School board member questions textbook approval

By Kim Walter

FRONT ROYAL – The Warren County School Board approved a list of publishers to provide science textbooks on Thursday, but the decision was not an easy one for some board members.

Textbooks are adopted on a seven-year cycle in the division, and typically a single subject is adopted each year.

The state compiles a list of pre-approved publishers that localities can choose from when adopting textbooks. The selected publishers include content and teaching tools that cater to the SOL tests that students must pass.

Kimberly Athey, School Board member and parent to a child in the school division, said she doesn’t see much of a correlation between the textbooks and what is covered on the standardized tests.

“I want to know who puts this list of publishers together at the state level,” she said during the Thursday’s meeting. “Because from what I can tell as a parent, there is a complete disconnect between what is in those books and what is on the SOLs.”

Greg Drescher, assistant superintendent for instruction, said the division goes through an extensive process to decide what publishers do the best job at including SOL material.

“We had teachers on the committee, and they looked through all these books, and this is the list they came up with,” he said.

Drescher recognized that there are “very few textbooks in any content area that have been written for Virginia.”

As he explained, publishers are interested in making a product that will be bought, so a majority of books cater to big consumer states like California and Texas.

“Most of these are pretty decent, but there are none that are perfect for us,” he said. “Some things are just flat out missing, or content isn’t covered in the same manner that the SOL is trying to present.”

Drescher said the best option on the list of publishers was for Grade 7 Life Science. The option actually isn’t a publisher, but instead it’s public domain content compiled by Virginia teachers.

The content is accessible for download to any device, including laptops, smart phones, tablets and Kindles. Once downloaded, the information can be accessed at any time and doesn’t require an Internet connection.

The selection would require a classroom set of Kindles for student use, but the actual content is free, Drescher said. Teachers can go through the information and pick and choose which chapters or issues they want to include in their own curriculum.

Chances are, they’ll see a lot more information that deals with what students need to know in order to pass their SOLs and move on to the next grade.

“I think as time goes on, this will become more and more the tool that we’ll be using,” he said. “But, technology changes too, just like textbooks, so even if we got Kindles for everyone, in five or so years there would likely be a new product to get. That’s part of the reason we haven’t jumped on the electronic route.”

Drescher said other subjects, especially math, don’t present as much of a problem when considering the state-specific SOLs. However, history content is very different from state to state. He said local teachers have trouble using general publishers for subjects like those that require Virginia information.

“If we all used the common core, or a national curriculum, then that would make it easier for the publishers and the teachers,” he said. “But that’s just not where we are now, so we have to deal with what’s available.”

Athey was the only school board member to vote against the textbook adoption.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com