March 2005
Report to the State Board of Regents

The Meeting in Brief:  The Regents will discuss several issues related to closing the achievement gap, including high school math standards, the school report card and graduation standards.  As part of continuing work to strengthen the State Education Department, the Board will recognize the third group of graduates from the Department’s Leadership Academy.  EMSC-VESID will review several new charter applications, one renewal of an existing charter and a request by the SUNY Board of Trustees to extend the charters for 13 schools until June 30, 2005 to prevent a lapse in their operations during this school year.


A New Look at Early Childhood Education


The policy review of early childhood education that the Board begins this month will have consequences as far reaching as the decision a decade ago to implement high academic standards.  When New York can guarantee a good start for every child, most of the challenges we face today in closing the achievement gap will disappear. Between today and the day we can honestly make that guarantee stands hard work and difficult choices.


The Regents decided to make this policy review one of their priorities.  This month, the Board will discuss a paper that proposes a framework for that policy. The 24-month calendar calls for a decision in December. The foundations for this work include hearings in 2004 and more discussions with stakeholders. The hearings extended beyond the early education community to include many members of the University of the State of New York (USNY). This inclusive approach was actually the first implementation decision, because a strong early education system is the foundation for USNY. Including everyone at the beginning helps ensure not only good policy, but also good rollout once the Regents decide.



Among the proposed policy directions are these:


·       Statewide focus on children from birth to three

·       Pre-K an entitlement

·       Compulsory school age at 5

·       Stronger teacher preparation and professional development

·       Assessment of outcomes

·       Increased opportunities for integration of students with disabilities into preschool programs


The paper explains why the Board must address this priority now.  For example, 1.2 million New York children under the age of 6 are in care outside the home. Eighty percent of four-year-olds are in some kind of early care prior to kindergarten.  What are these children learning?


One of many thought-provoking suggestions is this: “Leverage the resources of USNY.”  We are ready to do that. The Board’s USNY Summit in November must have a strong early childhood element. Our intent, after all, is to eliminate the gap in student achievement. Where better to start than at the beginning?


The High School Graduation Standard


       Graduation from high school must signify that a person is now ready for work, higher education, and citizenship. Regents policy requires students to complete a rigorous academic program that includes 4 years of English and history, and 3 years of science and mathematics, among other subjects.  In passing these courses, students must earn at least 22 credits, which are determined locally. In addition, students must pass five Regents exams. The question is, at what minimum passing score? Sixty-five is a score that signifies proficiency in the judgment of expert teachers who set the cut scores on each exam. The Regents intent is to move to proficiency as the minimum requirement as rapidly as possible. As a transition measure, the Regents permitted local school boards to allow 55. That option was to have ended a year ago.


       Two years ago, the Regents considered the data as they promised they would, and decided to pause in the schedule to implement 65 as the minimum Regents score for graduation. At that time, too many students were still scoring between 55 and 65. Current policy requires students who enter the 9th grade in September 2005 to pass five Regents exams at 65, and also pass their course work to achieve 22 credits.  The Board will examine that policy decision this spring, and either confirm or modify it in June. The outside limit for the decision is July because students must know the expectations for graduation when they return in September.


       The school report card data reveal that for the class entering ninth grade five years earlier in 2000, 92 percent of those who took all five exams passed at 55 or better, and 77 percent passed at 65 or above.  When we look at the different categories of districts, we find that low need, average need, and rural school districts are close to the 65-minimum already, while the cities have farther to go.  The data also show that 8th grade classes after 2000 had increasingly fewer students at level 1, especially in the cities.  They were better prepared for high school. The question for the Regents is how rapidly the cities can raise student achievement.


       Later in March, State Education Department leaders will convene leaders from the 136 high schools in 12 districts that have the majority of the students taking three or fewer Regents exams and reporting graduation rates below seventy percent. The purpose is to improve school completion rates as quickly as possible.


High School Mathematics


         The Mathematics Standards Committee stated their core message in bold type:


“The study of mathematics is a study of ideas and concepts. Yes, students need to know the procedures, but the knowledge of those procedures without conceptual understanding is surface knowledge that is virtually meaningless.”


The committee recommends to the Regents that the high school program consist of three rigorous mathematics courses: Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra 2 and Trigonometry. The Committee insists that these courses must teach both the content and the processes of mathematics. Their recommendation is not, as the committee says, a return to an earlier approach that for some students amounted to memorization of one way to solve a problem, but no real understanding of the principles behind the method.


       The committee has defined performance indicators for both mathematics content and process for each grade. They propose an implementation schedule that includes PreK-8 standards in 2005-06, with one of the three high school courses introduced in each of the following years. This will allow careful preparation of course materials at state and local levels, and development of new Regents exams to match.


       The committee also has an interesting proposal that exploits the advantage of USNY and the Regents leadership in higher education as well as elementary and secondary education. The committee suggests consideration of a “mathematics sequence” or perhaps a “mathematics-science sequence” that connects high school and college work in a way that challenges more students to take more mathematics in college. This is one of several ideas that will require further discussion with the field and the Regents.  However, we recommend approval of two committee recommendations in March.


       We recommend that the Regents adopt the committee’s first two recommendations:


1.     That high school mathematics programs include three one-year courses of instruction, with the course titles to be “Algebra,” “Geometry,” and “Algebra 2 and Trigonometry.”


2.     That the performance indicators for Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra 2 and Trigonometry courses be adopted, along with the alignment modifications to pre-kindergarten through grade 8.


We recommend that the Regents consider the committee's other four recommendations relating to graduation requirements at a later date.  These recommendations need more field input and conversation.


School Report Card Data


       The annual School Report Card allows us to check progress in relation to the standards and also note what remains to be done.  This year’s report shows more students graduating, more passing Regents exams, and fewer repeating 9th grade. But here are some other facts that stand out.


       Since 1996, when the Regents adopted the standards, many more students passed the Regents English exam at 65. That number was 91,000 in 1996. Last year, it was 152,000. There is a similar pattern for each Regent exam. Over recent years, New York schools have educated a great many people to a level of proficiency. That is a great achievement.


       The Report Card also shows that many students are not taking Regents exams. They were not prepared for high school, as is evident in the numbers scoring at level 1 in the middle level exams, and the proportion still repeating ninth grade. Students in that situation did not pass their courses, and did not earn the local credits required for graduation. So the Regents exam is not the problem. Weak preparation for high school is the problem.


       While more students overall graduated, which continues a pattern of increase for several years, still only 67.5 percent of those entering 9th grade in 2000 graduated four years later. That is far too low. The graduation rates for some minority students are lower still: 42 percent of Hispanic students and 45.4 percent of Black students. This is an illustration of the gap that so troubles the Regents, and should trouble all New Yorkers enough to act.


       In a press briefing on March 9, I described what we are doing to improve results. It will be difficult. This is a conversation school leaders need to encourage in every community.


The National Summit on High School


The National Governors Association Summit on High School in Washington last month added urgency to raising standards, improving achievement, and redesigning high school to accomplish these goals for all students.  New York has already taken most of the steps proposed at the Summit, but we can do more to realize the potential of our policies and actions.  But New York’s advantage, that resulted from early leadership in standards-based reform, will be temporary unless we press on in the light of the determination of other states. In particular the Summit adds urgency to the Regents pending decision to move the minimum passing score to 65.


       The Summit began with the voices of students and recent graduates who had recognized belatedly that they hadn’t worked hard enough in high school and were not prepared for college or work.  Then we reviewed the national data, which is best summarized by this progression:


For every 100 students entering the 9th grade:


  • 68 graduate high school on time
  • 40 enroll immediately in college
  • 27 are still enrolled by sophomore year
  • 18 graduate college on time (BA in 6 years or AA in 3 years)


       Bill Gates said, “America’s high schools are obsolete” because even working as they were designed, they cannot educate all the children. Only a fraction of our children are getting the best education. For the rest he said, “Either we think they can’t learn, or we think they aren’t worth teaching.”  He deplored this situation as an economic and moral failure.


       What should we do? In his view, we should declare that all students will graduate high school ready for college, work and citizenship and then make it so, publish data on progress toward this goal, and intervene strongly in struggling high schools.


       New York has taken, for the most part, four of the five steps advocated in the Summit:  1) restore value to the high school through improved standards, curricula and assessments that align with the expectations of college and the workplace; 2) give high school students the teachers and principals they need; 3) hold schools and colleges accountable for student success and intervene in low-performing schools; and 4) streamline educational governance so that the K-12 and post-secondary systems work more closely together.  We know that we can do more to effectuate all of these actions. On the fifth item --redesigning the high school to ensure all students graduate with high skills–we are just beginning.  But even here, we have advantages to build upon, including a better data system than all but a few states, and strong foundations in the other Regents education reforms.


At the Superintendents Advisory Council meeting this month, Newfane Superintendent of Schools Jim Mills said, “New York faces the opportunity of the decade just as we did in 1995” when Regents and local leaders raised standards in the midst of a national commitment to standards-

based reform. He’s right. We got farther in that effort than anyone.  Now our challenge is to do the same with high school.


Summer Reading


An encouraging example of USNY in action is the summer reading program, which is a partnership between the State Library and EMSC and is visible in libraries everywhere in New York. More than a million children from the very young through high school participated last year. The Regents challenge to read 25 books a year isn’t just for the school months. The benefits of a summer reading program are obvious to any teacher who had to teach again in September the literacy skills that seemed strong in June, only to weaken during a bookless summer. “How can we expand this program?” is the question before the Full Board.


Learning English


         Only 34.5 percent of English Language Learners (ELL) in the class of 2004 graduated from high school. That is the central fact we must change. Almost 40 percent of ELL students in that class were still enrolled and might graduate later, but nearly one in five has already dropped out. New York has educated generations of new Americans. It’s part of our heritage. We can do better than this.


       This month the Regents will discuss a fine but challenging report that contains these and other data about New York children learning English, the schools they attend, and some of the barriers to their progress.  The schools for these children differ in performance. For example, the schools in the lowest performance quartile are more likely to be designated Schools in Need of Improvement under the No Child Left Behind Act, and the children are more likely to be poor and have a disability than is the case in the highest quartile.


       As we saw in the reports on all students who entered ninth grade in 2000, many ELL students have not taken Regents exams. For example, almost 40 percent in New York City had not taken Regents mathematics.

       In October, the Regents identified 10 strategies to improve ELL performance. As the Board requested, this report provides an implementation plan and a schedule of periodic reports to the Board.  As we go forward, we might concentrate on the most powerful of those strategies. For example, let’s see how many teachers for ELL children complete certification in the November 2005 report, and let’s do all we can to make that a big number. (See page 10 in the plan). And let’s provide for these children in the Regents 2005-06 budget recommendation. (See page 18).


24-Month Calendar


The Regents adopted the new strategic plan and annual priorities in February. This month, they will discuss, with the intent of approving, a revised 24-month calendar of policy decisions and policy reviews. The purpose is to ensure adequate time for the Board to study data and consult widely before making decisions. The calendar also informs interested parties so that they can engage the Regents on the issues.


Revised Meeting Format


       The Committee on Quality will bring to the Board a proposal for more time for both Full Board and committee debate. This proposal reflects ideas developed in committee in February.


       The proposal would have Regents meet every six weeks starting next year. This would resolve long-standing problems of insufficient time for the Department to prepare Regents items and for members to prepare for the meetings. The proposed format would be consistent from month to month, which would eliminate the wasteful effort to design unique schedules every month. There would be regularly scheduled time for constituents and legislative advocacy. The Board would have 10 meetings a year: eight regular meetings including two outside of Albany, a two-day retreat in June (right after the regular June meeting), and a two day meeting in February devoted entirely to legislative advocacy both in Albany and in Washington. The total amount of committee time during the year would increase.


       Change in something as fundamental as our meeting schedule is difficult, but the current situation is a barrier to effective Regents and State Education Department operations and communications.  The proposed schedule will better support the Regents work on their priorities. It is also a critical element of preparing the State Education Department for the future. I urge the Board to adopt the proposal.


Leadership Academy III


We will introduce to the Regents in March the third graduating class of the State Education Department’s Leadership Academy. The Chancellor and I will award certificates to the 22 graduates. The Leadership Academy is a demanding year-long program that is part of our commitment to succession planning and professional development. It is one more way to help prepare the Department for the future.


The Department senior leadership assigned four challenging topics to the members of the Leadership Academy as a graduation requirement and we are reviewing their reports now for potential application. One member of each of the four teams will provide a two-minute summary of the projects. The four topics are:


·       Criteria for Measuring Successful Interagency Collaborations.

·       Information Access and Confidentiality Assurance

·       Using Public Television Digital Broadcasting to Enhance Lifelong Learning in New York State.

·       Creative Resources to Expand SED Capacity.


A Look at the Data on CUNY’s Progress


       The Higher Education and Professional Practice Committee will discuss a report that compares 1999-2000 data with currently available results related to the Regents 1999 approval of the CUNY master plan amendment. There is a helpful summary but the report itself is organized for easy review. Each section states a finding, presents supporting data, and adds further explanation in bullet form. This is a good model for a monitoring report.


       Here are some of the major findings:


  • The overall pattern of enrollment by ethnicity is similar in the two periods, but there has been a small decline in the percentage of minority enrollment.
  • However, there has been an increase in enrollment for all ethnic groups in first-time, full-time baccalaureate programs.
  • The one-year retention rates for regularly admitted and SEEK full-time enrolled in CUNY baccalaureate programs remained over 80 percent.


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Last Updated: April 14, 2005