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How Two New York City Principals Balance Common Core With Statewide Tests

When New York principals encourage the use of LDC in their schools, they do so in a system currently built with an eye toward state examinations that do not always align with the Common Core State Standards. The challenges encountered by New York City principals Patrick McGillicuddy and Kate Callaghan mirror the experiences faced by educators throughout the United States, and their results and lessons learned provide compelling evidence for others working to balance Common Core with their own state requirements.

New York mandates Regents Examinations, statewide standardized tests combining content-heavy multiple choice sections with long-answer/essay questions. The state will not begin to align Regents with Common Core until 2014, and until they are in full alignment, encouraging the use of LDC in classrooms raises the question of whether principals risk lower scores for their students.

“We are pulled in different directions,” says McGillicuddy, principal of East Brooklyn Community High School, a transfer school designed to help students who have fallen behind in credits required to earn their diplomas. “Our time to get students back on track is short, and while there is some overlap between Regents and Common Core, our teachers were concerned about where to focus their time.”

However, McGillicuddy and Callaghan, principal of Bronx Leadership Academy II (BLAII), looked at their long-term goals for their schools and students and chose to prioritize Common Core. “We decided it’s more important to our students’ futures to be better readers, writers, and thinkers,” says McGillicuddy, and Common Core’s focus on literacy across subjects furthered those objectives.

McGillicuddy and Callaghan worked with literacy coaches from New Visions for Public Schools to implement LDC with a selection of science and social studies teachers and have already seen results in their teachers and their students. “Our teachers have really dived in,” says Callaghan. “The LDC professional development we received has been really helpful for our science and social studies teachers, and they’ve found that teaching content through literacy modules has helped their students learn the content required in Regents in a more meaningful way. The amount of literacy I see in students since LDC is much greater.”

While Callaghan said teachers found the use of full LDC modules to be a large undertaking when competing with Regents requirements, the LDC mini-tasks made the balance between Common Core and Regents manageable. Over the three years that New Visions has been working on LDC with BLAII, Callaghan has seen this support encourage teachers in her school to come together across subjects and grade levels. “Our teachers are now reinforcing each other around different content areas, and moving forward, we’re opening up the conversation on a larger level.”

McGillicuddy says that despite any apprehension he felt about concentrating on Common Core, the increase he’s seen in the literacy abilities of his students in the two-and-a-half years since New Visions brought LDC to his school made it worth it. “We’ve seen kids able to really work on their writing as a craft,” he says. And while he isn’t sure yet whether this will translate to better multiple-choice scores, the students are writing better essays.

He advises principals who are beginning to implement LDC to take advantage of and communicate with literacy coaches, if available, and to set clear guidelines and expectations for teachers about where they should focus their efforts. Using LDC to teach literacy can coexist with the content responsibilities of state examinations. Until state tests become more aligned with the Common Core State Standards, principals struggling to advise their teachers how to balance their requirements can learn a lot from their colleagues’ experiences.

March 2013

Patrick McGillicuddy and Kate Callaghan
New York City Principals