and our state cannot afford to fall further behind.

West Virginia students need more rigorous standards, and not just for a better showing on the Nation’s Report Card, although that would not hurt.

They need a stronger curriculum so they do not have to take remedial courses to get started in college or community college, so they have the educational foundation for training in the modern workplace and so they can build a brighter future in West Virginia.

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