BY STATE EDUCATION COMMISSIONER RICHARD P. MILLS
The Meeting in Brief: One unifying theme of the June Regents is literacy. The Board will receive a report on Reading First, and then hear from Drs. Sally and Bennett Shaywitz, experts on early childhood reading. Regents will continue their ongoing review of assessment issues with a report on GED. They will also discuss a report on the implementation of the statewide student information system. The Board will prepare for budget recommendations later this year by discussing potential 2005-06 budget priorities in committee.
In June the Regents will discuss a report on the Statewide Student Data System – its purposes, components, and implementation schedule.
The purpose is to marshal data needed locally and statewide to guide decisions that will close the gaps in student achievement. There are four components: unique student identifiers, state and regional data repositories, tools for data analysis, and training. The implementation has begun and will unfold over the next several years.
The protocol to assign unique student identifiers has been created, and system tests will be completed this July. Data already in Regional Information Centers will use the new identifier system this year. We will collect student data for the coming school year, 2004-05, using the unique student identifiers, and the system will expand annually beginning in 2005-06.
The Statewide Data System builds upon earlier establishment of the Local Education Agency Program (LEAP) and the System of Tracking Education Progress (STEP) during the 1997-98 and 2001-02 years respectively. It also builds upon the experience of the Regional Information Centers.
Many significant tasks are ahead. Alan Ray observed recently that three major changes converge in 2005-06. Grade-by-grade testing as required by the No Child Left Behind Act, the expansion of the Statewide Student Data System, and implementation of new middle level policy will connect testing, data analysis, and changes in instruction in ways not possible until now.
The report describes major implementation steps and deliverables year-by-year, and also outlines some risks and challenges. One challenge will be to manage our own expectations. In the immediate future, our ability to ask new questions will sometimes exceed the system’s capacity to answer them. This will pose trade-offs not always easy to resolve. While that can be frustrating, we know that the questions will also help guide us. There is another challenge: Education data systems depend on local systems. We must be mindful of local challenges and especially supportive of school districts as they and we go through this together.
The Regents this month will discuss an item that concentrates the middle level debate on a single point: should there be multiple models – in effect, multiple solutions to the middle level problem? We suggest that the answer should be yes. If the Regents concur, staff will return in September with a fully developed proposal that reflects appropriate consultation with interested parties.
As the Regents bring the middle level issue to a conclusion, it’s important to keep the middle level problem in mind. I asked colleagues to summarize that problem and here is the essence:
· Middle level performance in mathematics and English Language Arts is low. For example, in 2004 only 47 percent met the standards in ELA. In the Big Four Cities, only 23 percent met that standard. And just 8.3 percent of children with disabilities met that standard. These results are clearly unacceptable.
· The tests aren’t the problem. Both NAEP and the State tests signal the need for immediate change. For example, studies of New York tests show that students who score at level 1 on the 8th grade test are unlikely to pass the Regents exam in that subject. The long-term decline in the proportions of students scoring at the bottom of the scale - level 1 - is one encouraging point.
· About three-fourths of those who enter ninth grade graduate as seniors four years later. This figure has remained nearly constant for several years. Almost 10 percent of the 1999 cohort had not even taken the English Regents exams after four years, and that figure is over 17 percent in New York City. It is obvious that many students do not emerge from middle school ready for high school.
· Research points to practices and conditions associated with high performance in middle level – we discussed these Essential Elements and that research many times during the Regents debate. We have verified those findings in visits to improving middle schools. However, that research also suggests that many schools do not implement those practices and conditions.
· There may be many barriers to implementing more effective practices: Attention to large numbers of students at level 1 may preclude attention to other parts of a challenging curriculum; youth development programs may not be rigorous enough in concert with the academic core; resource limitations in low wealth communities may preclude adequate professional development.
That’s the problem. We are close to a decision on a policy framework to guide local action to resolve that problem.
The strongest elements in the Regents item are the insistence on standards, rigorous academics and youth development programs to ensure that all children reach the standards, and assessment of results. If those three elements are in place, many models could work.
Key questions: Does the Board concur with the multiple models approach? What other policy guidance will the Board provide so that staff can complete a full proposal for September?
Reading First -- the Startup
Reading First is a concrete application of some of the ideas that will close the gap in student achievement. It also shows us how hard and long we must work to accomplish that goal. A report to the Regents in June describes the startup of the federal program in New York.
Reading First rises on robust national research on how children learn to read. Not many areas of education are so illuminated by research, but reading now is. All educators must become familiar with that research.
Reading First is well funded. If it succeeds, the argument that more money doesn't matter in closing the gaps will be transformed. In this case, the funding is buying capacity. It pays for intense teacher training, building level reading coaches, local oversight of the programs, regional and state infrastructure to insure intense application of the research, and frequent diagnostic assessment of student reading.
Not every district that sought these resources secured them this time. The Reading First program hews to a clear line. Its goal is to ensure that every child reads at grade level by the third grade. Only assessments based on the reading research may be used. Only reading programs that also apply that research may be used. Children will get 90 minutes of reading instruction a day, and those who need more help will get it immediately and with great intensity.
Regents will want to follow the progress closely over the coming years. This approach may teach us a great deal about the next phase in the campaign to close performance gaps.
In May the Regents received an extensive report on the achievement of children and adults with disabilities. A report this month outlines how we can go forward by sharpening our selection of indicators of expected outcomes. The heart of the report is a chart showing 7 goals, 20 key indicators, and proposed targets for those indicators. When the Regents are satisfied that these elements are properly aligned, the idea is to engage our many colleagues and partners to develop strategies to move the indicators in the right direction.
Key question: Do we have the right goals, indicators and targets?
The EMSC-VESID Committee continues its series of reviews of assessment this month with discussion of a Department report on GED results.
In New York, students in programs leading to the GED generally have fewer than 2.75 high school credits toward graduation and are beyond the compulsory school attendance age. Students with more than 2.75 but fewer than half of the credits needed for graduation may also be admitted to the program, with approval; 771 received that approval in 2004. Individuals who take the GED after participating in a preparation program fare much better on the exam. The GED exam became more rigorous recently.
GED enrollments appear to have increased over the last three years. The paper cites reasons for the increases mentioned in the research literature but does not present New York specific data to explain the increases.
Of particular interest are the effects that the evolving accountability system has on GED outcomes. GED programs with low success rates on the GED exams are subject to increasing scrutiny. Recent and projected changes in the state student data system are making transfers to GED more visible. No Child Left Behind does not give school districts credit for GED as a high school completion.
After extensive discussions in March and May, the Regents are preparing for a decision in September on amendments to regulations concerning Home Schooling. If the Board approves, the draft regulations will be published in the State Register shortly after the June meeting.
The proposed amendments would provide six pathways toward a college degree for home-schooled students who are beyond compulsory school age. The amendments would also ensure that Individualized Home Instruction Plans (IHIPs) are prepared and approved for students still of compulsory school age who are attending college full-time in lieu of high school.
Key question: Does the Board concur that the document defines the right framework for amendments to regulations concerning home schooling?
Regents will discuss budget priorities with decisions on the Regents 2005-06 budget recommendation to follow in September. This is the next step in our annual schedule of budget development. We completed Deputy and Commissioner reviews of each section of the budget in May. In those discussions we challenged the assumptions, rationale, data underpinnings and configuration of each existing budget priority. Now the Regents will ask their own questions, and then will confirm, modify, add or drop budget proposals.
Key question: Do the budget materials accurately reflect Regents priorities? If not, what changes are needed?
The State Library is a major research institution. Unfortunately, only a relative few have access to that collection – State officials and employees, members of the State bar, licensed physicians, local government historians, and others by special permission and for a limited time. The Regents Cultural Education Committee will consider a proposal to expand that list to include all New Yorkers.
All but one of the public television stations now have a digital signal, with all the enhancements in capacity that this technology implies. Now is the time, therefore, to renew the discussion about how to deploy that capacity to priorities throughout USNY.
The Regents item provides examples of existing digital projects, and suggests future applications.
The Regents Subcommittee on State Aid continues its work to prepare for the 2005-06 proposal, which the Board will vote on in December. Part of that preparation includes a report from Professor James Wyckoff on the research completed by a number of scholars for the 2004 Symposium on School Finance and Organizational Structure.
Professor Wyckoff will comment on continuing resource disparities -- including disparities in the distribution of qualified teachers, the importance of investment in accountability systems, the need for care in designing data systems and then enabling teachers to use the data to inform practice.
The teacher shortage remains particularly acute in some fields – mathematics, science, special education, and bilingual – while there is an oversupply in others. We are proposing amendments to regulations to permit teachers already certified in one subject to teach in a shortage area under certain conditions. Teachers who already hold valid teaching certificates could earn a Supplementary Certificate and begin teaching in a shortage subject area after passing courses and the Content Specialty Test in that subject. Holders of the Supplementary Certificate would then have three years to complete additional requirements for certification. If the Regents agree, they could adopt these amendments in September.
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