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Shawn Dilly

CHARLES TOWN – The West Virginia Board of Education is proposing to adjust state graduation requirements to allow students to forgo one less history class for another subject during their high school education experience.

Currently, high school students must pass a minimum of four history and social studies courses to receive a diploma. The state BOE’s proposed changes would allow graduating students to forgo one of those history courses for an additional science, computer technology or vocational skills course.

“The revisions [in high school graduation coursework requirements] represent our beliefs in providing more flexibility to counties and personalization of learning for students,” explained West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Steven Paine in a prepared statement. “This added flexibility will empower counties to be innovative in scheduling and allow students to take course work that is most relevant to their future plans.”

Under the proposal announced for public comment on Dec. 11, high school students wouldn’t necessarily learn less history. They could still choose to take the current level of four history classes that count toward their graduation requirements. They would also have the option to sign up for even more history classes that might count toward college-level credit.

But undoubtedly many students would select a non-history class as part of what would be a single new “flex credit” option.

The current proposal is the third time in three years that state officials have proposed the flex credit option. The previous proposals were never adopted after they received opposition from the public during comment periods. Many public comments said minimum history education standards, particularly requirements for learning U.S. history, shouldn’t be reduced.

If adopted as proposed, the adjustment in graduation credit standards would take effect on July 1. The change would first apply to graduating seniors in the spring of 2021.

Jefferson County Schools officials support the flexible credit proposal, saying the extra measure of academic choice would help more students tailor slightly more of their coursework toward whatever future path they plan to pursue after they graduate.

“Anytime that we can create flexibility to support students in helping to make sure they’re well prepared for the future, I think it’s a good thing,” said Shawn Dilly, Jefferson’s deputy superintendent of instructional support.

Dilly assured the extra flexible credit wouldn’t be wasted on a frivolous course. Every one of the nearly 300 courses available to Jefferson and Washington high school students—ranging from traditional history, math and English classes to more contemporary business, science and vocational courses—is designed with a purpose and to provide academic value, he said.

“There’s a lot of misconceptions that [state education officials] are trying to lower the standards,” he said.

As a state requirement, every high school student at Jefferson and Washington high schools works with a parent or counselor to develop a formal Personalized Education Plan to chart a specific course of academic study based on his or her interests and career paths.

Each student’s PEP— which is reviewed and updated as necessary at least twice before graduation—is designed with coursework toward a technical trade or future community college or university level studies after graduation, Dilly said. “So if you have a student who doesn’t necessarily have an interest in social studies who wants to take an extra science course, they can do that [under the state BOE’s proposal] and plug in other courses,” he said.

Jefferson and Washington high schools’ course offerings range from robotics and biology to physics and pharmacology to business marketing and software coding to carpentry and electrical wiring. Those courses also include 22 different social studies classes, including in 13 history options ranging from U.S. history to advanced 20th-century European history.

Dilly said the school system’s current lineup of history courses wouldn’t be trimmed if the state BOE’s proposal is adopted. “We’re still going to be required to offer those courses—so they’ll be available to students,” he said. “But it just wouldn’t be one they absolutely have to take to complete their pathway for high school graduation.”

Dilly also said the flex credit proposal wouldn’t result in layoffs of social studies teachers or necessarily fewer social studies teachers in the future. However, some social studies teachers could be asked in the future to share the load of teaching other subjects in addition to history and social studies, he said.

“There’s nothing saying that some of these alternative sources couldn’t be taught by social studies teachers,” he said.

In preparing for life and careers after high school, computer knowledge is new and increasingly essential for more students, including those studying to pursue the vocational trades, Dilly said. Fitting in newer technology and software courses with traditional academic studies can be challenging, he said. The proposed flex credit option should help many students, he added.

The state of West Virginia requires high school graduates to complete a minimum of 22 academic credits to graduate, where each credit represents satisfactory completion of a single course. Jefferson County requires 24 credits for a student to graduate, a standard that includes two “elective” courses.

Starting for 2022 graduating seniors, the county’s elective course requirements will be eliminated. However, the courses now labeled electives will still be offered. They include advanced business, math and science studies in addition to art, music, foreign language and vocational courses.

Dilly said he heard requests from students and parents teaching more courses that address practical life skills such as personal financial management and behavioral expectations in the workplace.  

Any curriculum changes to history courses or other subjects in Jefferson County’s school system wouldn’t occur without public hearings and discussion, Dilly said.

Jan. 24 is the deadline for public comments to be received on the flex credit proposal, a change to state education Policy 2510, titled “Assuring the Quality of Education: Regulations for Education Programs.” Comments can be submitted online at the state BOE web page http://wvde.state.wv.us/policies.

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