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The State Board of Education met last week to  look at the comments they had received in the last month on the proposed state standards in Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies. More than 650 comments have been submitted in the last month as DESE made a push for more comments.

In their March presentation Updated Proposed Missouri Learning Standards Presented to State Board | Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education DESE cited section 160.526 of state statute which says,

“In establishing, evaluating, modifying and revising the academic performance standards, learning standards, and the statewide assessment system…the state board of education shall consider the work that has been done by:

• other states
• recognized regional and national experts
• professional education discipline-based associations
• other professional education associations
• the Department of Higher Education’s curriculum alignment initiative • any work in the public domain

In response to this DESE placed the standards submitted by the work groups on their website along with a link to a survey that anyone could fill out. How is that “considering the work of recognized regional and national experts?”  How is that considering work “done by other states?”

Another section (160.514.4) says this specifically about the standards submitted by the Work Groups.

“The state board of education shall also solicit comments and feedback on the  academic performance standards or learning standards from the joint committee on education and from academic researchers. All comments shall be made publicly available.”

Instead DESE has collected general comments from (according to their report) 286 Respondents from 138 School Districts/Institutions/Organizations.

General Changes

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In math there was moving around of standards to other grades undoing some of the work of the work group to make the standards more age appropriate. For instance, time and money were moved back to kindergarten so that now 5 year olds will be expected, by the end of kindergarten to “Demonstrate an understanding of concepts of time and devices that measure time.” To truly be able to do this requires complex reasoning not available to most 5 year olds. However, the standard is sufficiently vague to be interpreted as recognizing that the clock on the wall, be it analog or digital, is something that measures time, that the numbers on it or on your phone’s lock screen change as the day progresses. Do 5 years olds really need to understand this?

More concerning is that more operational thinking is being required in other kindergarten standards like “Decompose numbers less than or equal to 10 in more than one way” (RA.A.3), and “Make 10 for any number from 1 to 9” (RA.A.4), and “Demonstrate fluency for addition and subtraction within 5.” (RA.A.1)

This requires a level of concrete thinking that developmental experts like Piaget say are not the norm for 5 year olds.

“It is only at age six or seven, when they have attained what Piaget calls “concrete operations,” that children can construct the concept of a “unit,” the basis for understanding the idea of interval numbers. To attain the unit concept, children must come to understand that every number is both like every other number, in the sense that it is a number, and at the same time different in its order of enumeration. Once children attain the unit concept, their notion of number is abstract and divorced from particular things, unlike nominal and ordinal numbers. Mathematical operations like addition, subtraction, and multiplication can be performed only on numbers that represent units that can be manipulated without reference to particular things.”  (From

Teachers will likely spend a lot of time working on this standard using a variety of teaching methods to get children to demonstrate some understanding of the concepts of addition and subtraction, but to what end? How much frustration will they create for children who are just developmentally not ready for this? How many students will begin to believe they just aren’t good at math?

Not All Changes Are Bad

For fans of cursive, that was added back to the MLS. The reference to mathematical standards beyond Algebra II needed for STEM readiness that had been removed in the February version of the MLS for math was added back in to the March version.

On the 6-12 grade math standards DESE removed all references to examples developed by the work group to make it clear what the standard was looking for from the students. Since all the support materials promised by DESE have not yet been produced it is unclear whether these examples might be retained in a curricular framework. It should be noted however that removing them makes the standards less Common Core-like, less proscriptive in how they should be taught. What will be telling is if the standardized test questions turn out to be very similar to examples retained in DESE’s curricular frameworks causing teachers to do what they had to do with Common Core which was go back and forth between the standards and various appendices to figure out what they were supposed to teach.

DESE Creating Their Own Process

Keep in mind that DESE representatives told the Joint Committee on Education in October  that they would not “materially” change the standards in this review process or through their formatting changes to produce a uniform document. That promise seems to have flown right out the window. They solicited comments from teachers and the public. That was already done, for instance, by the math work groups.  What was gained by DESE doing that again except for a fishing expedition to get changes into the document that may have been rejected by the Work Group.

We don’t know who the master editors are within DESE who are making these changes or what their qualifications are. This was exactly the criticism Dr. James Milgram registered with the Common Core math standards. The document that was produced in January 2010 was almost acceptable, but then “comments” were solicited and incorporated into a revised version that came out March 2010. Milgram contends that the changes were clearly not made by someone who understood math. Jason Zimba is believed to be one of the master editors and his background is in Language Arts so Milgram’s conjecture makes sense. There was an attempt to bring the document back closer to what it was in January, but the deadline for release loomed and the poor editing job remained in place with the standards officially published in June 2010. Missouri seems to be heading down a similar path.

A vote on the standards was postponed from the March meeting to provide Board members with adequate time to review and consider the standards with the latest feedback included since the February presentation of DESE standards. The State Board is scheduled to take action on the proposed standards at its April meeting. Once approved, implementation of the new standards will begin in the 2016-17 school year. What the Board is now considering is not the work of the Work Groups, it is a modified version orchestrated by DESE. The 15-18 months of work done by the experts identified by the various stakeholders has been taken as a starting point and been changed by unnamed “experts”. DESE has not published the comments on its website as required by law.
Dr. Mary Byrne attended the March Board meeting and noted that board member Dr. Martin commented on how good it was that the scientific method had been included in the science standards. DESE does not have a science curriculum coordinator, so someone from the DESE assessment team is pinch hitting as the science coordinator. During the meeting, this individual specifically said the scientific method will not be included. He spoke at length on how the new thinking coming from the academies on science is that students should not be intimidated into thinking science is too hard by overly challenging material, therefore, we want students to become comfortable with their ability to discuss science before exposing them to (what would really be rigorous) demands of scientific experiments. This is an indication that the Board members have not read the document and are relying heavily on DESE for their understanding of it.
Just as we want our legislators to read the bill before they vote on it, we want our board members to read the standards before they vote on them. It’s the least they can do.
Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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