With state tests approaching, Education Commissioner John King encouraged school districts to reduce their local assessments and pushed back against criticisms of the Common Core standards in a letter to superintendents on Monday.
“It is our hope that as you, your principals and teachers get more comfortable with the new state assessments, you will reduce local standardized testing or test prep programs and dedicate as much learning time as possible to providing a well-rounded curriculum that meets our highest expectations of a great education,” King wrote.
That is likely to be a tall order. While reducing test preparation is something district leaders can choose to emphasize—as Chancellor Carmen Fariña recently has—many districts are also committed to giving new, local tests to fulfill the requirements of the state’s new teacher evaluation system. New York City gave the first of those tests last fall.
King also encourages school districts to communicate clearly with parents and educators to “correct misinformation that can cause anxiety and frustration among students and teachers,” a clear reference to the criticisms that have mounted over the school year about the rollout of the Common Core standards. This year will be the second year that state reading and math assessments are Common Core-aligned.
King also responded to criticisms, more common in upstate New York, that the Common Core is an example of federal overreach.
“This is New York’s assessment of our standards and the curriculum taught by our teachers. Do not let anyone say otherwise,” King wrote.
In a few places, King’s note speaks directly to issues being debated in New York City. He reminded district leaders that the state does not set criteria for when students are promoted, or require that those decisions involve state test scores. Untying promotion decisions and test scores is a policy change that Fariña has recently signaled that she is interested in taking up.
His full letter is below: