commissioner letterhead

October 2008





Defining a New Era in Accountability

The Regents will have two significant discussions leading to decisions about accountability this month. Taken together, these decisions will set the direction for the next era of school accountability in New York. One is whether to approve the first of two parts of an interim growth model of accountability that would redefine how a determination is made whether a district and school have met adequate yearly progress. The other would endorse a new definition of what happens to schools and districts that have not made adequate yearly progress.

The Regents and State Education Department’s work on accountability reflects the Regents policy and commitment to educate all students to high standards and enable them to graduate ready for work, citizenship, and further education. Along with standards for students and educators, curriculum frameworks, assessments aligned to standards, and Foundation Aid based on the cost of effective education, accountability is essential to a world-class system of education. Accountability enables Regents, district and school educators, school boards and members of the public to act effectively when students are not learning to standards.

Evident in these accountability proposals is a commitment to employ the best current research and the experience of other states, while making efficient use of existing assessments. The proposals are designed for transparency so everyone can understand exactly how accountability determinations are made and what they mean. Throughout we have honored the Board’s commitment to engage field educators and the public in making these policy decisions.

What follows are some details about the proposals and recommendations.

The Interim Growth Model of Accountability -- Part I

Should the Regents approve the final proposed growth model for submission to the United States Department of Education as required by Chapter 57 of the Laws of 2007?

The Regents will discuss part one of a proposed interim growth model. It is called Proficiency Plus because it would credit districts for students who are proficient, and also for students who are on a path to proficiency. Part two, which does not require submission to USED, will respond to the Regents decision to measure and encourage the academic growth of students who are already proficient. This will come to the Board at a future meeting after a study of accountability models in New York and around the country.

Proficiency Plus would include in the performance index scores for students who are proficient, as is done now. The new element is that for each student who is not proficient, we would calculate a projected growth score to determine whether that student is on track to become proficient and if so, the student’s score would be included in the performance index. There is a basic model for grades three through eight, and a high school accountability component that relies on New York’s highly-regarded Regents exam system. The high school component would consider students entering high school with level 1 or 2 grade 8 scores in English or mathematics to be on track for proficiency if they score between 55 and 64 on the Regents exams in English and Integrated Algebra. This would recognize high schools that are effective in raising the achievement of entering students who were low-performing in middle school.

The Board has discussed growth model concepts for many months with experts and field leaders. As of October 15, SED will have heard field comments from approximately 1,000 people. In September, the Regents approved submission of a “placeholder” proposal to USED to meet an October 15 deadline, with final approval pending Board discussion of field comments in October. USED will accept amendments, if needed, immediately after the October Regents meeting.

Recommendation: That the Regents approve the interim growth model.

Differentiated Accountability

Should the Regents endorse the proposed differentiated accountability model for submission to the United States Department of Education?

The Regents have an opportunity to strengthen and simplify effects of the accountability system consistent with the Board’s thinking about engaging districts to improve schools, its policy on how NCLB should be modified, and field comments about the complexity of the current system. This proposal must be consistent with the requirements of Chapter 57, Laws of 2007 and today’s economic situation, which demands efficient use of resources. Once the proposal fully reflects Regents views, New York will apply to join a USED pilot accountability program. Implementation would begin in 2009-2010, based on the 2008-09 assessments.

Differentiated accountability would allow rigorous intervention in districts and schools with many systemic problems, and a light touch in districts with only one or a few groups of students not meeting adequate yearly progress. SED would work in partnership with districts to strengthen their capacity of to improve schools. This proposal would reduce the number of accountability categories, clarify when particular diagnostic tools (school quality reviews, curriculum audits, joint intervention teams and distinguished educators) would be used, and how specific interventions would work (improvement plans, corrective action plans, external experts and if necessary, school closure).

This is a strong proposal that would improve on the current system. It could be even stronger in two ways. The first would be to make even more explicit the Regents intension to engage districts in improving their schools. The proposal mentions a stronger district role, but still reflects schools as the primary point of engagement. The second way to strengthen the proposal would be to modify the SURR process to make it a dramatic accelerator of improvement in schools farthest from the standard.

Recommendation: That the Regents discuss the differentiated accountability proposal, direct the Department to make appropriate revisions and then endorse the proposal to USED.

Preserving Foundation Aid

The Regents have always engaged elected officials, advocates, practitioners and scholars in developing state aid proposals. In keeping with that commitment, the Subcommittee on State Aid heard from experts within and outside the Department last month, and recently consulted leaders of advocacy groups, who offered advice for the path forward. Meanwhile, SED state aid staff have been modeling potential proposals. Here are some thoughts that reflect these consultations so far.

Foundation Aid is widely regarded as one of the Regents major accomplishments. It resolved years of litigation, linked aid and instructional practice, and allocated large increases to children in greatest need. It is important to the Board’s campaign to raise achievement, close the gaps, and accelerate improvements in graduation rates. We are two years into a four-year phase-in of Foundation Aid. The scheduled increase for 2009-10, based on decisions made two years ago, would be a large increment in the coming budget. The Board must decide whether that increment is feasible in a very different economy. One thing that is clear, however - New York must preserve Foundation Aid.

The Subcommittee will discuss several policy questions this month as it prepares a state aid recommendation, and here are some of them. It may be necessary to consider a longer phase-in for Foundation Aid. In addition, state aid costs include prior year district expenditures. There is an argument to be made for fully funding prior-year expenditures while searching for ways to constrain the future growth of those costs. The Board has heard presentations on the major cost drivers, including pensions, health care, and special education. Should the Regents include incentives to reduce one or two of the largest of them? The Contract for Excellence is one way Foundation aid linked dollars to effective practice. Should the Regents recommend going forward with existing contracts but not add new ones?

The schedule for the Board’s policy deliberations will be constrained this year. Data essential for estimating the cost of state aid is due November 15, while the Regents convene just days later, on November 17-18. Governor Paterson has called a special session of the legislature for November 18, and has announced that he will present his Executive budget, which will include state aid, on December 16. Discussion at the October meeting will enable the Board to move quickly to produce an effective Foundation Aid recommendation for the 2009-2010 budget.

Legislative Priorities

The Regents committees will discuss proposed federal and state legislative priorities for 2009. In general, the state priorities focus on sustaining critical programs and ensuring stable and adequate funding. These include reducing the number of required district reports and plans, allowing retired teachers to teach in hard-to-staff schools and subjects, requiring fingerprinting and background checks for certain employees and volunteers, updating the definition of practice in public accountancy, and lowering the age of compulsory school attendance. In addition, there is a proposal to expand the role of BOCES, consistent with recommendations from the Commission on Property Tax Relief and Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness. Proposals related to funding would stabilize revenue for the Office of Professions and Office of Cultural Education, and give the Department authority to charge a fee for oversight of proprietary schools.

Federal priorities include proposals to modify No Child Left Behind, the Workforce Investment Act, the E-Rate program, early childhood, the Museum and Library Services Act, and the Preserve American’s Historical Record Act and to provide an appropriate level of funding for these and other programs.

Budget Making in New Times

The continuing economic turmoil has transformed budget building around the globe. Governments everywhere and at every level are creating new practice as they try to plan for a future that seems even more opaque than usual. Governor Paterson has called for an early start to the budget process and intends to present the Executive budget on December 16.

Last month, the Regents discussed reductions in SED spending and staff capacity resulting from two mid-year reductions in operations that affected all state agencies. This month, at the full Board and each committee, the Regents will discuss the most pressing priorities for the 2009-2010 budget. These include maintaining Foundation Aid, stabilizing Cultural Education and Professions revenues through potential fee increases, and maintaining, or if economic conditions allow, restoring key aids to localities. Finally, the Regents have contemplated actions to build capacity to raise student achievement through data, best practice, and organizational change, all of which will require either new or redirected resources.

Teacher Certification Policy Review – Languages Other Than English

How can the Regents address the shortage of teachers of Languages Other Than English (LOTE) without compromising teacher quality?

The Higher Education Committee will discuss an issue paper that summarizes supply and demand data documenting a severe shortage of LOTE teachers. This shortfall is particularly glaring given the importance of fluency at a time when all institutions operate in a global context.

This paper outlines an approach that would allow candidates who are fluent and exhibit cross-cultural competence to substitute high performance on particular examinations for up to 30 semester hours of teacher education. All other requirements for the credential would remain in effect. The exams are prepared by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. They are internationally recognized, available in at least 37 languages, and already used by 19 other states in a manner similar to what is proposed for New York. This would appear to be a good application of flexibility to accomplish a vital public purpose, while retaining rigor in the teacher certification program.

Regents Subcommittee on Audit Proposed Policy Changes

At the September Regents meeting, the Subcommittee on Audits was offered three areas of proposed policy changes that the Regents could consider to enhance accountability in school districts and address the Office of the State Comptroller’s audit trends. They are: changing the qualifications for key positions within school districts, enhancing required training for key positions, and increasing the number of officials subject to removal.

The Department’s internal Audit Workgroup will continue to refine these proposed policy areas. Starting with the November subcommittee meeting, the members will be presented with a draft policy to establish training requirements for school district claims auditors. The claims auditor position is a key control in procurement processing. A strong claims auditor function can assure board members that a district’s procurements are appropriate, authorized and in compliance with law, regulation and district policy.

Celebrating Excellence

A major responsibility of the Regents is to set standards. Sometimes the Regents do that by defining what performance is expected, writing content standards, supporting the work of the Professional Board of Teaching Standards, or clarifying the practice of the licensed professions. On occasion the Regents set standards in another way, by drawing attention to an individual whose work and character exemplify excellence. This month the Regents will celebrate excellence throughout USNY by designating Vickie Mike 2009 Teacher of the Year, presenting the Archives Partnership Awards to accomplished individuals and groups, and giving the Marge Tierney Scholarship Award to an individual who exemplifies the qualities of the person the award is named for.

Thank you, David Johnson

With gratitude and regret we say goodbye to our colleague David Johnson, who with this meeting concludes an extraordinary career as Secretary to the Board of Regents. David has for eighteen years been the right arm of chancellors and vice chancellors. He has been committed in word and action to the integrity of the relationships among Regents, commissioners, deputy commissioners, and other State Education staff that have enabled the Board’s work to thrive. We and so many educators and members of the public will remember him for countless acts of thoughtfulness and professionalism in representing the Board.