State education officials mired in details of writing new standards

Photo illustration by Gill Guerry/Staff

COLUMBIA - State education officials spent a great portion of their Wednesday meeting arguing about a resolution that would have required them to follow a law that calls for the writing of new education standards.

State Board of Education Chairman Barry Bolen insisted the Department of Education is interpreting a law crafted to rid South Carolina of Common Core differently than the board and the Education Oversight Committee.

"This law specifically says to review existing standards to come up with new standards," Bolen said. "What I hear is that (standard writers) are not starting with Common Core... I'm just trying to avoid a train wreck in December or January."

South Carolina passed legislation that requires the state to develop new standards to implement during the 2015-16 school year. A team of experts tasked with writing the math and English language arts standards has been assembled by the Department of Education.

State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais argued Common Core would be available to the writers, as would the state's 2007 standards and standards from other states that are college- and career-ready. Zais said the resolution would be the board micromanaging the process.

"We're not editing Common Core," Zais said. "We're writing South Carolina standards."

Wednesday was not the first time Bolen has raised the issue. On July 30, Bolen, along with members from the education department and the oversight committee, met to discuss miscommunication among the three bodies and different interpretations of the law.

At the end of that meeting, members of all three bodies - including Bolen - agreed they were on the same page. But on Wednesday, Bolen again insisted the education department was headed in a different direction than the law intended, and introduced a resolution that said the board would follow the law.

The motion for the resolution failed in the end because a second board member did not call on placing it up for a vote.

In other business:

The State Board of Education did not vote Wednesday on newly written language for South Carolina's evolution standard. The language has been touted as a compromise that encourages critical thinking, according to proponents. The board referred the language to the Department of Education for a recommendation. The subject will likely resurface during the September meeting.

At least five people spoke against the state's adoption of the College Board's new curriculum for AP US History. The framework for the curriculum has undergone scrutiny by conservatives, who believe it has a lot of similarities to Common Core and a leftist, liberal bias view of American history.

Board member Larry Kobrovsky proposed Wednesday that students should receive a letter grade for their effort, punctuality and neatness. The former Charleston County School Board member said such skills are necessary for students' success in life, and the only way to stress expectations of personal responsibility is to put a grade on it. The subcommittee postponed further discussion until next month's meeting.

Deputy Superintendent of Education Cindy Van Buren gave the board "personal assurance" that the teams writing the state's new English and math standards will do so "without any outside interference." She added the department expects to have the standards ready for the board's first reading by January.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.