CLINTON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi's state Board of Education unanimously adopted a series of minor changes to the state's academic standards Thursday, in what could be a quiet end to a controversy over the Common Core-linked guidance over what students should learn.
Officials said teachers and students should notice few major changes when the revisions take effect this August.
"It's tweaking," said state Superintendent Carey Wright, a strong supporter of what are officially called the Mississippi College- and Career-Readiness Standards. She launched a review of the guidelines this summer after criticism by Gov. Phil Bryant and some lawmakers.
The changes are mostly small. For example, the revisions add requirements that first grade students learn coin denominations, how to count using money and how to use a calendar. The revisions also make clear that Mississippi students should learn cursive writing starting in third grade. But there would be few changes to kindergarten standards, despite concerns that too much academic work has been crammed into that grade.
Nathan Oakley, who oversaw the process for the Department of Education, said that the decision to continue academic content in kindergarten doesn't mean 5-year-olds should be confined to desks drilling with worksheets. He says many standards can be taught through play-like activities guided by teachers.
Some concepts that had been taught in algebra I have been moved into math courses later in high school. The state this year also created a "Foundations of Algebra" course for ninth graders unready to tackle a stiffened algebra I course.
Like other Common Core-derived academic standards, Mississippi's are intended to provide national benchmarks for math and reading while helping students learn more analytically and less by memorization. Wright said she felt that improved performance by Mississippi students on recent nationwide tests showed the standards were paying off.
"Our children are finally being held to high, rigorous standards and they're perfectly capable of achieving those standards," Wright said.
Opponents of Common Core say the standards are flawed and Mississippi adopted them only because of inappropriate federal pressure. Opponents have also criticized the comment process, saying it didn't provide a broad enough window to criticize the standards.
Sen. Angela Hill, R-Picayune, said education leaders made clear that they did not want significant changes in the Common Core standards.
"I think that the whole process was just to placate the complainers," Hill said of the department's public comment period and hearings last year on the standards. "It was just basically symbolic more than a substantive move."
Hill said she will again sponsor a bill this year to try to repeal Common Core. It's unclear, though if she'll win enough support.
Board member Johnny Franklin of Bolton said he was pleased with the process.
"This has really put a quietus on a lot of the negative chatter that's been out there about the standards," he said.
Bryant vetoed a bill last year that would have created a 15-person commission to recommend changes to the Board of Education, saying it didn't do enough to end Common Core. He's been supportive of Wright's review, but it's unclear what he thinks of the outcome. Spokesman Clay Chandler declined comment Thursday.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said he was "pleased" with the addition of cursive and "more developmentally appropriate standards for younger students."