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herald editorial - 11/16/01

December 27, 2001

Curriculum changes ahead



As if parents didn't have enough to worry about, the West Virginia Board of Education is proposing new curriculum and testing guidelines for the public schools. And you've got until next Friday to look them over and provide your input. That's not much time for such an important proposal that we hope will remain in place for many years.

Curriculum and testing changes can be controversial. Witness the furor over Pennsylvania's "outcomes" learning system, the objectives of which were criticized as too vague to be useful. And then there's Maryland's School Performance Assessment Program, in which the test is so secret that a foundation hired to review it wasn't allowed to leave the state education headquarters building with a copy.

West Virginia may avoid such controversies with its curriculum, which seems to be a mix of facts the board believes students should know and skills they should learn by certain stages in their school careers.

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The board is also proposing new terms to describes high school students' performance in core subjects. A student with a basic level of understanding would be termed a novice, while one who's mastered much of the subject matter would be a distinguished student.

As the board proceeds with this review, they need to remember two things. The first is that this will be a tremendous strain on teachers, who will be held accountable if students don't perform as expected. Those who have difficulty adapting should get help, so that experienced teachers are driven out by the frustration of coping with a new system.

The second thing that can't be forgotten is that to provide meaningful results, the board has to agree not to tinker with what they put in for at least five years afterward. Yes, new facts will be added in subjects like history and science, but the board must leave things alone long enough so officials can tell whether students are making progress, or falling behind.

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