On the eve of next week's state ELA exams for grades 3-8, Chancellor Walcott is urging principals to "turn the pressure down" on teachers in the wake of "heightened anxiety" about this year's high stakes tests.
Walcott and State Ed Commissioner John King have been saying that the 2013 state tests will be more difficult to pass because for the first time they are aligned with the new Common Core standards which many schools have just began to implement. Some teachers say they have not had adequate curricula and learning materials to prepare for the new standards.
In his weekly letter to principals, Walcott acknowledged the anxiety surrounding the upcoming ELA and math exams. He writes: "...a natural reaction would be to turn the heat up on your teachers, who tend to respond by turning the heat up on their students," he writes. "Instead, to the greatest extent you can, I’m asking you and your team to do the opposite, and turn the pressure down."
Even with the expected drop in student scores, "roughly the same number of students will attend summer school as in previous years," he said . "And teacher evaluation and school accountability will adjust accordingly so no one is punished by the change in assessments."
Earlier this week, Walcott visited Academy of Arts and Letters in Brooklyn with King and Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, to see how that school was implementing the Common Core. He praised the leadership for "cultivating a caring culture" that other principals should follow.
See the full text of his letter after the jump.
"As we move forward with our implementation of the Common Core standards,
I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership. Elementary and middle school
principals know well that the next phase of the transition will begin a week
from today when, for the first time, students in grades 3–8 will take State
tests aligned to the Common Core. Although high school students will not
begin to take the new tests until next year, this message is for high school
principals as well.
I saw leadership in action this morning when I visited the Academy of Arts
and Letters in Brooklyn. Just as I’ve seen in many of your schools during my
visits, Principal John O’Reilly and Assistant Principal Mel Jackman are
cultivating a caring culture that is marked by high expectations for
students and teachers. Their school community looks to them for leadership,
just as your school community looks to you. What your school community sees
when it looks to you matters enormously; a leader's actions reverberate and
impact—intentionally or not—his or her community.
As the annual round of State tests approaches, a natural reaction would be
to turn the heat up on your teachers, who tend to respond by turning the
heat up on their students. Instead, to the greatest extent you can, I’m
asking you and your team to do the opposite, and turn the pressure down.
I have heard from our students, teachers, families, and principals that they
are feeling anxious about the tests, which happens every year to a certain
degree. This year, with the uncertainty about exactly what these tests will
look like, some people are feeling heightened anxiety.
That’s why, as leaders, it is critical to keep in mind—and to remind our
school communities—that these tests are a step in the process, not the
process itself. Help build an environment in which your students, teachers,
and families feel as confident and comfortable as possible. Set a tone that
is supportive but not pressure-filled. It’s the kind of environment our
students, staff, and parents need and deserve.
After all, for the last few years, you have led our students and teachers
through a bold implementation plan. Across the City, students are writing
more, engaging in more critical thinking, and solving more real-world
problems than ever before. Have no doubt that we are strengthening
instruction and doing better by our students.
Change takes time, and adding pressure unnecessarily won’t accelerate that
process. Students will take the tests next week. Some students will excel
with the skills that this year’s tests will emphasize, and some students
will likely struggle with the increased rigor. The students of this City are
resilient—they will put forth their best effort, and we will continue to
build on all of your hard work.
After the tests, roughly the same number of students will attend summer
school. Teacher evaluation and school accountability will adjust accordingly
so no one is punished by the change in assessments. We will learn from the
results of this year’s tests and we will adjust our instruction and
interventions accordingly to ensure that our 1.1 million students are ready
for college and careers.
Thank you for your leadership."