- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The state Board of Education on Wednesday approved a timeline that calls for the final OK to come in March for new math and reading benchmarks for South Carolina students.

The tight turnaround for replacing Common Core standards relies on panels that are writing the new ones to turn in drafts by mid-October, and that South Carolina’s college and technical boards certify them as adequately preparing students for life beyond high school.

The vote followed hours of debate over whether directions the panels received from state Department of Education officials abide by state law.

That law, signed May 30, calls for new math and reading standards next school year following a review of current standards, which are Common Core.

Board Chairman Barry Bolen contends that means the process must begin with Common Core. A resolution stating that eventually failed.

Superintendent Mick Zais countered there will be no simple tweaking of Common Core standards, but they will be among those considered.

“Let’s focus on the outcome and not micromanage the process,” he said. “We’re not editing Common Core.”

Common Core outlines what skills students in kindergarten through 12th grade should learn to be ready for college and careers, replacing standards that varied state-to-state. South Carolina adopted in 2010 the standards that are being fully implemented in classrooms this school year. Under the law, they must change again when students start school next August.

Many legislators who approved the compromise saw it as only stepping up a review process that would have occurred later anyway.

Bolen said he’s concerned that standards written from scratch in less than three months won’t be certified as getting students “college and career ready,” as required to maintain the state’s waiver from the all-or-nothing provisions of No Child Left Behind. Without that waiver, the state would lose control over much of its federal money for high-poverty schools.

“I’m just trying to avoid a train wreck” in January, Bolen said. That’s when the timeline calls for initial approval from the board.

Both the state Board of Education and the independent Education Oversight Committee must approve any changes to the standards. The oversight agency will create its own panels - made up of educators and community and business leaders - which will review what the writing panels create. Its review will include comparing the drafted standards to Common Core.

Education Oversight Committee director Melanie Barton said her agency’s focus will be on making sure the new standards are deemed “college and career ready,” which means a student who meets them won’t need remediation after graduating. South Carolina educators have never before approached writing standards under that definition.

“I have full confidence that the writers know what ‘college and career ready’ means,” Zais said.

According to the Education Oversight Committee, 41 percent of students who graduate from a public high school require math and reading remediation in South Carolina’s two-year colleges.

The Education Oversight Committee is seeking input on current standards through an online survey. The survey will close at the end of September.

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