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Academic Standards Review Commission slashes recommendations in final meeting

The Commission tasked with finding a replacement to North Carolina’s Common Core standards is done.

The Academic Standards Review Commission began meeting 15 months ago, and in its final session Friday, it unveiled its recommendations. But only after considerable debate, revision, and bafflement.

“I’ve been very confused about this discussion and what we’re voting on,” said Commission and State Board of Education member Olivia Oxendine after voting to reject a return to traditional math. “Why did I vote that way? Because I am totally confused.”

The confusion stemmed over whether the Commission was recommending a return to traditional math, a revision of integrated math, or giving schools the option to choose one or the other. Oxendine did ultimately say she couldn’t support a return to traditional math.

In the end, the Commission eliminated all the recommendations developed by its math work group, and extended its English Language Arts (ELA) recommendations to include math as well. The combined recommendations call for a revision of the state standards with a focus on the following areas:

  • established theories of childhood learning and development;
  • content-specific learning tasks;
  • attention to scope and sequence;
  • precisely-worded statements containing a minimum of learning tasks;
  • grade-level
  • age-appropriate rigor; and
  • defined levels of student mastery.

Oxendine said that these recommendations will also lead to a reduction in the number of standards, an often-heard critique of Common Core.

Andre Peek, co-chair of the Academic Standards Review Commission, at Friday's meeting (Photo Credit/Alex Granados)
Andre Peek, co-chair of the Academic Standards Review Commission, at Friday’s meeting (Photo Credit: Alex Granados/EdNC)

The draft math recommendations originally called for the adoption of the Minnesota math standards in grades K-8, and a return to the old high school math sequence: Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II.

But after a lot of sometimes acrimonious discussion, both of those measures were voted down.

Commission member Jeffrey Isenhour was one of the most vocal critics of adopting the Minnesota standards. He said that they would need an extensive review before adoption could be considered.

“I think in the beginning we didn’t vet and do our work up front with the current standards,” he said. “I think it would be irresponsible on our part to do the same with another set of standards.” He added later, “And I don’t think it’s fair to the Commission, I don’t think it’s fair to students, teachers or anybody in this state to do a wholesale trade from one horse to another horse,” he said.

Commission member Ted Scheik, who chaired the work group that developed the math recommendations, said he would be willing to amend the proposal to clarify that the Minnesota math standards would just be used as a model. But that amendment wasn’t good enough for majority approval.

Scheik said that without that specificity, the recommendations leave too much room for interpretation and the Commission would just be giving power over to the state Department of Public Instruction.

“I think it’s a serious mistake to kick the can down to DPI,” he said, adding later, ““I don’t trust DPI at this point.”

The meeting was chaotic at times, with both Commission and audience members unclear on what the Commission was voting on or what was being recommended.

At one point, Scheik told Oxendine, who chaired the work group that developed the ELA recommendations, that her proposals were too vague.

Commission member Denise Watts jumped in and told him that he shouldn’t single out Oxendine. She noted that she was also on the ELA work group.

“I take issue with the fact that you’re calling her out individually,” he said. “We functioned as a group.”

Ultimately, no separate math recommendations were accepted. In addition to the bullet-pointed list of focus areas already mentioned, the combined math/ELA recommendations approved Friday also call for professional development opportunities and the establishment of a definition for what constitutes high-quality North Carolina standards.

Senator Jerry Tillman speaks before the Academic Standards Review Commission (Photo Credit/Alex Granados)
Senator Jerry Tillman speaks before the Academic Standards Review Commission (Photo Credit: Alex Granados/EdNC)

Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, one of the primary sponsors of legislation to replace Common Core, spoke at the beginning of the meeting Friday and gave the work of the Commission positive marks.

“I don’t read many reports…unless I write it… but I read this one, and I can tell you that you put in a lot of time, and a lot of research and a lot of thought. And I can tell right now you had a lot of arguments,” he said. “But I liked a lot of what I saw. I saw some things in there that I thought were fairly significant.”

But that was before the Board dismantled the separate draft math recommendations.

Now that the Commission’s work is done, its recommendations will go to the State Board of Education which will vote on the report. The process for the State Board will involve the work of both a subcommittee as well as the full Board and could take months, State Board Chair Bill Cobey said in an October interview. After that, the Board will send a report that will be reviewed in a General Assembly Legislative Education Oversight Committee.

During Tillman’s comments  — again, before the Commission voted down many of the draft recommendations — the senator said that he hoped the Commission’s work wouldn’t become too watered down in an attempt to quiet Common Core supporters.

Go to a link of the recommendations presented at Friday’s meeting here. Note that the final version will include the revisions based on today’s votes and will look different.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.