Helping Our Students Progress and Succeed

Mark FishI have spent a great deal of time the last couple of weeks talking to students and parents about the latest round of state assessments.  The new, more rigorous and challenging Common Core assessments have really created quite a stir.  My message has been a simple one for students: Do your best!  It has been the same message I have delivered in all of the years of the New York State assessment program.  I have also shared that the assessments are rightfully more rigorous, but they match the changes that are occurring in our classrooms.

To succeed, we need to challenge our students to think, foster, and develop a thirst for knowledge and exploration in their studies, and cheer on their efforts as they do. With the work that has been done so far, I witnessed confident and prepared students take this year’s ELA assessments.   If we continue with these dedicated efforts, we will have our students prepared to be college and career ready, and the assessments will just be another small hurdle along the way for students to show what they know.  

As a Middle School Principal I choose to work with my faculty on things that we have control over – namely, quality teaching and learning opportunities in our classrooms.  As New York State’s reform agenda started the transition to Common Core, we quickly learned all we could about the new standards.  Here are some comments from teachers about our Common Core transition:

The introduction of the Common Core has impacted not just what students learn, but how they learn. Over the past several years we have implemented these changes, such as close reading, as a skill that causes students to interact with the text and explore the material in depth. Students are asking text dependent, analytical questions, and we are asking students to utilize their knowledge, not to just simply acquire it.

The Common Core has shifted classroom inquiry away from the “who, what, and where” questions to the deeper understanding questions of “why and how.”  It takes a skilled planner and great preparation to accomplish goals set by both the Intermediate Level Science Core Curriculum and new Common Core Learning Standards.  However, when effectively designed, these new lessons are student driven and very engaging.  Students justify their answers with the text and articulate their thoughts in a meaningful manner.  Gone are the days of lecture, lab, test, and repeat.  Students are provided choice, when appropriate, and are required to present their learning in a variety of ways.

Importantly, teachers in South Glens Falls have been given a variety of training opportunities to develop appropriate Common Core instructional techniques.  The faculty frequents the EngageNY website and shares current tools.  The administrators support the implementations of the Common Core Learning Standards by discussing their role in daily instruction during observations.  South Glens Falls and its professionals have completed a great deal of work to successfully transition the district to teach New York’s Common Core Learning Standards.

In New York State, where all middle level programs are required by regulation to implement the State Education Department’s 7 Essential Elements of Standards-Focused Middle Level Programs, the goal is to develop academically, emotionally, socially and physically strong and resilient students.  The new world of the Common Core requires substantial change in planning, preparation, and the delivery of instruction.  This fundamental change in how we do business requires thoughtful work and professional collaboration and training.  We work together, spend time talking about the changes required in the classroom, and share our experiences. 

Mark Fish is the Principal of Oliver W. Winch Middle School in the South Glens Falls School District.

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