CHARLESTON — For the third time in three years, West Virginia Board of Education members are proposing a change in the credits students need to graduate from high school.
In general, state school board members want to give elected county school boards more choice in that area.
State board members, in a voice vote Wednesday with no nays heard, placed the proposals out for public comment until Jan. 24, 2020. The proposals should be available to read online and comment on by the end of this week.
Among the board’s new proposals is one it previously abandoned — reducing the number of social studies credits required to graduate from four to three.
The policy would allow counties to essentially force students to study all of American history in one course rather than two.
The proposals also would let counties allow students who don’t want to take generally harder Advanced Placement courses to avoid taking World Studies. The proposal seems to no longer require counties to even offer World Studies.
But Joey Wiseman, executive director of the state Department of Education’s Office of Middle and Secondary Learning, said that’s not the intent, and the proposal will be clarified to require counties to at least offer World Studies.
West Virginia decided in 2015 to stop statewide standardized testing in social studies. Two years ago, state school board members proposed reducing the required number of social studies credits, but they reversed course after state officials said public comments were overwhelmingly against the change.
“What we found in our social studies curriculum is we teach the same concepts a couple of different times in the sequence of courses,” state Schools Superintendent Steve Paine said Wednesday.
Wiseman said eighth-grade’s West Virginia Studies course covers the state’s place in the state and world.
Paine said students, instead of a fourth social studies course, may prefer taking a computer science class or some other class they’re interested in for their future.
Here’s how the social studies requirements would be affected in the proposed changes to Policy 2510, one of the board’s most important policies.
Since at least 2016, the state Department of Education and the board have pushed a course called U.S. Studies Comprehensive, intended to cover all of U.S. history in one course.
Previously, students had to take U.S. Studies, which has learning standards covering history up to World War I, and then Contemporary Studies, which is essentially what’s left out of U.S. Studies.
But the teaching of U.S. history through two separate courses was weakened by revisions to the policy in 2016. Further weakening was proposed in 2017, but those proposals were recanted.
In the new proposal, U.S. Studies Comprehensive would be required for graduation.
Students would, however, still be able to avoid taking it if they take both U.S. Studies and Contemporary Studies. But the state wouldn’t require counties to offer that path.
Students could also skip Comprehensive and the two-course pathway by taking any social studies course that’s Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate. They wouldn’t even have to be U.S. history.
But Wiseman, again, said this wasn’t the intent and will be clarified. He said only AP U.S. History is meant to be able to replace Comprehensive or the two-course pathway.
AP and IB are generally harder courses that allow students to earn college credits for performing well enough. Historically, South Charleston High School has been the only public school in the state to offer IB.
Currently, students also must take either Civics or AP U.S. Government and Politics.
In the proposal, Civics would still be required, though it could also be substituted by any social studies AP or IB course. Wiseman, however, said the intent was still to only allow AP U.S. Government and Politics to replace it.
Currently, students must also take World Studies or any AP social studies course to replace it.
In the proposal, the requirement for students to take it would be nixed.
A third social studies credit would still be required to graduate, but what could fulfill it would be wide open — not just AP social studies courses, but non-AP ones like economics, financial literacy, psychology, sociology or taking four years of the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps program.
Currently, a fourth social studies credit is required, and any social studies course can fill it, but the proposal would cut that.
It also would nix requirements that counties offer economics and geography, in addition to no longer requiring U.S. Studies or Contemporary Studies.
The proposal would create a new requirement for one “Flex Credit.” But that could be fulfilled with not just any social studies credit, but a science credit, computer science credit or a “Career and Technical Education Foundational Course.”
“Collaboration with stakeholders over the last 5-10 years has resulted in many changes,” the proposed policy states. “The current proposed changes bring that collaboration to the forefront by allowing counties more flexibility in scheduling and personalizing education for each student.”
Also Wednesday, state board members recognized Capital High School teacher Matthew Cox, who opposed the last proposed social studies changes, for being recognized as the West Virginia History Teacher of the Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
Cox said the award is only for American history teaching.