February 2004
Report to the State Board of Regents

The Meeting in Brief:  The Regents will discuss two regulatory matters -- middle level and special education. The Board will also discuss two testing issues -- the results of the January Regents Math A exam and the performance of English Language Learners on the New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test. Regents will meet with legislators to advocate the Regents legislative and budget recommendations.

Middle Level Reform Options

There was a dramatic moment in the VESID and EMSC Committee discussion on Middle Level policy last month.  One Regent reminded us again that this is all about the children.  I talked about that moment to several groups in the weeks that followed because it suggested an opportunity to move a difficult debate to new ground.  We are at a point where 1) there appears to be no one right policy answer and 2) there is a reluctance to compromise as the debate is currently defined. Many leadership problems come to this point. The remedy is to summon leaders at all levels to help us to solve the problem.  The item before the Regents this month attempts to do that.

Two Regents policy discussions -- one recent and one from years back -- suggest a path ahead.  Recently, the Cultural Education Committee discussed a template for chartering museums and historical societies. It consisted of a statement of standards and best practices. The idea was for the institutions to begin by examining their current situation against the standards and best practices. Most institutions would have to admit the need for some changes to match the template. Once they had done so and actually committed to and made those changes, other institutions and the Regents alike would regard them as worthy of a charter. 

Career and Technical Education (CTE) provides the earlier example along the same lines. The Regents defined what CTE would be and required a local self-study against criteria, and also a peer review to validate the findings. Once the programs addressed the findings of discrepancies, the State Education Department approved the CTE programs.  A major increase in CTE enrollment has followed, and the Department approved hundreds of new programs.

Could we apply these concepts to the middle level debate? It is obvious that most agree on a few points, such as the need to teach to all the standards, and to employ only certified teachers. Likewise, we heard no disagreement about the "Essential Elements" of middle level education.  It should not be difficult then to create in regulation a template for state and local assessment of the presence of sound middle level education.

Likewise, most would acknowledge that middle level programs around New York exhibit different levels of performance.  The Regents committee discussion seemed to reflect consensus that programs with different levels of achievement might be treated differently in regulation.

The question of how much flexibility to allow is hard. Significant flexibility already exists and this should be made more visible. For example, existing regulations permit schools to "reduce but not eliminate" some parts of the curriculum. At the same time, I hear no convincing answer to the claim that middle level time is more controlled than any other part of a child's education. Time is an important variable when trying to resolve performance problems, and we surely have those in middle school. I suggest that all schools need somewhat more flexibility in the use of time.  Low performing schools should gain flexibility as they improve. The Regents item suggests how that might be done.

Here is how we might proceed. First, the Regents would define the template for approved middle level programs.  Local school districts would conduct a self-study in relation to that statement of standards and best practices.  Regents policy would provide for guidance and direction for this self-study, with greater specificity provided for low performing schools. Peer reviewers would validate the findings, and a local agreement adopted by the local school board would commit the district to resolve any significant variances with the middle level template. This would constitute a local agreement with the Regents. Once the school board fulfilled their agreement, the Regents would designate the school an "Approved Middle Level Program."  Such a process could engage everyone in the search for what works for children, consistent with best practice. We would move quickly from policy debate to policy implementation statewide.

Charter School Process

A motion concerning charter schools is before the Board. The first proposal in the motion would include a statement about the cumulative financial impact on the district. I recommend that the Regents support this idea. 

The second proposal would require "establishing ways to achieve valid methodologies, hence data, to measure academic progress on a comparable basis for students in the charter schools and those in the schools of districts of location…” This idea speaks to the problem of no comparable data where charters operate for a time without grades in which state tests are administered.  I recommend against support for this idea for two reasons. The problem will greatly diminish as the testing system expands under NCLB to include grades 3 through 8.  The more important reason is that establishing valid comparisons among different tests is highly technical, very difficult, and costly. The Board expects me to inform it when available resources prevent accomplishment of what seems a good idea. This is such a case.

Toward a New Regulatory Framework for Special Education

The Regents and the Department have a strong foundation in the data-based review of the relationship between practice and performance in special education.  Energetic policy and administration have led to improving student achievement. It has also revealed remaining gaps all the more clearly.

The Regents item on "Special Education Regulatory Reform and Recognition and Sanctions for School Districts" is designed to get still better results through a policy framework that wins compliance. It would seek measurable gains in least restrictive placements, participation in the general curriculum, flexible service delivery, paperwork reduction, and cost effectiveness. The paper asks questions intended to open the way to new approaches, and establishes the existing regulation as a point of comparison.

I view this as the companion piece to the recent VESID framework to strengthen vocational rehabilitation.

Update on Teacher Policy

The Regents Task Force on Teaching produced one of the most comprehensive policy reviews in recent times. Five years after Regents decisions on those matters, and much administrative work, where are we?  It's a good time to ask because the first class of teachers prepared under new policy will graduate this May. The Regents will see evidence that virtually all the policy is in place at the local level. While teacher shortages continue in some fields, the nature of the problem is changing from recruiting and preparation to retention and support on the job. To cite one example, the number of temporary licensed teachers in New York City declined from 13,000 to less than a thousand holders of Modified Temporary Licenses. However, the greater problem now is to hold on to those teachers and ensure that they are effective through mentoring.

What is needed now is early recruitment, new teacher support, and more capacity in hard-to-staff subjects including mathematics and science.

Unique Student Identifier

The Regents have declared the completion of a Unique Student Identifier system a vital step in closing the gap. The system will let the education systems know the performance status of all students and will enhance the capacity to prevent dropouts. The Board has received almost weekly reports on this for several weeks.  During January we redefined project tasks and staffing. The executive group met, and the operational team is meeting every week with Tom Ruller as project manager. The lead Deputy is Theresa Savo.  I discussed this project with District Superintendents and superintendents.  The definitive implementation schedule the Regents have requested will follow from the task list assigned to the project teams.  I will recommend policy decisions to the Board in the coming months to define roles and responsibilities of districts, BOCES, State Education Department, and Regional Information Centers.

Senate Subcommittee on Libraries

Senator Farley convened a meeting of the Senate Committee on Libraries on January 13 and invited us to attend to describe the New Century Libraries proposal.  The Senator reminded us that the committee had advocated for the restoration of Executive budget reductions last year in library funding, and continued to be very supportive of libraries.  Senators Saland, Montgomery, Leibell, and Marchi attended, in addition to the chair, Senator Farley.  The Assembly Library Committee will meet this month. We have continued to discuss New Century Libraries with individual legislators.

Building Capacity to Improve Performance of Students Learning English

A report before the Regents this month cites three challenges in building capacity to educate all limited English proficient students to the standards. We must improve monitoring, ensure more accurate data, and recognize that limited English proficient/English language learner students are moving beyond the Big Five cities.

The report is a comprehensive survey of new data sources, programs to provide certified teachers, new assessments, information on dropouts, and instructional strategies.  I suggest that Regents consider this information in the context of our commitment to close the gaps in student achievement and improve performance in certain high need school districts. 


Regents Math A

Last September, we announced a “score validation” procedure to ensure that the January Math A Regents exam performed as intended.  We have successfully completed that procedure.  Here is the background.

The Independent Math A Panel last year recommended a new format for the Math A test for January and we agreed. The Department assembled a 19-member standard setting group of teachers and they defined passing and passing with distinction on the new test. We engaged a consultant to use the standard setting work to create a score conversion chart. Immediately after the January Math A exam, we collected results from a representative sample of 20,000 students.  Another consultant analyzed those results and concluded that the operational test was consistent with the field test on an item-by-item basis. As a final step, three more psychometricians and the co-chairs of the Math Panel reviewed the procedures used and agreed that the score conversion chart was appropriate for use.

I thank the many people who contributed to this work, and commend the assessment team for their careful implementation of Regents policy. Deputy Commissioner Jim Kadamus will discuss this with the Regents.

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Last Updated: November 01, 2004