Overview: In June the Regents will concentrate on graduation rates and strategies to raise them. The discussions will reflect the Board’s intention to probe the data, define the policy questions, and discuss policies and practices that will improve graduation rates. The Board intends to do this by combining perspectives from the many committees and all parts of SED and USNY. The Regents will begin with a joint EMSC-VESID-Higher Education committee discussion.
In committees that follow over the next day, the Board will discuss many improvement strategies. For example, VESID will outline the practices SED has promoted in certain districts to improve performance. A joint EMSC-Higher Education committee discussion will explore a model of school leadership to improve results. The joint meeting of the State Aid and Audits committees will examine a group of districts that are both financially stressed and low achieving. And the State Aid Subcommittee will discuss the next Regents foundation aid proposal, which is a strategy to raise achievement by directing aid increases to students in greatest need.
Framing the Policy Discussion on Graduation Rates
During this academic year the Regents have conducted four data-based discussions of graduation rates, including a review of the data as a whole, then in-depth discussions of graduation rates among black and Hispanic males, students with disabilities, and English language learners. They have examined four-, five-, and six-year results, and the mix of credentials, including Regents Diplomas, local diplomas, and IEP Diplomas. This work builds on the Board’s long-standing concern for accurate data to define the achievement gap and commitment to policies to raise achievement. The P-16 Plan committed to improving graduation rates. Through policy reviews and investment in new data capacity, the Regents have prepared for a new generation of policy and performance gains. More recently, the NCLB regulations have offered new policy options for the Board to consider.
The issue is especially timely for one group of students: today’s ninth graders. Board policy adopted years ago will remove the option of a local diploma for them. The Board will examine their prospects as they prepare for the second year of high school. While recent grades 3-8 test results show that the youngest children achieved high scores on the tests, many of the current ninth graders entered high school with weak skills in mathematics and ELA.
In May Parthenon representatives presented statewide data showing that as 8th grade English Language Arts scores rise from level 2, to low level 3, still only 80 percent graduate. New York City reports significantly lower graduation rates for students with low level 3 scores. As we discuss these data, remember that graduation requires not only passing five or eight Regents exams, but also earning 22 credits. Many students pass their Regents exams yet do not graduate because they do not accumulate the 22 credits. As test scores rise statewide the rigor of the requirements to earn a diploma increases from local to Regents and Regents with Distinction. This rigor affects success in higher education. This is an important policy consideration. Last year we saw that August graduates improved overall graduation rate averages significantly, but most of them receive local diplomas. The Board also saw that children of color and students with disabilities are earning local diplomas disproportionately.
These are just some of the challenges. A candid review of the data show that even some groups of students who have gained fast are still far below where they need to be. And some groups of students are not yet gaining consistently. Data over the last few years shows that the system is capable of relatively rapid growth in graduation rates overall, but only some diplomas are rigorous and presage success beyond high school.
There has been progress, however, which offers a foundation for still more gains. In general, each cohort does better than the one before. A fifth year, and for some even a sixth year, pays off with higher graduation rates. Some groups of students with unacceptably low results overall have still improved four-year graduation rates by 10 percentage points over the last four years. We can deplore the current situation and still celebrate the rate of gain. The practices and conditions, as well as the educators who helped produce those gains, should be further encouraged because we need them to take the system to the next level.
Most recently the USED has presented policy options, including multiple ways to define graduation goals and annual targets. In addition, the federal government seeks uniformity in the definition of graduation rates. New York’s definition is very close to the new federal definition, but will require three modifications no later than the 2011-2012 school year. The policy choices are complex and have many implications for how districts and schools will be affected by federal and state accountability rules. For example, a target would apply to all categories of students. A high goal is attractive, but even the highest performing district would be challenged to get some groups of students to that level, and would be listed as in need of improvement. The Board will discuss the data that illuminate those policy choices. With the help of the Parthenon Group, we have a new interactive tool to predict the consequences of various graduation targets to groups of students and districts.
Here are some of the policy questions before the Board for discussion:
The rules, policy questions, and data are complex, but the human reality of the situation is straightforward. Everyone must graduate with a diploma that signifies college and work readiness. Ultimately, only high expectations make sense, and have traction when linked to effective practices and systems to make success possible. We see that certain policies and local practices seem more likely to work than others. The aim is to apply these more widely and urgently.
What Improves Graduation Rates for Students with Disabilities?
Underlying the issue of graduation rates is the fundamental Regents commitment to ensuring that all children meet high standards. Better graduation rates overall depend on our success in improving outcomes for particular groups of children, in this case the 12 percent of New York students with a disability.
With the graduation rate issue fully outlined in the joint EMSC-Higher Education-VESID committee, the VESID Committee will concentrate on the data related to the performance of students with disabilities, and practices that appear to improve performance. While test scores, graduation rates, and post-school outcomes are far from what the Regents expect, there have been improvements, and it is possible to refine and intensify the strategies associated with those gains. VESID and EMSC have collaborated with regional and local leaders in this work.
The committee will discuss practices including literacy instruction, positive behavior supports and interventions, co-teaching, and transition planning. The Regents item points to the relationship between effective general education programs and better outcomes for children with disabilities. In addition to promoting this connection locally, the Regents seek stronger regional networks and internal SED collaboration to secure improved performance for students with disabilities.
School leadership defined by the requirements of teaching and learning is indispensable to raising achievement and graduation rates. Five urban teacher forums that the Regents and SED convened this year underscored that conclusion. Sustaining this approach to leadership requires standards, professional education that enables current and prospective leaders to master effective practices, and systems to support leaders in their work. The Regents, SED, and our partners have engaged this issue with major foundation grants and collaboration with higher education. National school leadership standards defined by the Interstate Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC), which are research-based, are the foundation for the leadership curriculum. The EMSC Committee will discuss a new model for educational leadership in urban schools. This will include a description of the new leadership academy launched in Rochester. Sam Walton, Ph.D., program director of the School of Education at St. John Fisher College, Superintendent J.C. Brizzard of the Rochester City School District and a representative from the New York City Department of Education will respond to the Board’s policy questions.
Financially Stressed School District Discussion
SED has for many years identified districts in financial stress, using indicators that can help local leaders anticipate and avoid financial peril. When administrators and boards miss those indicators, problems unfold quickly and remedies are costly and often beyond the capacity of the district acting alone. SED has for many years identified districts and schools in academic stress, and we have more data than ever to do that. At the April Audit Committee meeting the Chancellor suggested combining the financial and academic perspectives in a comprehensive analysis of certain districts for the June meeting. The Audit Committee and State Aid Subcommittee will discuss the analysis jointly. The Regents Foundation Aid proposal has established the case for adequate funding. A district that falls into financial stress will sooner or later not have the capacity for academic performance. The Board wants to understand the relationship between achievement and financial stress and what will be done to improve outcomes.
Foundation Aid and Graduation Rates
There was a time when education policy and state aid were distinctly different discussions. The school finance litigation and the Regents advocacy for Foundation Aid changed that. Foundation aid is an investment to improve student outcomes.
The State Aid Subcommittee will discuss principles that will define the Board’s 2010-2011 Foundation Aid proposal. All of them—adequacy, equity, accountability and transparency, and stability—are defined in terms that focus funding on improving student achievement and closing the gap. The subcommittee will engage in several policy questions, chief among them how to address the 2008-09 state budget freeze on foundation aid and grow expense-based aids. The lack of an increase in state aid this year did not affect school districts as much as it could have because federal funds were made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Foundation aid is only 38 percent of the way to full implementation. After a one- and perhaps two-year pause, it will be costly to resume the phase-in. Foundation Aid is a powerful lever for raising achievement and graduation rates. The policy question before the subcommittee is how to renew New York’s commitment to implement Foundation aid.
The subcommittee also will discuss school district reorganization and regional high schools as potential strategies to control costs, increase educational opportunities, and improve achievement and graduation rates. The SED staff paper prepared for the subcommittee finds long-term potential for cost savings from regional high schools, greater access to enriched courses through reorganization and, under the right conditions, for greater student achievement. There are mitigating factors, however. The paper also draws attention to financial and academic challenges in rural areas.
Grades 3-8 Test Schedule
The EMSC Committee will discuss the results of the second field survey on revising the grades 3-8 test schedule and consider a revised schedule. Almost 7,000 individuals responded to three options for scheduling grades 3-8 mathematics and ELA tests. In general, the responses reveal continuing differences of opinion: the majority of respondents favor moving the ELA exam to late March or early April while leaving mathematics in early March and opposes retaining the existing schedule; the consensus favors local scoring.
Proposed Regents Legislative Priorities for 2010
The Regents will adopt their federal and state legislative priorities for 2010 in the fall and will briefly discuss potential priorities at this meeting.
Informal Education Supports Improved Outcomes
Dr. Alan Friedman, a science education consultant, member of the Governing Board of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and former Director of the New York Hall of Science, will discuss with the Regents the contribution that informal education can provide to keep young people engaged with learning. Longitudinal data from the Hall of Science, for example, indicate that their Science Career Ladder program has increased the probability of minority students graduating ready for higher education, completing college, and going on to careers in science, technology, and teaching.
SED awards several scholarships every year to high-achieving sons and daughters of Department employees. We congratulate these scholarship winners and their parents and wish them success as they begin higher education in the fall. They, too, are standard-setters.