Opinion

Opinion: How New York’s Tougher Standards and Tests Improved My School

By Lisa DiGaudio | October 20, 2016

Photo: Getty Images
Nothing brings an educator more joy than seeing students overcome challenges. I recently had the privilege of working with a young woman who, after having a baby at 17, went on to graduate and get accepted to college. If not for high standards, consistent support and mentoring, her story of success might not be possible.

New York students generally are benefiting from the rigor and excellence outlined in the Common Core Learning Standards. It’s been incredible to see test results showing that students across the state are making gains in reading and math. As a principal and curriculum adviser, I have seen that students who once fell behind are now being held to high standards and enjoying better outcomes.

(The 74: Understanding the Common Core)

These gains, which we should all be celebrating, validate arguments in favor of strong assessments and better professional learning for educators. Assessment is vital to instruction and doesn’t have to be a bad word.

The higher expectations demanded by the standards also promotes collaboration among teaching staff. My staff at New Dawn Charter High School in Brooklyn naturally form working groups to review their lesson plans and visit one another’s classrooms to ensure they are aligning their work to the Common Core. This level of collaborative planning creates a natural flow of review and reflection after lessons are introduced to students. Teachers at New Dawn often share with me how their students are becoming more reflective and more successful because of the alignment between academic standards and the lessons they work through in class.

As we’ve implemented the standards over the past few years, educators at my school have learned that high standards are the framework for a very thoughtful journey. They outline how students develop skills in reading, writing and math from one year to the next. The skills students develop build upon each other year after year, supporting them as they learn to think more deeply and synthesize information. The assessments, which are aligned to the Common Core, offer an opportunity for all of us — teachers, families and students — to see and reflect on the growth students have experienced.

Change is a difficult process. It takes time. That’s why I am very pleased that the New York State Education Department has apparently avoided sweeping changes to our already strong learning goals. The proposed revisions will hopefully help to avoid disruption to classrooms and teachers, and they represent a positive step forward for schools and districts that have been at work implementing the new standards to benefit our kids.

(The 74: How New York State Revised the Common Core)

When I look at the change happening in my own school, it’s clear to me that improvement is a years-long journey. We should not move away from all of the important work that educators across the state have spent years working on: improving their craft, working together and supporting kids as they make great gains in their learning.

Committing ourselves to standards and assessments is one of the best ways we can honor these efforts and move closer to the goal of building curriculum for the Common Core that’s right for all our kids. We must keep going forward and work together for our children. They are depending on us all to help them overcome life’s challenges so that they can flourish as adults.

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