April 2003 The
BY STATE EDUCATION COMMISSIONER RICHARD P. MILLS
TheMeeting in Brief: VESID takes center stage this month with release of special education results from the School Report Card, as well as information about access to post-secondary education and employment, discussion of New York City’s special education reforms, and on-going discussion of reauthorization of IDEA in Congress. These issues also link to discussion of the School Report Card in general, the gap in student achievement, and the Regents projected review of the 55 – 65 passing score scheduled for November. In addition, the Regents will visit a VESID- supported culinary arts program site licensed by our Bureau of Proprietary Schools and founded by Father Peter Young. This program serves recovering addicts, many of whom were incarcerated.
School Report Card Data
The Report Cards are out again with more information on student achievement than ever. A new feature this year is Regents Exam results reported by ethnicity. We again see the gaps but in greater detail, and we see new evidence that the gaps are starting to close.
Throughout the state, performance at level 2 and above looks strong, but the gaps become pronounced at level 3 and above. Three findings are particularly heartening: graduating rates have not declined with new standards, and annual graduation numbers have remained stable even as more Regents exams have become requirements for graduation. Finally, the proportion passing eight exams at 65 has risen from 39.6% in 1996 to 54.8% in 2002.
These results bring to mind many discussions with students, teachers, parents, and administrators during school visits in recent months. The case for high expectations, effective use of data to adjust practice, well-prepared teachers and administrators, rigorous curriculum, and good teaching practice is renewed by these results. The remaining gaps present a fresh opportunity to engage the public and the profession. What are we going to do next to improve student achievement?
Academic Achievement of Students with Disabilities
Release of the test scores for students with disabilities this month will complete the School
Report Card for 2003. This new information will enhance what we know about the gaps in achievement and will also enable the Regents to prepare for a decision on whether or not to extend again the opportunity for students with disabilities to take the RCT if not successful on the Regents exam. The current policy lapses in 2004.
Here are some questions to keep in mind as you review the results that Regents will receive just prior to the meeting:
Each of these questions has a numerical answer and beyond the numbers Regents will draw conclusions about achievement of the vision for persons with disabilities and our work ahead in helping to achieve that vision.
Special Education in New York CityChancellor Joel Klein has begun a major reform of special education in New York City and it merits our support. The need for change is clear in the data. To cite two examples, in spite of some improvements in other outcomes, we see continued over-reliance on placements outside of the regular classroom, and very low percentages of students with disabilities meeting the standards (i.e. performing at level 3 and above).
Chancellor Klein’s actions are intended to improve instruction by adding specialists and proven reading programs, a new accountability system that includes benchmarks and $2.5 million in technical help. The Chancellor has simplified the organizational structure, eliminated duplicative evaluations, and focused responsibility for results.
Deputy Commissioner Larry Gloeckler proposes that our support take concrete form. We would target IDEA discretionary funds and other resources in a manner consistent with the City’s plan, give our greatest monitoring attention to critical outcomes, and identify regulatory barriers to higher student achievement. In addition, we propose to create an accountability agreement with the New York Department of Education that includes targets and a continuum of interventions if they are not met.
Reauthorization of IDEA and WIA
Two laws that are important to us are the subjects of congressional debate now. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the fundamental law that drives so much in special education practices. The Workforce Investment Act is the foundation for the Workforce Investment Boards, both state and local, and these have been important stages to advocate for Regents policy on vocational rehabilitation and special education. The VESID committee will discuss current House proposals to reauthorize both bills. These reauthorizations will drive policy for the next five years. The House versions include substantial changes in policy. The bills continue to change so we will keep a close watch on the debate and keep the New York delegation and other members informed of Regents views.
Thinking about the Passing Grade
In November, according to the Regents 24-month policy calendar, the Regents will confirm or revise their policy decision on the Regents passing score for graduation. Current policy requires a passing score of 65 on English, global studies, and American history by June 2004. (Mathematics and science would remain at 55 for another year.)
How might we think about this policy? The new school report cards provide information relevant to the decision, and there will be more in June and still more in the late fall. We will actually need a lot more than that, including further analysis of the GED and graduation rate data. Now is the time to construct a framework for this policy review. Some will look at the remaining gaps and want to decide now. There is a better way.
The new data only bring into sharper focus a message we have stated for years: there are gaps in student achievement but there is hope. If we decide prematurely to extend the timetable, we would be left with only the first half of that sentence. The gaps are beginning to close in part because of the urgency that Regents policy brought to an old problem. Without the urgency, and the pressure for new practice and resources, how could we hope for improved results?
If we were to decide now, it would be without the evidence of the experience over three years of the students in the 2000 cohort who are expecting the 65 pass score. Repeatedly students have risen to the occasion when confronting a new challenge.
If there is to be more time how will schools use it? With nearly eight years of experience and continual adjustment, can we specify more clearly the strategies that will help students in the gap reach the standards? How will we apply those strategies even with fewer financial resources? What do we know now about the students who haven’t yet taken the tests? What do we know of the students who tried and have not yet succeeded? Are different strategies appropriate for those scoring between 55-64 and those below 55?
A major accomplishment of the Regents over the last few years has been to define the gap and focus public attention on it. This year the Regents could lead the state to a deeper commitment of what will be done to educate children in the gap. There are, of course, easier alternatives. We could allow more time without demanding commitments for how it would be used, and drift into a redefinition of the reform as one for those in average or well-off communities. But that is not the vision that got us this far.
Task Force on the Future of Nursing
The Professional Practice Committee will receive an update this month on actions to carry out the recommendations of the Regents Blue Ribbon Task Force on the Future of Nursing. Regents on other committees will want to consider it also as a model of good follow-up. This is the third report in a series. This one quantifies the current shortage (11 percent fewer nurses than New York needs), and describes new research on the relationship between staffing and patient outcomes. The report tallies State Education Department actions including a survey of working conditions, a new guidance memorandum that clarifies patient abandonment, guidelines to clarify the scope of practice of nursing, a revised Nursing Handbook, and an enhanced Web-site, among other actions to implement the spirit of the Regents Task Force recommendations. The Task Force report also appears to have been influential in other states.
Update on Library Policy
The Regents Library Commission defined the libraries’ needs and enabled the Regents to launch a comprehensive response in New Century Libraries. Deputy Commissioner Carole Huxley’s report this month shows progress even in advance of the investment requested from the Legislature.
The proposed Executive Budget cuts to library aid unified the many library communities in advocacy and gave new visibility to New Century Libraries.
Carole Huxley, Janet Welch and colleagues have used available resources and relationships to demonstrate the utility of New Century Libraries. For example, they created a version of NOVEL using federal funds. They helped 16 new public library districts form, thus demonstrating another New Century Library concept and bringing public library service to another 150,000 people. They used federal LSTA funds to support new training for librarians and built connections with the schools’ campaign to meet standards through summer reading programs. They encouraged and participated in efforts to combine the initiatives at SUNY, the Big 11 Research Libraries, the New York Library Association, and the State Library to enhance access to specialized library resources.
This work has been part of the advocacy for New Century Libraries. We have shown ourselves to be reliable partners in sharing what we have and we have spoken forcefully against the budget cuts. We have built alliances, found new advocates among school people, and made the best of every opportunity to speak out for library investment.
Review of Regents Teaching Policy
The Regents Task Force on Teaching recommended many policy changes in teacher preparation and certification. Deputy Commissioner Johanna Duncan-Poitier and colleagues have a new summary of Task Force recommendations and the actions that followed. The report shows extensive implementation of the original 1998 Regents Task Force Report recommendations. The summary provides context to the Regents commitment in the 24-month calendar to review those policies this year. A few areas merit Regents consideration for possible revision.
Also this month I will summarize the discussions with New York City Department of Education as they work to meet our policy to issue no new temporary licenses as of September 1, 2003.
Call to Teaching Forum
On April 8, the last in the series of regional Call to Teaching forums took place in New York City. Members of the Board of Regents, NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and I hosted meetings with education, business and community leaders and students to continue the conversations about recruitment and retention of qualified teachers, especially in lower performing schools. The main purpose was to recruit teachers and to encourage others to do so. In addition, the forums have provided suggestions that will inform the Regents evaluation of their teaching policy.
NCLB Accountability Plan Implementation
In December 2002, the Regents approved New York State’s plan for meeting the accountability requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This plan was approved by the U.S. Department of Education in January 2003. Now it’s time to begin implementing the details of the accountability system. These details will be spelled out in Commissioner’s regulations. The Regents will be asked to review staff recommendations on regulatory issues this month and then review actual regulatory language in June and July.
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