South Carolina officials are not happy with new education standards which will take effect next year, saying the short window the state Education Department had to draft the benchmarks made them worse than the Common Core version they are supposed to replace.
State lawmakers this spring ordered the Department of Education to review the Common Core math standards and English and language arts standards by January 1. The law signed by Gov. Nikki Haley also requires the state Board of Education, Education Oversight Committee (EOC), and state legislature to adopt new standards by the 2015-2016 school year next August. The move came after conservative groups pushed to replace Common Core, which took full effect in the current 2014-2015 year.
But during an EOC briefing on Monday, some of the very people reviewing the new standards insisted the tight timeframe was only making things worse.
“Time was of the element,” said Debbie Barron, a Greenville County specialist who helped review the new English benchmarks. “That perhaps led us to an inferior set of standards.”
Barron said the standards are inconsistent across different grades and there are noticeable gaps in the proposed benchmarks.
In 2010, South Carolina voted to use Common Core benchmarks in English and math. Those new standards took full effect for the first time in August but a backlash soon built against it. Many conservatives, including Education Superintendent Mick Zais, had wanted to use South Carolina-based benchmarks rather than a national version. Eventually, legislators decided in May to replace Common Core. But they admitted there was not enough time to make any changes until next school year.
School District of Pickens County Superintendent Danny Merck, the EOC vice-chairman, warned this meant educators are now dealing with a third set of standards in three years. “We’ve had a different set of standards last year, this year, and next year,” he told committee members. “We need to look at the impact on the overall system.” He said it normally takes three years to draft education standards, while South Carolina is trying to do it in one.
It remains unclear what state leaders will do if they are not happy with the new final version. EOC member State Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, said returning to Common Core to allow for more time to modify the new standards is not an option since state law would not allow it. Fair proposed going back to the state’s 2008 standards, but the committee seemed unwilling to support that idea.
“I have talked with several math people and they feel the (Common Core) standards were a lot more rigorous than the 2008 standards,” said EOC member Barbara Hairfield, a Charleston County learning specialist. “They feel that going back to the 2008 standards would really be taking a step backwards.”
The Board of Education and EOC will have to sign off on the new standards over the next few months before submitting the resolution to the General Assembly. Legislators will then decide whether to allow or reject the standards.
Education Oversight Committee executive director Melanie Barton promised the new standards will be ready in time. “I’ve pledged myself to many of you legislators,” she told members of the committee. “We will work on this and meet (the law’s) requirements… we will get it done.”