Three years ago, in the fall of 2009 and early winter 2010, the Board of Regents launched an educational sea change in New York State. The goal of the Regents Reform Agenda is very straightforward: all students should graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college and careers. One of the key pillars of that agenda is the shift to the Common Core Standards.
As I visit classrooms around the State, I am continually impressed by the work teachers and administrators are doing to implement the Common Core. From an evidence-based conversation about Esperanza Rising in a 5th grade classroom in North Collins to the application of mathematics to engineering in Project Lead the Way classrooms across the State, from a thoughtful discussion in student teams of real-word ratio problems in Pioneer to a close reading and careful analysis of a speech by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the Bronx, I am continually encouraged by seeing the Common Core in action. In a few weeks, after three years of work on implementation by teachers and administrators supported by Race to the Top-funded Network Teams, the ever growing collection of resources on EngageNY.org, district and school-level professional development, and the work of Teacher Centers and professional organizations, students in grades 3-8 will for the first time take assessments that reflect the Common Core. Next year, in 2013-14, the Regents exams will also begin to reflect the Common Core.
Of course, any major change initiative comes with anxiety and challenges. Some have even called for delaying the alignment of curriculum, instruction, professional development, classroom feedback, and assessment to the higher standards required for college and career success in the 21st century. But in point of fact, our students are already accountable for the Common Core. They do not have time to wait. Every time a college freshman takes a placement exam that first month on campus, he or she is being tested against the very expectations in the Common Core. Every time a high school graduate faces a daunting task on a challenging job (from the welder applying knowledge of fractions to the electrician reading the National Electrical Code), he or she is being tested against the Common Core. And quite frankly, our students are not doing well enough on those real world tests. Only about 35 percent of our students graduate with the skills and knowledge necessary to be called college- and career-ready. That’s why the Regents moved forward so decisively in 2009. They understand that going slow means denying thousands of students the opportunity to be successful.
So, what do Common Core assessments really mean? Here are five key points – emphasized in a recent field memo from Deputy Commissioner for P-12 Education Slentz – that should help address some frequently asked questions about the transition to the Common Core.
- In 2013, New York State, for the first time, will be reporting 3rd through 8th grade student grade-level expectations against a trajectory of college- and career-readiness as measured by tests fully reflective of the Common Core. As a result, the number of students who score at or above grade level expectations will likely decrease.
- As mentioned above, we expect the assessment scores will decline. But we also expect that decline will have little or no impact on principals’ and teachers’ State-provided growth scores. Based on New York’s approach to measuring growth relative to demographically similar students, similar proportions of educators will earn each rating category (Highly Effective, Effective, Developing, and Ineffective) in 2012-13 compared to 2011-12.
- The number of students meeting or exceeding Common Core grade-level expectations should not be interpreted as a decline in student learning or a decline in educator performance. The results from these new assessments will give educators, parents, policymakers, and the public a more realistic picture of where students are on their path to being well-prepared for the world that awaits them after they graduate from high school.
- No new districts will be identified as Focus Districts and no new schools will be identified as Priority Schools based on 2012-13 assessment results.
- Local policies and practices should balance the need for increased rigor against legitimate student expectations for access to educational programs, including local promotion and admission policies.
There’s much more information about the Common Core and the new assessments below and on EngageNY.org. Take a moment to check out what’s posted there.
Again, I understand how stressful change can be, especially when you’re asking students to read more challenging texts, to better support their arguments with evidence drawn from text, to write from sources, to achieve deep conceptual understanding of the most important math concepts of each grade, and to apply their math skills to real-world problems. But we owe it to our students to move forward; opportunity awaits them and it’s our responsibility to make sure they’re equipped to seize that opportunity.
Thank you for your dedication and perseverance over these last three years and now as we continue to move forward to implement the Regents Reform Agenda. Our students, schools, communities, and state are all the better for the work you do every day.
Dr. John B. King, Jr.