- Associated Press - Friday, November 13, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The West Virginia Department of Education on Friday suggested dropping and replacing educational standards based on Common Core, beset by growing political pressure from Republican lawmakers to nix them.

On Friday, state schools Superintendent Michael Martirano recommended getting rid of the K-12 Next Generation Standards for math and English, and implementing new standards. He also recommended less testing.

The proposed change comes after months of community feedback and findings from West Virginia University sought by the department. New standards would give teachers more autonomy and flexibility, and emphasize problem-solving skills related to college, careers and life-needed skills, a department news release said.

“I remain solely committed to high quality standards for our students and teachers,” Martirano said in the release. “These proposed new standards not only increase rigor, but also provide the groundwork to ensure our students are equipped with the skills needed for college, careers and the 21st century world of work.”

The proposal comes ahead of a state legislative session starting in January in which Republican legislative leaders have said repealing Common Core would be a top priority. Senate President Bill Cole, a Mercer County Republican running for governor, has campaigned on the issue.

“It’s clear from these survey results that West Virginians have a serious concern with the Next Generation standards, and furthermore, do not want them to be in our schools,” Cole said in a statement. “I hope the State Board of Education takes these results to heart.”

During their first legislative session in charge in more than eight decades, Republican lawmakers failed to peel away the standards this year, due in part to a $128 million price tag that the department initially estimated for the repeal.

Department of Education spokeswoman Kristin Margolin Anderson said the last fiscal note estimated a $1.5 million cost, factoring in a longer review period and other topics, including assessments.

The community review process ultimately ended up costing about $300,000, in part because of help from West Virginia University, Anderson said.

The standards were adopted in West Virginia in May 2010, and were put in place in increments until they were fully implemented in 2014-15.

Common Core was developed by governors and state school officials from both parties, and President Barack Obama’s administration backed the standards and developed incentives. They spell out what reading, math and critical thinking skills students should grasp, while leaving how those skills are learned to school districts and states.

Some of the specifics in the new standards would include: handwriting instruction in grades K-4, and mention of cursive writing instruction in grades 2 and 3; expectation for students to learn multiplication tables by the end of grade 3; and standards for calculus, with the expectation that calculus be available to all students.

Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said in March that he supported maintaining the standards to measure year-to-year student learning. On Friday, his spokesman said students need standards to prepare them for their next career steps.

“Although the proposal passed by the state school board today changes some of the specifics, the governor has confidence that the state will maintain high-quality standards,” said Tomblin spokesman Chris Stadelman.

On Friday, Martirano also recommended eliminating social studies testing in all grades and science testing in grades 3, 5, 7, 8, 9 and 11, in addition to dropping other assessments. Those changes will likely be brought to the school board by spring 2016.

The state education board could vote in December on the change to educational standards.

The testing and standards changes will be open for public comment for 30 days.

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