May 2003
Report to the State Board of Regents
BY STATE EDUCATION COMMISSIONER RICHARD P. MILLS


The Meeting in Brief: The Regents will meet for two days in the Bronx this month. The focus will be the gaps in student achievement and how they can be closed. Regents will meet educators, elected officials, and community members. They will discuss child health issues with medical practitioners and the whole scope of educational needs with the Bronx Educational Alliance. The Regents will visit many schools, including schools currently and formerly under registration review as well as higher performing schools. In the Full Board session, the Regents will reflect on what they learned in the discussions and visits.

Closing the Gaps in Student Achievement

"I got a 14," said one student in the Bronx about his first attempt to pass a Regents exam. After three more tries, he passed. Others had similar come-from-behind success stories, and you can hear them on our parent night program on PBS stations this month. Why did they keep going when others would have given up?

There is a certain attitude one encounters in board members, superintendents, teachers and parents, best summarized by that studentís principal: "We will do whatever it takes to get a student to reach the standards." In his school, "whatever it takes" covers a lot of ground. Teachers discuss ways to get specific students to show up at tutoring sessions and on exam day. Administrators know by name all of the children who need extra help to pass, and keep charts of where each student is in the schedule and what that student needs to work on to meet the standard.

That school is open from early to late. One administrator spends hours calling students, parents, and grandparents to coax one more kid into the help that is necessary to graduate. When asked why they passed, several students mentioned him.

There are dangerous gaps in student achievement but there is also hope where the attitude, skill and persistence of school people and their many partners combine to close those gaps. It doesnít work this way everywhere to be sure, but when we see it in a few places, at least the part of the argument about how it canít be done should be over. And yet it isnít over.

One still hears that some students canít meet the standards, or canít learn mathematics. The financial situation raises a whole new array of concerns, which cannot be dismissed outright. There are still communities where the educators place the root causes of low achievement outside the schools and non-school people place the problem entirely within the schools. This month, the Regents are meeting in a place with huge performance challenges, some impressive gains, and many committed individuals and organizations.

The performance gaps in the Bronx are large. Fewer than 19 percent met the standard in middle level mathematics in 2002. In District 9, the figure is 13 percent. Other data, however, suggest possibilities in the situation. There are 83 percent at level 2 and above in middle level mathematics and that is more than a four-point gain over the prior year. In other words, the percentage of students at level 1 is low and dropping.

The Regents exam scores are more encouraging at the 55 pass level. 74.3 percent of Bronx students in the 1998 cohort passed Regents English at a score of 55 or better, which is close to the averages in all the boroughs except Staten Island. The gap is wider at the 65 passing score, where the Bronx number is 53.4 while most of the boroughs are in the low 60s. In reflecting on these data, Regents will also ask about attendance, health, class size, teacher qualifications, poverty and other statistics. Whatever the obstacles, committed people must find a way around them.

The performance gaps in the cities and elsewhere are the context for several related policy matters before the Regents. For example, in November, the Regents will reflect on the data again to decide whether or not to go forward with the policy to move the passing score to 65 on the Regents exams. Many people urge more time, but there are few who have described what they would do with more time to produce better results.

The passing score issue is related to the middle grades policy that Regents will decide this summer (on the policy statement) and in the early winter (on the regulations.) Much of that debate also turns on how time would be used. Still another related policy concerns the end of temporary licenses in September 2003 and the determined efforts to find and keep qualified teachers in New York City.

One broad approach to resolving the performance gap is to engage the University of the State of New York, both as a whole and through its member institutions. The gaps appear in the school report cards, but many libraries, museums, colleges and universities recognize a stake in this. Likewise many health and human services organizations, and many community-based organizations are aware that they can make a contribution. In the Bronx, as the Regents will see, many parts of the University are already engaged, as are many health and community-based organizations.

Medical Practitioners - Child Health and Student Results

Health problems that are unresolved and even undiagnosed can be learning barriers for children. Vision and hearing problems, trauma resulting from violence, mental illness, dental problems, chronic disease, environmental poisons, and poor nutrition are among the many conditions that block learning, impede memory, and lead to low attendance Ė and low academic achievement as well as behavior problems in school.

The Regents will convene at Lincoln Hospital with physicians, nurses, a nutritionist, and other emergency personnel to hear their perspectives on these problems and what can be done about them. Regents are on common ground here. Regents make their decisions on the data. Anyone who has attended "grand rounds" in a hospital knows that the medical professions do also. There are also differences that make joint ventures between educators and medical practitioners challenging, including different perspectives on research, and the absence of organizational connections.

The Regents have legislative proposals that support greater coordination between schools and health care. These proposals would authorize all school districts to use school space for school-based health clinics under certain conditions.

Here are some issues for reflection:

Bronx Educational Alliance

The Regents will convene with leaders of the Bronx Educational Alliance to discuss strategies to raise student achievement.

The Bronx Educational Alliance includes the Bronx Borough President, presidents and staff of colleges and universities, school superintendents, hospitals, unions, leaders in art, ASPIRA, human services, and libraries. Our colleague Associate Commissioner Evans-Tranumn is also a member of the board.

The Bronx Educational Alliance represents many government, cultural, education, and human services organizations that have joined to improve student achievement. The Alliance is concerned about graduation rates, college readiness, tutoring, health, after school enrichment, and improving family outcomes. These leaders have spoken out on policy, budget and legislative issues.

School Visits

The school visits will follow extensive discussions with leaders from many perspectives on the student achievement issue. Regents will separate into four groups to visit a total of nine schools across the Bronx:

Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice

Health Opportunities School

PS 179 and PS 220, CSD 7

PS 154, CSD 7

PS 159, CSD 10

MS 143, CSD 10

PS 160, CSD 11

PS 111, CSD 11

Regents will have school report card data that describes achievement, attendance, enrollment and other information about these schools. As they visit the schools and talk with children, teachers, administrators and parents, Regents will want to reflect on the discussions with members of the Bronx Educational Alliance, elected officials, and the medical professionals. They might also bear in mind some of the gap-closing strategies that were proposed by the Regents Task Force on the Gap as well as the two subcommittees that reported last year. For example:

Progress Report on Assessment of Critical Operations

The assessment of critical SED operations is a topic on the Commissionerís performance agreement with the Regents. This will be sent to the Regents for their information. Regents may want to ask questions during the Commissionerís report, but otherwise there will be no presentation planned on the item because that would distract us from the theme of the meeting.


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Last Updated: November 01, 2004