Though the national Common Core state standards will still be used to test Missouri students for the current school year, the process to replace them with standards written by Missourians has begun.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said Friday that groups designated to come up with the new Missouri Learning Standards, as set up by legislation signed by Gov. Jay Nixon in July, will begin meeting later this month in Jefferson City.
Under the new law, the work groups will be made up of “education professionals” named by lawmakers, Nixon, the state education commissioner, the state board of education and others to come up with home-grown standards in English, math, science and history and governments.
For each subject, two groups will meet, one for grades kindergarten through five and the other for grades six through 12. Groups for the lower grades will have 16 members each; a 17th member will be added for the upper grades to represent career and technical education.
DESE said members of the groups include active classroom teachers and parents of school-age children, representing all parts of the state.
They are set to meet on Sept. 22-23, Oct. 2-3 and Oct. 20-21. Only members of the work groups will be allowed to speak at the meetings, though a limited number of spectators from the public will be allowed to attend and will be given comment cards if they wish to leave an opinion.
The new standards are to be submitted to the state board by Oct. 1, 2015. The board would then adopt them for use in the 2016-17 school year. As the groups progress with their work, the state board will be required to hold three hearings, including one when the groups submit their final report. No dates for those hearings have been set.
“We anticipate strong standards from these work groups,” said Commissioner of Education Chris Nicastro in a statement released by DESE. “Our children deserve nothing less as we strive to ensure that each Missouri child graduates college and career ready.”
In a letter sent to lawmakers Friday, Nicastro outlined DESE's progress so far in meeting the requirements of the law. They include seeking professional facilitators for the work groups who have “no prior connection to the development of the current Missouri Learning Standards.”
Her letter concluded: “The department is committed to fulfilling its obligations under this law.”
The law passed in response to criticism that the state board adopted the Common Core standards without sufficient public input or attention. Critics have complained that Missouri should not share standards with other states, preferring a state-centered approach. They have also worried that individual student information collected from the tests could be disseminated improperly.
Backers of the Common Core have disputed those notions. They say that far from being a federal, top-down approach, Common Core was put together by a coalition headed by the nation’s governors, and data collected from test results will be used only in the aggregate, not in any way to identify individual students.
Repeal and reaction
While more than 40 states are moving ahead with Common Core, a few others have voted to repeal and replace them. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has filed suit against the federal government, claiming that the standards effective put states on “a path toward a national curriculum.”
In some states that have voted to drop Common Core and devise their own standards, the results often have looked very similar to the standards being replaced, only with the state’s name and imprint on them.
When he signed the legislation in July – on the final day he had to take action on bills passed by the General Assembly – Nixon said in a statement:
“Over the past several years, we have made significant strides to increase rigor, transparency and accountability in our classrooms and with my signature today, this progress will continue. By continuing to raise our expectations and implement more rigorous standards, we can ensure every Missouri student graduates with the skills needed to compete and win in the global economy.”
Tests to be given this spring will be based on the Missouri Learning Standards, which includes Common Core standards for English and math and state standards for other subjects, including science, social studies, languages, fine arts, health and physical education, guidance and counseling, and career and technical education.
The law specifically says that while the tests based partly on the Common Core may be used in Missouri schools this coming spring, as part of a pilot program, “the results of a statewide pilot shall not be used to lower a public school district's accreditation or for a teacher's evaluation.”
State education officials have said that they want to have three years of data under the latest version of the evaluation program for school districts, known as MSIP5, before making changes in a district’s accreditation status. Scores released last month marked the second year of MSIP5 data, meaning that data from the tests given this coming spring would be the third set of numbers.
A DESE spokeswoman says that while the state board cannot lower a district’s accreditation based on data from the Common Core pilot in the upcoming tests, it believes it could use the numbers to upgrade a district’s accreditation, if the result warrant such a move.
So a district like Jennings, which is now provisionally accredited but scored this year in the full accreditation range, could move into that status if its scores from this coming year maintain that momentum.
The state board has already voted to upgrade the status of Kansas City schools from unaccredited to provisionally accredited, based on two years of scores in the provisional range on the district’s annual performance report. It also has given the new Normandy Schools Collaborative the status of accredited as a state oversight district, though a St. Louis County circuit judge has ruled it acted improperly in doing so.
Who names the work group members?
The new law sets out in detail who will name members of the work groups and what their qualifications should be.
Here is who will make the selections:
- The president pro tempore of the senate will select two parents of children currently enrolled in grades kindergarten through 12 and two education professionals;
- The speaker of the house of representatives will select two parents of children currently enrolled in grades kindergarten through 12 and two education professionals;
- The state board of education will select four education professionals, one each from names submitted by the professional teachers' organizations of the state; a statewide coalition of school administrators; nationally recognized career and technical education student organizations in Missouri; and from the heads of state-approved baccalaureate-level teacher preparation programs located in Missouri;
- A statewide association of Missouri school boards will select one education professional;
- The governor will select one education professional;
- The lieutenant governor will select one education professional;
- The commissioner of higher education will select one education professional.
In a statement from his office that listed some of the people he has nominated to the work groups, state Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles and president pro tem of the Senate, said creating new standards will help make sure Missouri students can meet the state’s challenges.
“We need to prepare our students for postsecondary education and the workplace,” he said. “An educated workforce is vital to business success in our state. Companies will not move to the Show-Me state if we cannot provide qualified employees.
“The workgroups will help us gain a better understanding of appropriate standards for our state. Together parents and qualified teachers can create a rigorous curriculum for our students and maintain a process of openness and transparency.”