February 2005
Report to the State Board of Regents

The Meeting in Brief:  The Regents plan to vote on the middle level proposal, their priorities for 2005, and the new strategic plan. The Board will discuss a report on incarcerated youth, the statewide plan for higher education, and a report on alternative teacher certification. The Regents will meet members of the State Workforce Investment Board (SWIB) on that board’s work-readiness proposals. The Regents will continue their discussion on supporting improved performance in certain high schools. They will meet legislators to discuss budget and legislative priorities.


Sound Assessments Benefit Children


Education Week again ranked New York’s standards and accountability system the best in the nation – this time with a perfect score of 100. In December and January, the Regents received data that illustrate how sound assessments benefit children. New York’s assessments, which are indispensable to standards and accountability, show a steady rise in achievement since the Regents adopted the standards in 1996.  Students who took all five Regents exams passed in overwhelming numbers – 92 percent at 55 and 77 percent at 65 or better. More are graduating, fewer repeat ninth grade, and fewer score at level 1 in the eight grade. A minimum passing score of 65 is now in reach. This month we learned that New York is first in the nation in the proportion of students earning a 3 or better on the Advanced Placement Exams.


The assessments enable us to demand action on the issue that has been of greatest concern to Regents – the achievement gap. We identified 136 high schools in 12 school districts with graduation rates below 70 percent and the highest proportion of students taking three or fewer exams. The Regents are considering a strategy to help those students – a strategy that is attracting interest and support among leaders in those school districts and others.


The exams are not the problem.  It’s past time to turn from obsessive criticism of the exams and solve the real problem—the students who are not educated to the standards. Most educators already have. Most students who take the five exams pass them. The vast majority of students who drop out have not taken a Regents exam. The proportion of students scoring at level 1 in the eighth grade is comparable to the proportion who do not take Regents exams. That is, too many students enter high school without the knowledge necessary to do high school work. We must confront that problem with new strategies and the many existing elements of the Regents reform, not with easier assessments or lower standards. 


Critics of Regents assessments have suggested many radical alternatives, but nearly all amount to a return to the two-track system that educated some students to a high standard but many others to a low one. Let’s recall why the Regents began their campaign to raise standards and performance in the first place.  In the late 1980’s, the public, higher education, and employers protested a system that failed to deliver a high standard education for all. The Regents Competency Test allowed students to graduate from high school with an 8th grade level of knowledge. The editorial opinion across the state excoriated us for not setting higher standards. The Regents responded with standards and strong follow through, and widespread support quickly replaced the criticism. And then came the rising student achievement. I have made these points continuously in support of the Regents stand.


Some critics still assert that some students should be awarded a diploma with fewer than five Regents exams, or even none. That would return us to the two-tiered system the public rejected. It would make the gap invisible again, and eliminate the pressure and support that is essential to close the gap.


The same arguments that would weaken the assessments would eviscerate the Regents case for $6 billion in new education aid over the next five years. The Regents have a state aid proposal that would provide a just and sustainable solution to New York’s education funding problem. The test results enabled the Regents and the CFE referees to define the cost of a sound basic education. The Court, in defining a sound basic education rejected the old 8th grade graduation standard represented by the Competency Test. A return to the lower standard for students in the gap would be fatal to school aid reform.


Here are some of the proposals still being urged upon us:


“Combine course grades and Regents exams?” This is often what people mean by “multiple measures.” Averaging Regents exams and course grades is unsound because the work that draws an A in one school merits only a C in another. Grade inflation is a widely recognized problem. The Regents have a two- part requirement for graduation. Students must earn 22 credits that are awarded locally, and pass 5 Regents exams that meet a high statewide standard. There has always been a line between these two parts of the assessment system. To combine them crosses the line. Teachers know that averaging course grades and Regents exams would put enormous pressure on every teacher to raise grades. And how would averaging work? Would course grades count for 20 percent? Or 40 percent?  And how would we decide? Where is the expert opinion based on evidence that would enable the Regents to make such a decision?  Regents exams adhere to rigorous professional standards for test validity and reliability. Where is the comparable evidence for the exams devised locally?  The course grades averaging idea is unworkable.


“Use portfolios?”  New York had an experiment with portfolio assessment and it failed in a crucial way. The evaluation by a panel of national experts showed there was no evidence the portfolios met any of the criteria defined in regulation by the Regents. The New York portfolios were not recommended by the State Assessment Panel, which was created by Regents policy. The New York portfolios were subjective and inconsistently scored, and thus not an appropriate basis for determining graduation under Regents regulations. In fact, no state has been able to demonstrate a sufficient level of validity and reliability in a portfolio assessment system. Nevertheless, the 2001 decision on the portfolios stated that schools could again present a portfolio concept to the Alternative Assessment panel. But such a proposal must meet the defined criteria.


“Allow students to graduate with four exams or even fewer?”  This would produce graduates who don’t know mathematics, or English, or American history – take your pick. The Regents deliberated at length about what graduates must know to be prepared for citizenship, work, further education, and other adult responsibilities. The Regents were correct in their policy decision about the five exams and the rigorous course requirements to prepare for them.  Many other states have followed the Regents lead.


Some critics say the Regents system is inflexible. That claim ignores the facts. The Regents allowed 55 as the passing grade during the phase in. They phased in the whole system one exam at a time over several years. They permit the approval of alternatives to the Regents exams and more than two dozen have been approved. They required districts to help students who need extra help. Students can take the exams multiple times. The exams in the elementary and middle levels provide early indications of problems that can be corrected.  Unlike most states, we publish every exam so all can review them. When there were problems with the exams, the State Education Department responded forcefully and corrected the problems, and that attitude continues to this day.


The Regents continue to improve the system.  For example, there is interest in expanding the Career and Technical Education program or CTE. This is a program that combines technical curriculum, industry approved technical exams, rigorous external review and approval, and five Regents exams. CTE expanded rapidly after the Regents approved it, and a recent external review shows that CTE students equal the performance of students statewide on the Regents exams.  It would be a good idea to expand the CTE program, and New York City is working on a plan to do so. However, proposals to create a lower level program that replaces academic exams with technical ones has not been adopted by any state. This is not the path recommended by the national experts who spoke to the Board during development of CTE.  It would recreate another version of the two-tier graduation system.


For eight months the EMSC-VESID Committee has conducted a review of the elements of the Regents policy and the Department’s implementation of assessment, and this review should continue as a normal part of Board oversight.  The committee reviewed Career and Technical Education, GED assessment, and aspects of English Language Learner programs. In addition, the Regents reviewed and then adopted revised mathematics standards for pre-kindergarten through grade eight, and reviewed the assessment results for the 2000 cohort.


The December and January Regents items presented two aspects of the results – the success achieved in relation to the standards by most students, and the troubling picture of students who scored at level 1 in the eighth grade, repeated ninth grade, and took no Regents exams two years into high school.  In the context of these results, we recommended three actions: identify all students in academic difficulty, and expand our programs to improve achievement with concentration on 136 high schools in 12 districts with low graduation rates and high proportion of students taking three or fewer Regents exams. Finally, for the few students who achieve the Regents standards but for some reason have not demonstrated this on a particular exam, we proposed an appeal process under rigorous conditions that would include the following:


·       The appeal would be for students scoring within three points of the required minimum passing score on the exam. Students must have taken the Regents exams twice.

·        The students must have a course average in the subject under appeal that meets or exceeds the school’s required passing grade.

·       The students must have availed themselves of all relevant academic help offered.

·       The students must have maintained at least a 95 percent attendance record, exclusive of excused absences.


The local superintendent would be responsible for conducting the appeals process under State guidelines, a panel of teachers would review the appeal, and the number of appeals requested and granted would appear on the school district report card.


The Regents policy says that 65 will be the minimum score for graduation starting with the class entering ninth grade in 2005. The Regents should begin now a discussion on how to accomplish that.


USNY Can Help Close the Achievement Gap


Achievement is up in every part of the educational system – so much so that rising student achievement is the convincing argument for resources in the budget debates. And yet, a gap remains. While more graduate from high school, fewer repeat ninth grade, and fewer score at level 1 in middle school exams, many other students will not graduate without direct action from the adults responsible for them – and that includes all of us. While we are library users in vast numbers, nearly a million New Yorkers do not have access to a public library. While performance is up in both public and independent higher education, many New York college students do not graduate. In spite of impressive performance gains overall, the gap in achievement is visible in every part of the education system, from pre-kindergarten through college. 


The global economy rewards individuals and whole societies that possess and remain current in vital knowledge and skill. In this environment, our persistent achievement gap impedes New York’s economic and civic vitality. Fortunately, New York has thousands of educational and cultural institutions  -- schools public and private, colleges and universities in four sectors, libraries and museums, archives, vocational rehabilitation systems, and public broadcasting stations. These institutions are the University of the State of New York (USNY), and they are a unique capacity to raise achievement.


The Regents are determined, out of respect for the capabilities of these institutions, to engage the leaders of USNY to raise achievement and close the gap. On November 2, the first day of the monthly Regents meeting, leaders of USNY institutions will assemble to confront the achievement gap, and commit to powerful actions to close it. We will invite leaders who have already taken risks themselves and through their institutions to improve the educational attainment of the people of New York.  We have a prospectus prepared with the help of a planning group. Seven regional meetings of like-minded leaders will build momentum and propose actions for the November Summit. Leaders from many USNY institutions, major businesses, and other partners are agreeing to serve as co-conveners of these regional meetings.


We are grateful for the help of a distinguished planning group that includes: Anne Byrne, NYS School Boards Association, Michelle Cahill, NYC Board of Education, David Chesebrough, Buffalo Science Museum, Louis Ciota, Monroe-Woodbury, Diane Collier, Buffalo City Schools, Edmund Cortez, National Center for Disability Services, Alan Friedman, New York Hall of Science, Mildred Garcia, Berkeley College, Stephen Gross, Long Island University, Joseph Hankin, Westchester Community College, Sr. Mary Jane Herb, Albany Diocese, Paula Kerger, WNET-TV, Russell Hotzler, CUNY, Donald Jacobs, SUNY, Judith Johnson, Peekskill City School District, Penny Leask, NYS PTA, Margarita Mayo, The Business Council, Edward McCormick, Family Partnership Center, Brian McLane, retired from VESID, Donald Ogilvie, Erie I BOCES, Jose Sanchez, Health and Hospitals Corp. of NYC, Charles Santelli, NYS United Teachers, Robert Scott, Adelphi University and Norm Silverstein, WXXI Rochester.


Middle Schools Must Change


Middle school performance is improving, but not nearly fast enough. Middle school must prepare all children academically and developmentally. Today, too many students enter high school unprepared. To change this fact, the Regents considered available research, listened to all interested parties, including the children and their parents, defined new policy, asserted design principles that should govern the conduct of all middle schools, and created appropriate flexibility in three options for schools in different situations. The State Education Department has prepared a strategy to implement Regents policy on middle level and made appropriate revisions to reflect the debate in January. It is time to vote to adopt that strategy.


Statewide Plan for Higher Education


The Regents have spent the last few months reviewing various components of the draft Statewide Plan for Higher Education. Before the Committee on Higher Education and Professional Practice this month, is the first full draft of the Plan, which incorporates suggestions made by the Committee members, the four higher education sectors, and additional data relevant to a number of sections of the Plan. This version, with any revisions suggested by the Regents at your February meeting, will serve as the Tentative Statewide Plan for Higher Education and will be shared with the field for the public hearings scheduled for March and April 2005.


Ready for Work


The high school diploma should signify that the graduate is ready for citizenship, higher education, and other adult responsibilities, including ready for work. For more than two decades the business community has asserted their need for graduates who possess both the hard academic skills and what they call the “soft skills” – decision-making, teamwork, and the ability to learn quickly, among others.


At the February Regents meeting the Regents will hear from members of the SWIB about a multi-state effort to define and measure work readiness and to recognize individuals who have those skills. 


There is an opportunity for joint venture. Education cannot meet its potential without partners in the business community. They have been and remain among the strongest advocates for the Regents learning standards. The SWIB endorsed the standards soon after its creation. State Education Department leaders, in turn, have been assertive advocates for the creation of the SWIB, and helped write the report to the Governor entitled New York State’s Workforce Development System, which defined the work of that board. I have been an active member of the board.  Just as educators need business partners, the SWIB also needs educational institutions at all levels to prepare students for a work-readiness credential.


Regents have met with members of the SWIB to discuss their concern that a work-readiness credential could create an incentive to drop out of high school. The SWIB has responded with commitments to the high school diploma as the minimum credential for youth, with the work-readiness designation as an endorsement to the diploma. There are remaining issues of interest to both the SWIB and the Department, which concern the validity of a work-readiness assessment.


Recommendation: That the Regents support the continuing development of the work-readiness concept through the State Workforce Investment Board with the understanding that the high school diploma is the minimum credential for youth..


The Executive Budget is Not Sufficient


Once again the Executive Budget proposes to break up the University of the State of New York by removing the vocational rehabilitation part of VESID and the whole of Cultural Education, including the State Library, State Museum, State Archives, and Public Broadcasting. We oppose these proposals because these entities are part of our educational mission and essential to raising achievement.


This change would accomplish no savings. The funding for Cultural Education is supported by a special revenue account, and thus is not a charge against the General Fund.


The budget would also cut State Education Department operations by $2 million, and allocate the same amount to create a new office of school accountability under the control of the Executive branch. Such an accountability office is unnecessary in the opinion of the court-appointed referees in the CFE matter, and we agree. For several years New York’s school accountability system has been ranked among the highest in the nation by Education Week, which this year gave New York a 100 – a score earned by no other state. In addition, New York’s accountability system led President Bush to designate New York one of the first five states to be fully approved under the then-new No Child Left Behind Act.


The Executive budget proposes an increase of $526 million in State aid to education, which includes $325 million for Sound Basic Education. This is not a sufficient response to the need. In many respects the proportions for distribution of this aid are consistent with the Regents State aid recommendation, but the Executive proposal is much smaller.  Although the Executive proposal is characterized as the first year in a five-year plan, the bill language makes changes for one year only, and this does not reform the State and system.


Some higher education programs have received level funding, including Teachers of Tomorrow, Liberty Partnership, Teachers Opportunity Program, Bundy Aid for independent colleges, Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP) and its collegiate counterpart (CSTEP). However, for the collegiate opportunity programs (i.e. HEOP for the independent colleges, EOP for SUNY and SEEK/CD for CUNY), the Executive is recommending the removal of the supplemental student financial aid component. For HEOP, this would result in a reduction of $10.5 million. The Governor is also recommending that fifty percent of a student's TAP award be withheld until the student graduates.


The Executive is proposing a facilities capital matching program for the public and independent colleges of $250 million, which will result in an investment of at least $1 billion in our higher education infrastructure.


The recent court decision in Pataki v. New York State Assembly, et al. and Silver, et al. v. Pataki declares that the Executive constructs the budget. The Legislature may not alter the Executive appropriation bills. Legislatures may lower or eliminate the appropriation, or may decline to act with the intent of compelling a negotiated settlement. Under these circumstances, all interested parties must engage with the Executive, Senate, and Assembly.


Work of the Quality Committee


The Regents Committee on Quality has nearly completed its review of the Regents priorities for 2005 and the renewal of the Strategic Plan. The major elements of both have been included in the Board’s performance agreement with the Commissioner. The Quality Committee will also continue its oversight of the plans for the USNY summit that will constitute the first day of the November Regents meeting, and will discuss a proposed format for Regents meetings to better support policy development and policy review.


Recommendation: That the Regents approve the statement of their priorities and the strategic plan.


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Last Updated: April 14, 2005