Missouri’s Commissioner of Education says her department isn’t trying to steer discussions about new academic standards back toward Common Core.

Work groups created by the passage of HB 1490 began meeting this week try and create a new set of academic standards that could replace Common Core standards currently in use. Some Republicans criticized the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, saying its staff was trying to be too involved in the work groups’ meetings. One work group chairman accused DESE staff of having an “agenda,” to steer the groups toward Common Core.

See earlier story on some Republicans’ complaints about the working groups’ first meetings

Commissioner Chris Nicastro says that’s not true.

“We’re trying to be helpful. We’re trying to follow the law,” says Nicastro. “We’ve provided the resources that are part of convening a process and we will continue to provide those upon request.”

Nicastro says from what staff has told her, Monday was “really tough,” and she thinks it stems in part from people having different ideas about what it means to “convene meetings,” as 1490 instructs the Department to do.

“Typically when we convene meetings or we initiate a process,” says Nicastro, “that means you schedule the meetings, you make arrangements for a meeting space, you make arrangements for technology or video if necessary, you make arrangements for somebody to take notes … to make sure that the meetings can get off on the right foot.”

Nicastro says some members of work groups felt DESE should not have involvement in many of those respects, “and … that’s fine. If they don’t want that assistance then certainly they can carry on as they choose.”

She thinks “confusion” was created by some work group members coming in assuming that the creation of new academic standards would begin from scratch. She thinks the place to start is with the standards that are being used now, and that’s Common Core.

“You always start with where you are,” says Nicastro, “then you decide: is this still adequate? Does this meet our needs? Is this in fact what kids should know and be able to do? Are we asking enough? Are we asking too much? It becomes kind of the starting point of the conversation.”

Nicastro acknowledges that other “starting points” might be different sets of standards favored by some group members, such as those used in other states.

The groups are scheduled to meet again in the coming week and Nicastro says DESE will continue to be available to them as requested.