January 2007
Report to the State Board of Regents
BY STATE EDUCATION COMMISSIONER RICHARD P. MILLS


 

 

 

 

Accountability and Capacity

 

      The Regents have long asserted that accountability is indispensable to resolving New Yorkís state aid problem and improving student achievement. The Regents have, therefore, paired their Foundation Aid proposal with a proposal to add capacity to the accountability system.  Neither the State nor the federal government has invested appropriately in that capacity.  Greater state investment is essential in assessment, expert help for improving schools, monitoring and auditing, and data systems that enable educators to anticipate and resolve student performance problems before itís too late.  

 

      New York has an accountability system that is highly regarded nationally, but we operate this essential government function with investment levels that are simply inadequate.  There are many more schools needing support from expert practitioners, more educators needing access to promising practices, more problems that will grow if not audited early on, than we can address with the capacity now available.  And while New York has a recognized accountability system, this is an evolving field nationally and we must incorporate new ideas.  As the Regents have stated in the P-16 plan, itís time to renew the learning standards, strengthen assessment, make promising instructional practices widely available, and build a P-16 data system.  Now is the moment to make significant improvements in state aid through a Foundation proposal. The primary guarantee of that investment will be a robust accountability system, together with a well-informed public that can make use of the data that such a system will produce.

 

Strategies to Raise Achievement for English Language Learners

     

      The Regents P-16 strategy to raise achievement and close the gaps points to particular groups of students who need more help.  English Language Learners (ELL) are one such group. The Regents will discuss results from the New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test (NYSESLAT), and the actions that these results demand.  The test measures three dimensions of language acquisition: listening and speaking; reading and writing; and overall proficiency.  Students must achieve overall proficiency in English to leave ESL and bilingual programs. This year, only 15.4 percent of the 192,425 ELL students attained proficiency.

 

      The P-16 plan outlines actions to improve ELL results, and the Regents item this month is consistent with that plan. It describes four actions, which include holding schools and districts accountable for meeting improvement targets for English Language Learners, increased monitoring to ensure that students receive the required time and services in English, improved instruction through teacher recruitment and professional development, and increased outreach to parents to help them improve their own reading, writing and speaking in English.  Regents discussion of this item might focus on whether or not this approach is sufficiently robust, given the data.  In my opinion, we must concentrate on these few actions and with greater intensity than in the past.  What matters is improved student achievement. This year, the percentage of students achieving proficiency increased only slightly and from a low starting point. This is not sufficient.

 

      We present this item in the context of an on-going disagreement with the U.S. Education Department over one aspect of the implementation of No Child Left Behind.  According to USED staff, New York and four other states sought to use their ELP/ELL assessment for Title I purposes; none was accepted. USED has required New York to administer the ELA exams to ELL students who have been in the United States for more than a year.  We strongly objected to this requirement in discussions responding to the peer review of our assessment, which is a process required of all states under NCLB.  USED, however, is the agency responsible for administering No Child Left Behind. 

 

      USED has threatened to withhold administrative funds in the absence of an approved plan, or if an approved plan does not succeed. Our plan is approved and we will make that plan work.   Meanwhile, I have spoken repeatedly with Assistant Secretary Henry Johnson about the matter, and followed with a letter proposing at least a two year opportunity for the children.  We have had great support from our delegation in Washington.  Most members of the delegation, including both senators, have sent letters to the Secretary in support of our proposal, and Congressman King followed up with a phone call to the Secretary.  I sent a letter to inform all superintendents, leaders in the non-public schools, and bilingual and ESL educators of the Regents efforts to advocate on their behalf.  With the help of our Congressional representatives, we will continue to advocate vigorously for a change in policy.

 

NCLB Reauthorization

 

      Congress is expected to begin reauthorization of No Child Left Behind in 2007, and it is important to present specific recommendations. Many groups have made general comments but only specific language backed by determined advocacy can shape the results we seek. The Regents in their committees will discuss draft recommendations.  The intent is to approve a draft to seek public comment. 

 

      The draft raises more than 30 issues, describes current law, then recommends a change and a rationale for each one.  Here are some of the more significant recommendations:

 

 

      The next step will be a brief position paper on each issue. Congressional staff will need such detail to shape policy options and draft bill language.  And our next step will be to write bill language on our own, coordinate with others around the nation where we find common aims, and work directly with congressional staff on bill language.  Meanwhile, advocacy will be continuous, using the positions that the Regents adopt.

 

Renewing the 24-Month Policy Calendar

 

      Each Regents committee will discuss issues to schedule for the 24-month policy calendar.  The Boardís policy calendar signals what is important, and when policy discussions will begin and will be decided.  This tool improves the information available to decision by allowing sufficient time for research and consultation, and also enables interested parties to engage the Regents in a timely manner.

 

      The P-16 Plan and other ideas developed at and subsequent to the USNY Summit are sources for potential policy calendar items.  So also are the federal agenda, the annual regulatory plan, the annual budget and state aid cycle, the Commissionerís performance agreement, and the Boardís sense of which policies enacted in the past are due for review.

 

      The Regents Higher Education and Professional Practice Committee will use the Regents Statewide Plan for Higher Education and also a ďYear in ReviewĒ document to renew their part of the policy calendar after first reflecting on what they accomplished in 2006.  To cite another example from that committee, the Departmentís report on the proportion of highly qualified teachers (a joint EMSC and Higher Education product) will guide Board action in 2007.

 

      After each committee has deliberated on the matter, the full Board will adopt a comprehensive 24-month policy calendar as the Regents plan of work.

 

Family Partnership Policy

 

      The Regents decided in the current 24-month policy calendar to revise the 1991 policy on Parent and Family Partnerships.  The Regents will discuss the summary of public comment received on the draft proposal.  The final draft will be submitted for discussion and approval at the February meeting.  A recurring theme at the public hearings held during 2005-06 was the view that the Regents and the State Education Department have not demonstrated that promoting family partnerships with schools is a high priority.  The Regents commitment to raising achievement and the evident contribution that families can make to that aim require that verbal support be expressed in action.

 

      The seven policy implementation priorities in Attachment B go a long way toward translating familiar rhetoric into actions that change results.  For example, many USNY institutions, in addition to schools, can help.  Consider, for example, the natural connections between families and libraries, and the obvious link between libraries and school literacy.  Effective policy requires resources. We have all seen facilities for parents in some schools that communicate respect and welcome, and also facilities that convey the opposite. Itís also a matter of professional development.  Teachers and leaders, even the most experienced among us, need to learn and practice effective communications skills to engage the parents. And the policy also requires measurement.

 

      There are more than 3 million children in the schools of New York, and almost all have parents or other caregivers who can be presumed to have the interests of the children in their hearts.  This policy is an opportunity to focus our attention, and that of all educators, on practical ways to engage that enormous force for good in the education of children.

 

 

 


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