In 2010, our company partnered with the New York City Department of Education to lead one of its five pilot programs for improving English Language Arts and literacy outcomes. While working with 20 middle and high schools to focus on literacy and increase the comprehension of text complexity, we found several trends:

  • Teachers had low expectations of their students as readers
  • Students received very few reading assessments
  • Teachers rewrote the texts and read them to students to ensure they understood the content

This, of course, does little to improve student literacy. Therefore, through the pilot we provided citywide workshops for teachers around analyzing the complexity of texts used and providing students with the strategies necessary to access increasingly complex texts. Schools were supported by school based professional development.

According to the New York City Department of Education, the results of last year’s Common Core aligned state tests show that New York City public school students outperformed students in other large urban school districts in New York State. Where teachers made shifts in practice, students were able to engage more deeply with texts, write logical arguments based on substantive claims and cite relevant textual evidence.

One consequence of implementing more rigorous standards has been a decline in average standardized test scores. This would call for substantially more professional development around the new standards, the investment of dollars, time and often times, a profound culture change. If we want to dramatically change the trajectory for many of our students now, we first need highly skilled teachers and leaders.

Sheena Hervey is Chief Academic Officer of Generation Ready.