House panel approves English, math and computer science standards

The House Education Committee on Friday approved new computer science standards, and made minor changes to Idaho Core Standards in math and English.

All told, the committee addressed standards in English, math, arts and humanities, social studies, physical education, health and computer science. And this came just 24 hours after House Education removed language referencing climate change and human impact on the environment from a slate of temporary new science standards.

The process of updating and reviewing academic standards is not new or controversial. Every six years, the State Department of Education convenes a working committee of educators to review standards.

However, the Legislature accelerated the review of math and English standards through House Bill 314, passed in 2015.

House Education signed off on two changes to math standards and 22 changes to English language arts standards, all recommended by the review committee.

Scott Cook, SDE’s director of academic services, support and professional development, called the changes “minor.”

State officials collected nearly 6,400 public comments last year on the standards. Cook said 83 percent of responses on the English standards were positive. For math standards, that number came in at 90 percent.

“We looked at every single comment,” Cook said.

The committee received a little more support Friday. Ten teachers and one professor testified in favor of math standards, while nobody spoke against them.

Several teachers stressed that many of the comments gaining traction online or on talk radio don’t reflect their experiences with the standards.

“We’ve seen so many social media posts that are so far from what’s going on in my classroom,” math teacher Meg Rowe said.

Cook agreed.

“After all the discussions about retina scans and Obamacare and data mining and sex ed, when we looked at the words on the page, there was widespread support for higher education standards that point students toward command of literacy and command of numeracy,” Cook said.

The arts and humanities standards actually proved more controversial Friday. Dani Backer, the Boise district’s social studies consulting teacher, expressed concern that new definitions removed literacy, history, architecture and philosophy from the humanities standards.

Several minutes later, Cook said the definitions do not change current practice or graduation requirements. Instead, Cook said the definitions clarify that those subjects need to meet Idaho’s interdisciplinary content standards — by addressing two content areas — in order to count towards graduation requirements. If they don’t meet interdisciplinary standards, they would instead count as an elective, Cook said.

House Education rejected these definitions — but approved the rest of the humanities standards as proposed, and all the other standards.

The computer science standards would be a first for Idaho. Supporters say for the standards should elevate the emphasis on the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra said the local review, verification and update of standards proves they are Idaho’s standards, not a national mandate passed down from afar.

The Senate Education Committee has yet to consider these academic standards, but could take them up in the coming weeks.