- Associated Press - Thursday, December 17, 2015

CLINTON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi education officials are considering minor tweaks to the state’s academic standards, nothing like the wholesale rejection sought by opponents of the Common Core-linked standards.

The state Board of Education voted Thursday to seek public comment on proposed changes, and the board could approve the proposal in January.

With Gov. Phil Bryant and some lawmakers opposing the learning guidelines, state Superintendent Carey Wright launched a voluntary review over the summer. The department took comments on specific standards for 90 days, with a panel of teachers, professors and parents crafting proposed changes.

Any changes would take effect in the fall of 2016.

Wright strongly supports what are officially known as the Mississippi College and Career-Ready Standards. Like other Common Core-derived academic standards, they are intended to provide national benchmarks for math and reading while helping students learn more analytically and less by memorization.

“It’s paying off for Mississippi,” Wright said, rejecting a return to the state’s old standards. “To go back to something that was failing is just not prudent.”

Opponents of Common Core say the standards are flawed and Mississippi adopted them only because of inappropriate federal pressure. Opponents have also criticized the comment process, saying it didn’t provide a broad enough window to criticize the standards.

Chief Academic Officer Kim Benton rejected the idea that the standards dictate instruction, although they’re used to determine standardized tests and the structure of high school math and English classes.

“They’re not a prescribed curriculum or a set of instructional methods you must use in the classroom,” Benton told the board. “They’re not a ceiling on boys and girls can be taught across the state. They do provide a foundation.”

The proposed changes are mostly small. For example, the revisions would add requirements that first grade students learning coin denominations, how to count using money and how to use a calendar. The revisions also make clear that Mississippi students should learn cursive writing starting in third grade.

The biggest changes in the math standards involve moving some concepts that had been taught in algebra I into math courses later in high school.

But there would be few changes to kindergarten standards, despite concerns that too much academic work has been crammed into that grade.

“We held to the anchor standards we had,” said Ashley Chisum, who teaches fourth and fifth grade in Pearl and is a member of the task force.

As in other states, the standards have been a political football in Mississippi. Gov Phil Bryant vetoed a bill that would have created a 15-member commission to recommend changes to the Board of Education, saying it didn’t do enough to end Common Core. At that point, Wright proposed the voluntary review.

Opposition to Common Core remained a factor in Republican legislative primaries this year. It’s not clear, though, whether the state’s top leaders want deeper changes than what the board is proposing. Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn of Clinton did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.

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Online: Mississippi academic standards: http://mississippi.statestandards.com/

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Follow Jeff Amy at: http://twitter.com/jeffamy. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/author/jeff-amy

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