BY STATE EDUCATION COMMISSIONER RICHARD P. MILLS
Meeting in Brief: The Regents will check progress on issues discussed at the July Retreat, and consider the draft 24-month policy calendar. The Higher and Professional Education Committee will consider the CUNY master plan amendment. The Board will conduct most of its work in four Full Board sessions. Important issues include Regents decision on the State aid recommendation, the Federal Agenda and discussions about middle-level policy, preliminary draft school leadership regulations, minority enrollment in special education, and alignment of Regents policy on school accountability and No Child Left Behind. This report begins with a proposal on how to help students who have not yet met the standards.
Next Moves in the Current Cycle of Improving Student Learning
Students are learning more than ever. Student achievement has improved in relation to the standards over recent years and continues to do so. The report cards show that this is happening in all types of schools and at all levels. Nevertheless, educators and members of the public are concerned about the potential failure of some students to meet the standards. What can we do? Throughout, the Regents have held fast to two core values: all children must have a high standards education and we adjust strategy, as new data become available. Here are some ideas that are consistent with those values.
Schedule the 55-65 decision. Regents policy calls for ending the use of the 55 low-pass option on Regents exams for all five exams for students scheduled to graduate in 2005. Looking at the cohort that began 9th grade in 1998, only 8 percent had scored 55-64 in both Math and English after 3 years. These students do not have to achieve the 65 score. The first class that must score 65 in English began 9th grade in fall 2000. The first class that must score 65 in Math began 9th grade in fall 2001. The Regents have often said that they would evaluate this situation and adjust if needed. Itís time to announce when the Regents will undertake this review: I recommend the Regents review this issue through the late winter and come to a decision in the fall of next year.
Why not decide now? We could, but students continue to improve. By this time next year, most students will have had an opportunity to take all of the exams twice, and we will have much more data on how close they are to graduation. (However, remember that many of these students have only needed to score 55). It may be that by that time the great majority of students will be very close to meeting the standards at 65 and the Regents will want to reaffirm their policy. Or, one or more of the subjects will show a remaining gap that might lead Regents to retain the 55 pass score for another year in a particular subject.
Create a new opportunity for students to meet the standards by linking USNY institutions. Students can remain in high school for another semester or two to pass courses and Regents exams. Some students, however, will want to move on once their class graduates. We should not offer a substandard "diploma" to these students, nor can we dismiss them as failures. There is a better way.
New York could link high schools to community colleges. Examples already exist in New York, as we have heard from local superintendents, district superintendents, and CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein. Students who are close to completing high school but need to pass a Regents exam or two would get a transcript and a firm connection to a nearby community college. The aim would be to complete high school level work in the community college and pass the Regents exam, and earn the high school diploma.
Create a fast track curriculum to help students at level 1 catch up. Recent BOCES studies have shown that students who perform at level 1 on an exam in eighth grade are unlikely to pass the Regents exam in that subject. It follows that a student who enters ninth grade so far from the standards needs a different kind of ninth grade experience. There are high schools in our State that are implementing a different approach for such students. We would identify the "catch-up" curriculum along with the teaching practices to go with it. A slower version of the regular program is not whatís called for, but a program that engages studentsí interests and fills the gaps in what they know and can do.
Create a new local practitionerís panel to advise on the design of new exams required by No Child Left Behind. The new exams can provide valuable information to support student learning. The manner in which we design those new exams can strengthen the commitment to school improvement. We will invite superintendents, teachers, principals, parents and others to advise us as we create the frameworks for the new assessments while meeting the technical requirements for validity and reliability.
Review Regents policy on students learning English. Regents have policies to help students who are learning English meet the standards. In February, the Regents will examine the results of their policy, consider the achievement of students affected, and consider what changes are needed.
Extend the Career and Technical Education opportunity to more students. More than 300 Career and Technical Education programs are approved today, and about 50 more await review. Schools and BOCES have moved quickly to use the flexibility available to create these alternative paths to the same high standards. It is time to go to scale with this idea, with particular attention to urban school districts.
Identify highly effective practices for helping students meet the standards. The data allow us to identify schools that are unusually effective in raising student achievement from almost passing the Regents exams to passing. Along the way, the Regents could give appropriate recognition to these schools. The web allows us to make knowledge about their effective practices widely available. Regional-based structures like BOCES, higher education institutions, teacher centers, and school support centers can help schools implement these practices. We can create oversight panels of practitioners to guarantee the quality of these materials for each of the five required subject areas.
Prevent students from becoming dropouts. The State Education Department will have more complete data on student dropouts in mid-winter. We also know more about why students drop out Ė it is a process, not a single event. The typical dropouts: are way behind in reading and mathematics skills by the time they enter high school; and have not acquired enough credits in high school or passed the required courses to even take Regents exams. There are steps that, taken early in a studentís career, can prevent dropping out of school. Regents policy on attendance will help schools identify students likely to dropout. This policy is already being implemented locally. Simultaneously we will release new drop out data and a comprehensive strategy to reduce dropouts. That will happen this winter.
Redesign middle school programs to get students to standards by 8th grade. The Regents will define middle grades policy this spring. This work will be presented in the context of the current concerns about enabling all students to meet the standards. Itís clear, for example, that the seeds of dropping out are sown in middle grades. In order to meet the graduation standards, students cannot be allowed to fall behind in these grades.
Regents policy discussions on this topic have been and will continue to include all interested parties. The work has included research on effective practice, regional meetings, and identification of essential elements of successful middle grades programs. After their policy decision, Regents will change regulations and the State Education Department will certify model programs in local schools to enable others to learn from them.
Reconsider the Regents policy to require masterís degrees within three years. As one educator told us at a regional teacher-recruiting meeting, time is the enemy of the new teacher. A new teacher needs to concentrate on the students. They need to reflect on and adjust practice. Requiring the masters in three years instead of the five allowed previously may work against retaining good teachers. The accelerated schedule imposes costs on individuals and school districts.
Collect better data on student achievement.
The State Education Department and local school districts are now collecting data to gain better understanding of student enrollment patterns. By September, we will have a prototype of a data system based on unique student identifiers, which will enable us to evaluate student progress from grade to grade and identify potential problems earlier and with greater precision.
Recruit and prepare teachers Ė and then support them! The recent regional "Call to Teaching" campaign has generated a lot of enthusiasm. Higher education faculty and deans, superintendents, teachers, union leaders, BOCES staff, and many other participants have found common ground in reconnecting to their own reasons for teaching. We have also discovered that there are many mid-career professionals in other fields and many young people in college who are ready to become teachers. Now is the moment to make good on the promise: Every child will have a qualified teacher.
A Final Thought: Prepare for the next cycle The Regents have pursued higher achievement for a decade, building on and extending earlier efforts to improve student learning. Some of the fundamental decisions are close to a decade old. While very significant challenges remain, we can see what remains to be done. As we look beyond that work, we can also see that itís time to lay the foundations for the next cycle. What can we do now to strengthen the capacity of our institutions of higher education, the schools and libraries, and the regional systems, especially BOCES? What is the research agenda that must begin now to have the knowledge we will need to fuel New Yorkís next generation of school improvement? We can begin consulting the public and the most thoughtful members of the University of the State of New York on these questions immediately.
Renewing Regents Policy on Middle Grades
How can we be sure that children in the middle grades are getting the education they need? What exactly do they need at that stage in their lives? How can we close the gaps by enabling all students to make the transition to high school with the knowledge and skills they need to meet the standards? These are among the fundamental questions that will guide the Regents discussion leading to renewal of policy on middle-level education. The Board will decide policy in April.
What would success look like? Good policy will ease the path to higher student achievement of the standards. A successful conclusion to these discussions will guide local educators and parents, and should lead directly to a new and possibly different regulatory framework. It will not layer old policy with new demands. Where possible it will reflect the Boardís desire to "win compliance." It will reflect public discussion and research. It will also respond to educator demands for curriculum, good practice, and examples in schools. If we do this right Ė that is, with continued engagement with the professions and the public -- implementation will move quickly.
24-Month Policy Calendar
The Regents decided to adopt a 24-month calendar of policy decisions and policy reviews. A draft is before the Board in December. Policy decisions are those questions that only the Regents can resolve, and they may affect any part of the University of the State of New York. Policy reviews are periodic reexaminations of prior policy decisions. One example is before the Regents right now: middle grades education.
Why a 24-month calendar? Good policy decisions require time Ė for consultation with affected parties and the public, for research and reflection, and for data collection. When the Regents signal what they intend to decide and when, many more people can engage productively. That can lead to better decisions, faster implementation. The calendar will enable the Board and the State Education Department to use time effectively and to see connections among different initiatives.
Regents State Aid Recommendation
One of the Regents most important policy decisions is in the amount and distribution of State aid to education for the coming year. Last month, the Regents approved a conceptual framework for State aid that reflected these principles: simplicity and transparency, flexibility in operating aid, adequacy in closing the gaps in student achievement, maintaining local share of the costs, and recognition of regional cost differences.
This month the Regents will complete the recommendation by including a dollar amount. As they debate this figure, it will be important to consider what the schools need to meet the standards, and also what is sustainable.
Preparing Future Librarians
A basic responsibility of the University of the State of New York is to renew its own capacity to serve the public. To that end, the Regents have in recent years responded to shortages of teachers, nurses, school leaders, and members of other licensed professions. In the context of the New Century Library proposal, we are concerned about the preparation of librarians.
The American Library Association has brought attention to this issue, and the Regents modified their New Century Library proposal. In the current financial situation, libraries are more important than ever. Library usage is up statewide this year as citizens try to make sense of the world. Libraries are places people turn when they are seeking employment information, learning English, sharpening computer skills, and doing their school and college homework. When we talk to children, we ask if they are in fact reading 25 books a year as the Regents recommend. Always in mind when we ask that question is another thought. Where will they find those books if they are among the million New Yorkers who donít have access to a public library?
Disproportionate Enrollment in Special Education
Children from some minority groups are identified for special education at rates much greater than non-minority children. They are also placed in settings away from children who do not have disabilities. Regents are concerned that children in this situation are less likely to have access or full access to the academic curriculum, and less likely to gain the knowledge and skills required by the standards. This is an old issue, but the Regents continue to illuminate it with new data. This month, the Regents will hear from a national expert on this topic, Dr. Daniel Reschly, Professor at George Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. Professor Reschly has served on the National Research Council Committee on Minority Representation in Special Education, which reports to the Congress on this issue.
CUNYís Master Plan Amendment
The Regents, the leaders of City University of New York, and many interested parties have engaged the many facets of the CUNY Trustees decision to change admissions policies in 1999. This discussion has properly been in the context of a master plan amendment because admission policy is a required element under statue in the master plan for CUNY.
The Regents original decision on the matter included a commitment to a series of data collections, peer reviews, public reports, and State Education Department studies. The report from the visiting committee of college and university presidents was the most recent contribution to the discussion.
This month the Higher Education Committee will discuss our three-year review of the implementation of the master plan amendment. The Committee will also vote on whether to grant final approval. The studies associated with this monitoring effort have been exacting and have demanded a great deal of staff resources from CUNY and SED. All of the issues have been fully discussed and a final review of all correspondence is ongoing. The Regents have done what they promised and CUNY has committed to providing all of the data recommended by the peer review committee. City University, like all other parts of the University of the State of New York, must focus on the task of providing access to quality in challenging financial times. I recommend that you grant final approval to the master plan amendment so that CUNY can move forward to achieve this goal.
Aligning Regents Accountability and No Child Left Behind
Many states have asked the Secretary to postpone the January date for sending the state plans for accountability consistent with No Child Left Behind. New York, however, is ready to send in the plan, subject to Regents policy decision.
The material before the Regents this month presents the same proposals and policy questions that the Board reviewed in September. I recommend that the Regents adopt the proposed framework, which will enable the Department-wide team to complete its fine work on this difficult but important issue.
In October a joint session of the Higher and Professional Education and EMSC committees agreed in principle to an approach to changing regulations that govern the education of school leaders. The Regents decided to distribute a preliminary draft version of the regulations, and to decide in January whether or not we were ready to begin the regulatory clock leading to policy decision. As a result, Deputy Commissioners Duncan-Poitier and Kadamus have a preliminary draft that has been distributed to the interested parties for review. A copy is before the Regents for information.
A Technology Strategy
Regents have decided that creating a technology strategy is critical. At their December meeting Regents will discuss a draft technology strategy that is organized around the six Regents goals in the overall Strategic Plan.
I suggest that Regents first read the assumptions about technology that appear on page 8 of the draft. The paper describes desired results under each goal. To achieve those results, the paper presents strategies that require extensive work. The paper concludes with statements about the State Education Departmentís role in technology and some limitations on our action. Technology will become the instrument that creates the University of the future. The strategic choices the Regents make on this issue will be far-reaching.
College at Work
Two years ago, President Hitchcock of the State University at Albany agreed to provide undergraduate courses at the State Education Building. This partnership responds to our commitment to raise the knowledge, skills and opportunities of our colleagues in the Department. In the early afternoon after the conclusion of the December Regents meeting, we will recognize the students who have completed this academic program. We are grateful to SUNY-Albany, and proud of our colleagues.
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