Hartford – Like a football coach in a pre-game pep talk, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy urged the state’s superintendents Wednesday to have courage as they face the challenge of moving their schools to a new national curriculum with a new standardized test.

“These are confusing and difficult times, but they are necessary times if we want to accomplish what we want for our children,” Malloy told superintendents gathered at the Legislative Office Building for the annual Back to School meeting for superintendents.

“Change is hard and change is hardest in Connecticut. I think Samuel Clemmons had it right,” Malloy said, adding that he will continue to fight for state education funding and is receptive to feedback and flexibility.

The state is in the process of rolling out the national Common Core State Standards, a new curriculum that emphasizes critical thinking, building background knowledge and going into more depth in many subject areas, among other changes.

To ease the transition, the state is seeking permission from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to allow districts to choose between giving the new Common Core test or the traditional state mastery tests this coming year.

State officials have not gotten word yet from Duncan, but they are proceeding as though they have permission, Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said.

In addition to the test choice, the State Department of Education is seeking a one-year pass on using test scores when evaluating teachers and principals for the coming year.

During the meeting, Malloy also touched on the lagging results of the latest CMT and CAPT scores released Tuesday. Test scores dropped in nearly every subject in grades 3-8 statewide, but improved in math, science and reading in the 10th grade CAPT test.

Pryor said some of the more pronounced decreases in lower grades may be due to the shift to the Common Core curriculum, which has a different pace and a more analytical approach. Students using the new curriculum haven’t covered some of the areas in the test.

Malloy pointed out, however, that there were some bright spots in the test results, namely significant improvement in scores at low-performing “alliance” districts.

During the meeting, Wallingford Superintendent Salvatore F. Menzo discussed his experience in implementing the Common Core curriculum. Menzo, who started the new approach in 2011, said it has been challenging and has required everyone from teachers to administrators to change their philosophy. He said communication with teachers and parents is important.

Meanwhile, Pryor, in a wide-ranging speech, urged the superintendents to focus also on developing not only academic acumen, but helping students learn to work hard, persevere and develop true character.

“I would like to, with you, increasingly inject into our dialogue the notion of the well-rounded student as we pursue these goals,” Pryor said.

“The Common Core, contrary to popular opinion, is all about that. The Common Core is about building background knowledge, about an understanding of our nation, of our world, about the understanding of the sciences as students pursue English, language arts and mathematics.”

He also urged principals to allocate more of their time to observing classrooms and coaching teachers. Research based on Miami-Dade school system showed that the average principal there spent only on average seven minutes on these tasks, he said.

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