Assessment Opinion

Can We Take a Tylenol® for the Madness?

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — May 16, 2013 4 min read
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The title page of On Board, the publication of the New York State School Boards Association declares they are, “The Voice of Public School Leadership.” In the May 13th issue, on page 17 was a column called “Chancellor’s Commentary” entitled “No time to slow down on Common Core.” In this column, Merryl Tisch, the Chancellor of the New York Board of Regents espoused the same message we all in New York have heard for the last three years. That message - “It’s about learning, and growing, keeping pace with an ever more competitive world, so that our students - and our economy - have the best possible shot at success.” We agree. We need a better and more consistent way to measure our students’ progress against themselves, our schools and districts, the state, the nation, and the world. So why is there a hue and cry from educational leaders in the trenches?

Here it is. The Chancellor continues: “In that effort, there is no such thing as moving too fast.” In this, we disagree.

With a celebratory tone, the column begins that our students just took the new state math and reading tests designed “around the Common Core learning standards.” New York State adopted the Common Core in 2010. Curriculum and training modules still remain incomplete and are often posted and then removed from the resource site called EngageNY.org . The truth is that there may have been good intention but it certainly is not what happened. The roll out has been plagued by false starts with the state’s consultants, revisions at the state, and Networks at the regional Boards of Cooperative Educational Services struggling to offer sound guidance and turnkey training with fidelity to the state directives in a compressed timeframe. Once printed, reference materials were relied on; upon return to the website, they were gone. Teachers and principals kept moving ahead while being confused and frustrated.

The Chancellor continues,”There’s also no question that the introduction of the Common Core is going to cause a bit of in-flight turbulence - especially with respect to these first rounds of test-taking.” All leaders of systemic change anticipate there will be this turbulence. Hopefully, there are pilots and plans that are in place to minimize it. Unfortunately, the recipients of this turbulence were the third through eighth graders! We blogged about this most recently on May 2 and May 9. The hours of testing caused children anxiety and sickness, and caused some parents to opt out of the tests.

Perhaps there is another, more subtle test revealed in the Chancellor’s comments. She went on to state: “It’s only natural that there should be some uneasiness about the kind of results produced by a substantially different test. We have always expected that scores will drop initially.” Maybe we are also testing the teachers and leaders to measure how well they deal with system turbulence. If so, where do we go for guidance from anyone who has lead through such turbulence, where its very existence, and certainly its public image, might be tarnished or actually destroyed?

We have endured the tests. Children are back at the engaged tasks of learning and growing. Teachers are in classrooms and are breathing again. Now, leaders must prepare for the consequences...the moment when the results are released. Everyone in the media and public will have forgotten that the Chancellor told them the scores will drop. Our system credibility will be on the line and, for some of us, our jobs as well. Fundamentally, we must get the word out. Even if they look and feel the same, these are no longer the same schools anyone went to ten years ago. The illusion that we have not changed must come crashing down.

Do you remember when Tylenol®, a Johnson and Johnson product, was pulled from the shelves because of product tampering that had caused deaths in the Chicago area? The leadership of Johnson and Johnson has been credited with implementing a model crisis response and communication plan. Without it, the organization might not have recovered from the economic impact on its bottom line. Nor would Tylenol® have regained its market position as a trusted painkiller.

Can Tylenol®'s experience help us? We think so. Here is what they did, modified to our situation.

•Form a strategy team with teachers, school leaders, board members and parents to address how Common Core standards have changed schooling, causing children to learn new content and in different ways. Create an understanding that this round of tests are not a measure of success of our schools or our children, but rather a benchmark for future measurements. •Get this message out to the general public, not just parents. Initiate contact with the press. Be open. Include the Chancellor's remarks in your message. •Have a response plan articulated so that you can clearly define your strategies if your students do poorly. •Use the media and social media to broadcast your strategies. •Have the strategy team ready to answer questions when they arise. •Be sympathetic to and for the children who had to endure this first round...and generate public support for them as the pilot.

If it works, as it did for Tylenol®, we may find ourselves with renewed public confidence in our schools. Wouldn’t that be nice?

According to her Teachers College Bio, Merryl Tisch has given of her time for seventeen years as a Regent in New York State. Her energy and dedication cannot be in question. Neither can her devotion to children and to education. But, when the time comes and the scores are released we can use her help...and that of Commissioners and State Superintendents across the land. This is not a time for the Emperor’s New Clothes. This is a time for Merryl Tisch, and those like her in every state, to remember our goal and theirs are the same. The moment, hopefully, will come when she stands up with us as colleagues and acknowledges all the challenges and mistakes that accompanied this transformation, listens to the real problems, and joins us in navigating the turbulence. We do, after all, want the children to get there; none should be lost in the crossing over.

Department of Defense

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