Commissioner King: Welcome Back

The following message from Commissioner King was emailed to over 240,000 educators statewide on September 5, 2012.

Dear Colleagues,

I hope you had a wonderful summer. When I was a high school history teacher and then a middle school principal, I thought of the start of a school year as an especially exciting time. The atmosphere is charged with a sense that anything is possible – because anything is possible for our students when they have great teachers in the classroom and great principals leading their schools. 

Over the past decade, New York State schools have made real gains in graduation rates even as the Board of Regents raised the standards for high school graduation. In classrooms across the State, talented teachers and administrators are providing students with excellent learning opportunities and have helped many students overcome daunting challenges to graduate. 

Unfortunately, however, not all of our students graduate college and career ready. Only about 75 percent of kids who enter high school graduate four years later. That’s just not good enough.  And too many of our students who do graduate high school don’t finish college, only to find they’ve either spent their families’ savings or they’re stuck paying back loans they can’t afford.

That has to change. And that’s why the Board of Regents is acting with such urgency to implementNew York’s education reform agenda.

As you know, this year, teachers in New York State’s classrooms will be teaching a new set of standards (the Common Core standards adopted by 45 states) that are designed to make sure students graduate from high school ready for college or a job that pays well and provides opportunities for career advancement.

In English classes, there will be a change in what students read and how it relates to the rest of their studies. There will be more non-fiction; and when students write, they will make arguments using evidence drawn from texts. Students will be challenged to read texts more closely and to carefully consider the words the author of each text chose to convey his or her ideas. In math classes, students will focus deeply on critical topics for success in later math and will be presented with real world situations that demand application of math skills.

This year, the state assessments in grades 3 through 8 will be aligned to the new, more challenging standards. And the high school Regents exams will begin to be aligned to those standards in 2013-2014.

I know the new teacher and principal evaluations that begin this year are generating some anxiety. Evaluations are designed to help all educators improve their performance and help students learn more. The purpose of evaluations is not to create a “gotcha” system. Feedback will provide insight on instruction that can be applied in every classroom to improve outcomes for students and help them meet that college and career ready goal.

At the State Education Department, we’ve taken a number of steps to provide tools, resources, and support for the implementation of the Common Core and the new evaluation system. We worked closely with the authors of the standards to identify and explain the 12 instructional shifts essential for successful implementation of the Common Core. We are moving ahead to provide educational data tools that support data driven instruction in the classroom. We developed and posted resources on EngageNY.org to support this hard work, including:

  • Tri-State Rubric & Review Process – A rubric constructed by the Tri-State collaborative (MA, RI, NY) to help teachers and principals determine the quality, rigor, and alignment to the Common Core of curricular materials;
  • Common Core Toolkit – A compilation of many Common Core aligned tools and resources that span assessment and curriculum and can be used as part of professional development workshops;
  • NY Math Emphases – Guidance about which content should be the major focus math areas for your students in each grade-level. (As you know, the assessment will prioritize the major work of each grade. This document highlights what that major work is – and could also be a helpful tool for explaining the Common Core in math to parents and others.);
  • Curricular Exemplars – Exemplars in both ELA and Math to help serve as a guidepost for what Common Core aligned curricular materials can look like;
  • Video Series – Professional development videos that present the instructional shifts in ELA and Math required by the new standards through conversation with David Coleman, a leading author of the Common Core and the incoming President of the College Board;
  • NY State 3-8 Assessment Sample Items – Approximately 12 sample items for each grade level and subject, which include multiple choice, short constructed response, and extended constructed response; and
  • Common Core Aligned Curriculum Maps for ELA and Math – Draft curriculum maps for ELA and Math, grades K-5, which help outline how the Common Core can be taught over the course of the academic year.

Additional resources on EngageNY.org address the evaluation system and strategies to implement data driven instruction successfully. There’s more to come. Please visit EngageNY.org throughout the school year. 

I understand that change in the classroom can be difficult. And the fiscal constraints that districts face are daunting. But I also understand that change is necessary. The status quo won’t help our students adapt to an evolving world. The status quo won’t ensure the future success of our economy and our democracy.

Yes, things are changing. But what endures, above all else, is the ultimate responsibility of every educator: to work in partnership with parents and communities to educate all our students so they are prepared for college and careers.

The new school year gives us a new sense of possibility. The Board of Regents and the State Education Department are ready to support students, parents, and educators in this year of change.

There’s a tagline on our EngageNY.org website that reads: Our Students. Their Moment.

Together we can help them seize that moment.

Have a great school year.

Dr. John B. King, Jr.
New York State Commissioner of Education

Created on: 
Thursday, October 11, 2012