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West Virginia’s civics standards were last updated in 2017 and focus on an understanding of government and its relationships with the community. West Virginia does provide additional resources to its educators that outline specific project templates for certain relevant topics. These templates seem to encourage students to interact and engage with the course standards in potentially innovative ways. However, these resources are not comprehensive and act more as abstract pieces of a greater civics curriculum that educators must assemble and present with minimal guidance. The main support offered to educators comes in the form of the lesson templates in the resource section that accompany certain parts of the learning standards. In 2016, West Virginia adopted the College- and Career-Readiness Standards for Social Studies without following up to integrate the further-developed C3 framework that includes the concept of readiness for Civic Life in the standards.
West Virginia’s content standards include a section for each grade level entitled “Student Success Standards.” At the elementary level, these success standards are divided into four categories, two of which are most relevant to civics education: Personal and Social Development and Global Citizenship. The former category includes standards and resources related to the respect for self and others. In first grade, these standards for respect are accompanied by accessible lesson-planning resources for learning about compassion in the classroom. At later elementary grade levels, no resources can be found for these standards. The Global Citizenship theme is divided into two realms: Intercultural Perspectives and Democratic Principles. A few detailed standards for these realms are identified at every grade level, but resources are not accessible in the same way. At the fourth and fifth grade level, the only resources offered for the Democratic Principles standards, which include imperatives to “promote social justice,” “assume responsible leadership,” and “practice financial responsibility,” are two lesson plans on making plans and choices related to money.
While these elementary standards call for relevant learning outcomes, the resources do not always align with the imperatives presented. For example, the goal to have students “assume leadership roles in collaborative tasks within the classroom and school community” is not accompanied by any lesson plan or relevant resource. Furthermore, the imperative to “promote social justice” is defined ambiguously as to “follow rules and routines and use materials purposefully and respectfully.” It is unclear how educators are expected to teach to this standard, or similarly to the Intercultural Perspectives standard that calls for respectful interaction with diverse cultures. There are no specifics on how to assess students on the ability to “interact respectfully,” nor resources for how to develop that ability in the classroom. West Virginia seems to identify important civic principles without providing guidance for how to teach each standard in ways that align with elementary levels of cognition and culture.
At the middle school level, many more resources are specified for civic learning. Seventh and eighth grade standards contain multiple resources with helpful guides for lesson planning. Students learn mainly about the structure and function of government with some emphasis on active participation. For example, one standard requires students to predict the outcome of bills during the legislative session while another requires participation in a lawmaking simulation. The middle school curriculum has standards focused on comparing civilizations, classifying governments in the “Age of Imperialism,” cultivating a global consciousness, and identifying democratic structures and figures. There is a varied focus to the content of the standards, but only a few suggestions specified for active participation on a relevant level for middle-schoolers. The standard that requires students to “evaluate how citizens can influence and participate in government” and “assume the role of an active citizen,” while not requiring the students to actually demonstrate active civic participation does identify “lobbying, voting, community service, letter writing, and school elections” as participatory democratic actions. The latter three suggestions could be accessible to middle school students on a personal level, but all the participatory imperatives focus on simulations and hypotheticals rather than actual engagement of the students as presently active citizens.
At the high school level, students are required to take a civics course and a U.S. studies course. The high school standards are not broken down by grade level and are presented without resources that match each of the content standards. However, the resources that do accompany these standards encourage students to participate in lessons that approach understanding of civic engagement through creative problem solving and discussion. All project-based lessons are simulations that place students in hypothetical roles. While this sort of engagement enables students to learn about the significance of participatory civics and imagine themselves in an active role, it doesn’t extend to actual participation within students’ own community. The learning outcomes at the highschool level are all based in the realm of “evaluation,” the second highest form of thinking in Bloom’s taxonomy. There are no learning imperatives that require students to “create” or “produce new and individual work,” the highest level of thinking. Civic learning, especially at the high school level, should go beyond a simulative civic agency and ensure that students know how to embody their own roles and activate their own agency as young citizens. The recommended lesson plans are largely simulations, which are important for participatory civic learning but can’t replace pragmatic learning that is situated in students’ own realities.
Overall, where West Virginia falls short is a lack of specific articulation of how the civics skills identified will be taught in grade-appropriate and culturally responsive ways. Though West Virginia does focus on the use of simulations in its civic standards and includes simulative lesson plans in the civics resource section, no further details are given on how to ensure students become active participants in the “improvement of American government.” Community service and service-learning are identified as key educational approaches, but educators are given the learning imperative to teach students to “strive to become vigilant, informed citizens” without concrete guidance on how to approach that goal. Furthermore, the imperative to “strive” for this goal rather than actually demonstrate it seems to assume that many students will not reach the point of actualization as vigilant, informed citizens when the purpose of civic education is to ensure every student can embody the role of active citizen. However, West Virginia does make clear by its standards and resources that the ideal civic instruction in the state goes beyond maintaining the status quo to hope that students will become engaged active participants in the civic process.