September, 2003
Report to the State Board of Regents

The Meeting in Brief:  The Regents meeting in September will reflect changes the Board developed during its annual retreat. There will be more Full Board time for policy discussion and presentations by outside experts on significant issues.  There will be fewer committees. Committee chairs will present the committee reports for Regents action. The former VESID and EMSC Committees are combined, as are Higher and Professional Education and Professional Practice Committees.  The Chancellor has appointed new committee leadership and reassigned committee membership. There are fewer Regents items than in the past, and they are more concise. These changes complete the cycle of Board development that the Regents began a year ago when they decided to create a 24-month policy calendar to guide their work. The Regents Policy Conference precedes the monthly meeting.

August Exams

The August exam period passed without the need for error messages after the fact to the schools.  That’s the way it should be.  Many people contributed to that result, and many more worked through the summer to create the foundation for sound exams next January and June.  We aren’t finished, but August shows it can be done.  Our critics are right in demanding it be done.

When the August exams were about to go to press, we invited more than two dozen teachers to review the exams. None had been involved in writing the questions.  All agreed on short notice to put the tests under a microscope. The teacher reviewers did find some problems with the exams – a diagram not well labeled, a direction not clear enough, insufficient space for an answer.  These problems wouldn’t invalidate a test, but they were problems nevertheless. We corrected them and the students never saw them.

The reviewing teachers weren’t the only contributors to better exams.  State Education Department staff members who aren’t part of the exam process read every exam before the teachers did – and they added quality. The exam designers in the State Education Department invented ways to get quick improvements in quality and they added quality, too.  And then there were the printers working two, ten-hour shifts, seven days a week, who bought enough time for the improvements and still got the exams in the hands of teachers on exam day.

Improvements in State Testing

A report to the Regents this month describes actions we have taken and others we will take to improve exam quality, increase SED capacity and provide more information to the public. Here are some of them:

·        Quality checks on completed tests.  The expert teacher review of the completed tests that worked so well in the August exams will be done from now on for all exams.

·Score validation for the next Math A.  In January we will collect test results from a sample of student papers immediately after the exam to check the scoring chart. This will produce immediate statewide information on how the Math A exam works. An independent panel will review the process. If any adjustment to the original scale is needed, they will write a public report on the validity of the change.

·        Expanded field testing. We will administer mini-versions of Regents exams close to the actual exam dates, using an approach like one used with 4th and 8th grade exams. This will produce more high quality test questions, and better information about how they worked with the same cohort of students who later take the actual tests.

·        Additional staff for testing development. We have reassigned six additional staff to our assessment team. We appointed a seventh person, Howard Goldsmith, as Coordinator of Assessment Operations this month. We are exploring options to obtain the services of more content specialists and plan to add more help in these areas by January.

·        Tracking of exam development. A computer system will help identify and resolve delays or bottlenecks that would impede test quality.

·        Responding to questions.  We will assign people to respond quickly to public information requests and free technical staff to focus on exam development and administration. (This reflects a similar approach that works well in our Office of the Professions.)

In addition, we expect the full report of the Math A Panel in October will suggest other
improvements and we will respond quickly to that report, as we did to their interim

Regents Math A

The Regents Math A Panel provided an interim report in August, which addressed two parts of their charge. We immediately used their advice to statistically adjust the scores on the June 2003 Regents Math A to hold students to the same standards applied in June 2002.  Before school started, students and their parents and teachers had a table to adjust the scores. This removed the uncertainty for last year’s ninth and tenth graders and enabled schools to schedule them into the appropriate mathematics classes. Now we await the completion of the Panel’s work and their full report, which the Regents will discuss in October.  The aim is to find and resolve Math A issues in time for the January and June exam periods. We appreciate the thoughtful work of the Panel.

Physics – A Policy Issue

A high school physics teacher began a conversation with me and a group of physics teachers this summer with what he called “the threshold question:” For whom is the physics exam intended?  Two teachers observed that the Regents physics exam was “a good exam for advanced students,” but to a person, the teachers argued that physics should be an entry-level science. The ensuing discussion raised a policy question that only the Regents can resolve.  Here it is:

Should the high school physics standards and program be set at an advanced level that assumes proficiency in other sciences and mathematics? Or, should the standards and program be geared to an entry level so that students gain knowledge of certain concepts and how to employ them?

We have invited four experts to speak with the Regents about this issue.  All have significant expertise in physics and can help bring the policy question to life for us.  Our guests include two high school physics teachers, a university provost whose research field is experimental nuclear physics, and a businessperson with management and engineering experience, responsibility for recruiting and a background in physics. Each will speak for seven minutes on the policy question and then the Regents will ask questions. 

Our presenters are Steven Cotts, teacher of Regents and AP physics at Saratoga Springs High School; Robert McGrath, Provost at SUNY Stonybrook and Vice President for Brookhaven Affairs; Kathleen McGroddy Goetz, IBM; and Kim Pritchard, teacher of Regents, honors, and AP physics at Syosset High School.

A Prototype Student Identifier

The Regents will see a pilot version of the statewide student record system at the September meeting.  The demonstration will show how student assessment results and other data can be connected over multiple years, and then used by teachers, administrators, and the State Education Department to understand and respond to patterns of student achievement.  We are using the Western New York Regional Information Center as the prototype for student records management. This Regional Information Center includes Western New York and Buffalo, and the records for approximately 216,000 students in 88 school districts.  Each student has a unique identification number. We will move from pilot to statewide implementation for the 2004-05 school year, with full implementation – that is, including all districts – for the 2005-06 school year.

Preparing to Adopt a State Aid Recommendation

The Regents State Aid Sub-Committee will review materials leading to a State Aid recommendation in November. While this is an item about State Aid, it begins with data about the achievement gap and recent progress in closing it.  Throughout this material, you will see the interplay of Regents policy on teaching, achievement gap, assessment, and learning standards on the one hand, and State Aid on the other. The main points emerge readily from the charts and tables, so we have presented those and kept the text to a minimum.  Here are some examples:

Regents have consistently proposed higher proportions of aid to high need districts and the enacted legislation, while reflecting a lower proportion, shows a positive response to the Regents efforts.  In short, the Regents State Aid recommendations have made a difference. (Attachment A, table 1.)

While the aid system is complex and includes many separate formulas, 90 percent of the aid flows through just six categories. Participants in the debate will devote particular attention to those six.  (Attachment A, table 2.)

The relationships among measures of resource and achievement that supported recent Regents proposals are still evident. Concentrations of poverty, students not yet meeting the standards, lower per pupil spending, limited financial capacity and in some cases, limited local effort, less qualified teachers, uneven support for technical education, and the cost of education – these are still factors associated with lower student achievement. The charts make the case vividly.  The whole of Attachment B merits careful study. Tables 1 and 5 summarize the policy implications relevant to the recommendation.

Included in the material is a study of the relationships among need, expenditure and performance. While this is a technical report, it gives more insight into how the State Aid proposal could reflect the Regents policy to close the gaps in student achievement. See the chart on page 21 and the Executive Summary on page 22 in the Regents item for the heart of the matter.

Gene Bottoms on the National Context of School Improvement

The current effort to improve student achievement in New York is a decade old, but the roots go much deeper.  The challenges we face now with standards, assessments, teacher recruiting, leadership, accountability, middle schools, career and technical education, curriculum, and funding are common to educators and boards around the nation.  In short, this is just the way it looks and feels this far into the campaign to raise standards. As we continue to seek and find solutions to tough policy and operational issues, it helps to keep the context in mind. Gene Bottoms is exceptionally qualified and positioned to help us see the national context for the work we are doing now as a Board, a State Education Department, and a statewide education community.

Gene Bottoms is Senior Vice President of the Southern Regional Education Board and director of that board’s High Schools that Work initiative.  His ideas were helpful to us when we were developing the Regents policy on Career and Technical Education.  He is also a member of the National Commission on the Senior Year.

William Baker on Public Broadcasting

All New York public television stations have complied with FCC regulations to broadcast a digital signal by May 2003 (several have six-month waivers).  By May 2006 they must be fully digital and surrender their analog signals.

Dr. William F. Baker, President and CEO, Thirteen/WNET, will talk with the Regents this month about the new opportunities created by this technology, and in particular, how new digital services such as Video on Demand support student achievement of the learning standards.  All stations face serious financial challenges in this new environment. The draft Regents budget proposal for 2004-2005 includes a $15 million request to continue digital conversion and $10 million to support educational services statewide.  We have turned to Dr. Baker for advice in the past, most recently on closing the performance gap.

NYC Teacher Certification Status

We continue to expedite the processing of applications for Modified Temporary Licenses received from New York City Department of Education.  As of this writing, the first applications received as of late August and early September  -- approximately 300 – are being processed now. We also made special arrangements with National Evaluations Systems concerning the Liberal Arts and Sciences Test.  National Evaluations Systems expedited scoring of the August 2 tests and scheduled an additional test administration for September 20.

2004-05 Budget

The Regents step-by-step budget development process has come to a moment of decision. The Regents will vote in September on a budget proposal (except for the State Aid decision, which is scheduled for December). The proposal contains four priority requests that have come through the committee discussions: Teachers of Tomorrow, New Century Libraries, Case Services/Supported Employment, and Postsecondary Education and Disabilities.

Results of a Survey of Nurses

The Regents have continued to keep the nursing shortage in the public eye because it is a public protection issue.  This month, and again in October and November, the Regents will review the results of a survey of 30,000 New York nurses.  The survey confirms recommendations in the Report of the 2001 Blue Ribbon Task Force on the Future of Nursing chaired by Regent Diane McGivern, concerning recruiting strategies and mentors for nursing education.  This survey, together with the original Task Force Report provides a foundation for a Regents legislative proposal on nursing, if the Board chooses to advance one.

            Among the many thought-provoking statistics related to nursing education and recruiting are these:

·        The average age of a nurse in New York is 47.

·        While 8 in 10 Registered Nurses spend some part of the workday on patient care, on average only half of the workday is allocated to patient care.

·        23 percent will leave the profession within five years.

·        One in five nurses is a minority member.

Off-campus Instruction

New York’s higher education system is vast and by intent, diverse.  There are more places to go to college than high school in New York.  Higher education created this opportunity by expanding branch campuses, extension centers, and extension sites over the last three decades. We pointed to this achievement in the 2003 Joint Finance Committee budget hearings and declared, “higher education is everywhere” in New York, and it requires substantial public investment.

The array of sites represents opportunity and it also raises issues of quality and the appropriate degree of oversight and regulation.  I’ve discussed this with the Higher Education Advisory Council made up of leaders of all higher education sectors.  They agreed that the time is right to review this matter.

Middle-Level Discussion Moves to Regulations

The Regents decided policy on middle-level education. Now the discussion turns to the complex task of deciding regulations. The item before the Board this month presents three different solutions to regulating the main elements of middle-level education (i.e., grade span, course of study, time requirements, and so on.)  The three models outline a continuum of prescriptive, flexible, and minimalist alternatives, and as the item notes, the Regents may decide to take one approach on some topics and a different one on other topics.  This way of presenting the options builds on the wide range of advice presented to the Regents by the field, and also an earlier State Education Department paper that posed relevant policy questions for the Board.


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Last Updated: November 01, 2004