State Board of Education considers policy that would trim social studies

A Westside High School student receives his diploma during a June commencement ceremony in Clear Fork in June. (Register-Herald file photo) 

The West Virginia Board of Education (WVBE) voted Wednesday to place two policies on public comment providing additional flexibility to counties in scheduling, allowing for personalization of students’ graduation requirements, while also ensuring consistent measures for school and district accountability.

This is the third time in three years that the state board has proposed a change in graduation standards.

Effectively, the state board is cutting the required number of social studies credits a student must have – from four to three – to graduate. The policy, as proposed, also allows counties to have students study American history in one course, not two.

The WVBE unanimously voted Wednesday to place "Policy 2510, Assuring the Quality of Education: Regulations for Education Programs" on a public comment period during its monthly meeting in Charleston. Often thought of as the WVBE’s flagship policy, Policy 2510 still requires 22 credits for high school graduation but divides those credits between prescribed and personalized.

Tega Toney, an Oak Hill High School teacher who is also the president of the American Federation of Teachers in Fayette County, and Vice President of American Federation of Teachers for West Virginia, is pushing back. Under the proposed policy, she said, social studies courses and requirements would undergo significant structural changes. 

In today's world, unrest and conflict make daily headlines, Toney said, and the way to understand the world, decipher today's issues, analyze complicated events and the ramifications of those events, and to develop sound solutions to complex problems is to immerse one's self in more social studies and humanities courses, not less, she added. 

"These courses are vital to studying and understanding complex issues on the global, national, state and local levels," Toney said. "Critical thinking and analysis play crucial roles in social studies. Every person encounters things every day that are skills covered in social studies courses. 

"These courses are some of the most relevant courses in the school curriculum, and lessening the requirement and the exposure to these courses will directly affect our students' skill sets." 

Toney added today's social studies students are tomorrow's citizens.

"What could be more important than getting solid foundation in citizenship that is applicable to everyone's daily lives?," she asked. "Also, fundamentally, we should not be lowering standards and requiring less to graduate." 

Public educators and parents, would like a high bar and rigorous expectations, Toney added, and believes lowering credits required for graduation goes in the opposite direction. 

According to the WVBE's proposal, 10 credits are prescribed including two each in math, English language arts (ELA), social studies and science, as well as one physical education and one health credit. The remaining 12 credits are personalized credits individualized to each student based on their personalized education plan.

Those credits include two each in math and ELA, one each in social studies, science and arts, four personalized credits based on students’ post-secondary plans and a new flex credit. The flex credit allows students to choose either a career technical education (CTE) course, computer science course and an additional social studies or science course.

“When revising Policy 2510, our goal was to provide counties with as much flexibility as possible to personalize education for each student based on their goals,” West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steven Paine said. “This added flexibility will empower counties to be innovative in scheduling and allow students to take course work that is most relevant to their future plans.”

The proposed policy also requires all schools to implement a comprehensive career exploration middle school experience beginning in July 2021, WVVBE officials reported. This experience may include but is not limited to CTE foundational courses, stand-alone career exploration courses, mini-courses, field trips, guest speakers and career mentors.

“Exposing students to CTE late in high school will no longer fill the pipeline with the level of skilled workers needed in our state,” West Virginia Board of Education President David Perry said. 

Under the new policy, all public high schools and middle schools must offer a full-time virtual school option for grades 6-12 either through the West Virginia Virtual School program at the state level or through a county virtual school offering.

“Policy 2510 is the flagship State Board policy. The revisions represent our beliefs in providing more flexibility to counties and personalization of learning for students,” Perry said. “I applaud the work that has gone into the suggested revisions, which are consistent with feedback and recommendations from a variety of stakeholders including educators, parents, principals, county chief instructional leaders, superintendents and educator associations.”

Superintendent Jeff Bryant of Greenbrier County Schools told The Register-Herald officials in his county plan to review the policy carefully before making a decision on how they want to move forward. 

"It's on our radar," Bryant said. "We want all the students in our county to have a good quality and thorough education, and we want every single parent, student, teacher or any educational official to provide us with their input before we form a strong opinion on this. 

"Once we garther all of their ideas, we will move forward on how we want this policy to be in our county," he said. 

Although Bryant said they haven't formed a strong opinion on the matter just yet, there is something he is positive about. 

"We really appreciate the State Board allowing for more flexibility at the county level, that's something we have been wanting," he said. 

The WVBE also unanimously voted to place Policy 2322, West Virginia System of Support and Accountability on public comment, officials reported. The proposed policy revises the accountability system for public schools and districts and presents an aligned set of expectations to transform schools into outcome-focused and accountable learning organizations.

The revised policy also outlines responsibilities for county board of education members as they relate to accountability for student outcomes in their districts. Finally, Policy 2322 now incorporates Policy 2200, Local School Improvement Councils (LSICs), which provides guidance to engage parents, families and communities in continuous improvement.

WVBE officials are encouraging all stakeholders to review each policy and provide comments by visiting http://wvde.state.wv.us/policies/.

— Email: jnelson@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @jnelsonRH

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