Common Core heads to Senate floor

Common Core heads to Senate floor

West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Michael Martirano (Daily Mail file photo/Craig Cunningham)


By Samuel Speciale, Education reporter

A piece of legislation calling for the repeal of Common Core in West Virginia has been moved to the Senate floor drastically different from the version introduced by the House of Delegates last month.

In a voice vote, the Senate Finance Committee advanced the latest committee substitute, which downgraded the House’s mandatory repeal to a review expected to cost $1.2 million.

Should it pass the Senate, the House would have to approve the changes, ask the Senate to rescind its amendments or call a conference committee to hash out differences — all before the session’s end on Saturday.

While the bill is a little more palatable for the Department of Education, which has strongly opposed repeal efforts, Superintendent Michael Martirano is worried attacks on the standards could have lasting, negative repercussions.

Going into the last day of the session, Martirano said he will follow the bill as it moves through both chambers and make himself available to any legislator who still may have concerns about the standards.

“I need to be intensely involved,” he said. “The results of this have great implications on our students. My hope is that the individuals working on this come together and do what’s best for our kids and not destabilize our education system.”

Since January, Martirano has been at the forefront of the battle for West Virginia’s education standards, saying tampering with years of work would derail any momentum the department has made in improving student achievement.

Having only been the state’s chief of schools for six months, Common Core is not something he expected he would have to defend when taking the job.

“Our standards are strong,” Martirano said. “No, I didn’t think this is what I’d be doing.”

But Martirano has stepped up to the challenge, and coolly handled the scrutiny the Department of Education has endured.

When the original bill passed the House and the department was faced with having to repeal Common Core by July and develop and implement an entire new set of standards by the start of school in August, Martirano urged the state’s lawmakers to take a moment to pause and be thoughtful of what they were proposing.

“Let calmer minds prevail,” he said.

While Martirano admits there are some issues with the standards that will likely need correcting should his office be asked to undertake a review, he said a repeal gets rid of the bad along with the good.

“You don’t just buy a new house if you have a broken window,” he said. “You replace it so the house can weather any coming storms. That’s the responsible way to go about this.”

Martirano went on to say a review is a “thoughtful response” that would allow the department to understand what is wrong with its current standards, assessments and curricular materials.

But pinning down those flaws has been difficult for Martirano and other department officials.

To date, no one has been able to articulate which standards are problematic, Martirano said. He added that discussions have been made difficult by legislators demanding change without providing tangible evidence pointing out flaws with a particular standard.

This has frustrated Martirano and other department officials who would be tasked with overhauling the standards.

“In order to correct something, I need to know what’s wrong with it,” Martirano said.

While Martirano asks that specific standards be identified, many Common Core opponents within the Legislature have a problem with the entire set, which they claim is a national curriculum forced upon states by the U.S. Department of Education with promises of grant money and waivers to the strict requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Martirano has said that couldn’t be further from the truth, and most education officials would agree with him.

Common Core is a set of math and English standards that guarantees public school students across the country get the same basic education. In 2011, West Virginia took those standards and reworked them to fit within the state’s education framework, renaming them the Next Generation Content Standards.

Curricula, on the other hand, is what teachers use to deliver the content outlined in the standards. The two go hand in hand, but they are not the same.

While standards aren’t without fault, education officials have said many of the concerns citizens come to them with are actually with something found in curriculum, which is chosen by county boards of education.

That misunderstanding is one of the reasons the department has lobbied for a review.

The airing of issues with Common Core has raised valid concerns, but Martirano said the state’s decision to adopt the standards and start something new isn’t easy.

After a staggered roll-out over the last four years, this is the first that the standards have been used in every classroom in West Virginia. This spring also is the first time students will take Common Core-aligned end-of-year assessments.

“As it is with any implementation of new standards and assessments, I need the people of West Virginia to know the first year is rough,” Martirano said, adding that the first and second year are dedicated to working through and correcting issues that are planned for or unexpected. To interrupt that process would derail any momentum toward improvement, Martirano added.

“By the third year, you’re humming,” he went on to say. “Then, you hopefully see improvements in years four, five and six.”

Martirano remains optimistic that can still be the outcome of the years-long process, but the state’s past track record has been one of failure.

Despite a succession of standards that, at the time of adoption, were touted as more rigorous and college and career ready, the state is caught in a decade of steadily declining student proficiency. Whether the poor return on investment is due to a lack of effort on student’s part, failure to effectively educate on the teacher’s or a system wide failure remains to be seen.

The irony, however, is that the Legislature’s own findings seem to indicate that the state’s frequent change in education standards — three times in the past 10 years — is the cause of poor student performance.

The bill states that declining test scores are likely the result of a “loss of focus on sustained instructional improvement as teachers continually readjusted to frequently changing standards and assessments.”

And that may be the source of many issues.

During a Senate Education Committee meeting last month, Christine Campbell, state president of the American Federation of Teachers, said teachers are fatigued by constant change.

To put teachers through that again by getting rid of Common Core and starting over? Campbell said teachers can’t take it again.

While teachers have been critical of the way the standards have been implemented, the majority agree that West Virginia should stay the course with Common Core and let the results of the first tests determine their success or failure.

Martirano agrees.

Because this is the first year Common Core has been used in every classroom, there won’t be data to determine if students are doing better or worse than in years past until after this spring’s end-of-year assessment.

While some students and parents are frustrated with the changes, Martirano said he thinks the best days for West Virginia’s students are ahead.

“If we can just see this through,” he said.

When asked what could come out of the review process should the legislation be signed into law, Martirano said he can’t be certain. The one thing he is sure of is that he will continue to advocate for the state’s education standards.

“Are they perfect? No,” he said. “Can they be improved? Yes.”

Martirano just asks that he be given the time to do his job.

Contact writer Samuel Speciale at or 304-348-4886. Follow him at