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Welcome back to school! Even after 46 years in education, I still get excited by the start of a new school year. I hope that everyone had a chance to rest, relax, and enjoy the summer.
Now fall is almost upon us and students across the state are returning to their classrooms to begin the new school year.
The air is charged with a sense that anything is possible - because anything is possible when you have a classroom that's taught by a skilled teacher; a school that's led by a dynamic principal; a district that's run by an engaged school board and creative superintendent; and parents that are involved in their child's education.
I've been Commissioner for a little more than a year now, spending much of that time touring the state, visiting hundreds of classrooms and meeting with so many teachers, parents, school and district leaders and students.
I saw schools with high rates of poverty beating the odds and achieving at high levels. I witnessed special education teachers developing and implementing new ways to reach students with autism and other disabilities. And I saw students getting industry certification so they can go right to work in a highly-skilled, high-paying career. Not a job, but a career.
During my visits, I had the chance to talk to teachers, parents, and school leaders about what they felt ought to be changed.
The Regents and I took this input very seriously and, in response, we made some very important adjustments to our standards work, assessments, and evaluation system. Here's a brief rundown of what we've been doing.
We are reviewing and revising our current set of learning standards with the help of teachers, parents, and higher education partners from across the State. We hope to have our new standards ready for review this fall.
We shortened this year's Grades 3-8 English Language Arts and Mathematics Exams.
We took away time pressure for test takers by allowing them to continue to productively work on their exam for as long as needed.
We released test results sooner than in years past, giving teachers more time to use the information to develop individualized learning plans and make professional development decisions.
We also released 75 percent of the test questions - more questions than ever before. Teachers will be able to use the assessments more effectively as learning tools for students. Also this year, for the first time, educators and parents have the opportunity to review student responses to the constructed-response questions, providing more information about what each child is learning.
Additionally, we took away any evaluation consequences for our educators based on State growth scores. Thanks to actions taken by the Regents, no educators in New York State will be punished because of how students did on the annual assessments.
But our efforts extended beyond standards, tests, and evaluation.
We made changes to our graduation policies by offering multiple pathways to graduation - while still maintaining rigor - so more kids who deserve a diploma are able to graduate from high school.
We increased the number of career and technical course offerings, giving our students more pathways to graduation.
And, we joined forces with SUNY, CUNY, and colleges across the state to bolster the teaching profession and to encourage more young people to pursue a career in the classroom.
It's certainly been a busy first year but our work is far from finished.
In the coming year, we will ask teachers and parents to help us further refine our learning standards and make our assessments even better instructional tools. And, at every step of the way, we want to know what you think about the changes we've made so far and what still needs attention.
It's only by working together collaboratively that we will give every child in New York the opportunity for greatness. Together, we can make this school year an enriching one for all.
Thank you everything you do every day for New York's students.