Commissioner's letterhead

May 2009





Important Steps for the Next Chapter of Reform

              This month the Regents will outline the strategic direction for the next chapter of educational improvement.  The aim is high achievement for all students. The Board is taking important steps here, but there will be a lot of listening along the way, and no sudden moves. The Regents want broad engagement with partners in the field and elsewhere, and with staff within SED.

              The Board prepared for this moment with the USNY Summit, the P-16 Plan and then built capacity with major awards from foundations. The Board’s focus has been on supports and interventions, a data system to guide their use, and the SED organization,   necessary as a platform for this work. The Board has considered draft recommendations on these points from several consultants and is ready to lead the way forward.  The Commissioner, Deputies, and our many colleagues will develop the detailed designs that comport with Regents decisions and implementation will unfold over this year and beyond.

              It is good practice for boards of all kind to conduct periodic reviews of policy in relation to outcomes, and the Regents have done this as any observer of their meetings will attest.  This, however, is a turning point. There will be both continuity and renewal. The Regents have studied the achievement gap and the practices at every level that can close it.  And there is more to learn to take the system to a much higher level as measured by graduation rates, college completion, and performance in mathematics, the arts, reading, and many other outcomes.  The situation demands even greater intensity and urgency, and new tools. 

              The Regents in their work anticipated the emerging national consensus reflected in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which includes the “Race to the Top” funding initiative.  The Regents and SED are redefining every component of the strategy: standards, curriculum, testing, and practice, relationships with the field, data, and structure to secure better outcomes for children.  It will be an exhilarating time that demands the best from all of us, and shows anew the importance of the trusted relationships we have built with our many partners.


Data Initiatives

              The Regents and SED are pursing three related data initiatives to improve achievement. These are: a P-16 data system that will  let us follow the achievement of students through the education system and adopt practices and policies that enable all to meet high standards; an Educational Technology Plan to create a technology-enhanced learning environment that serves all learners and links all of USNY; and technology-based communication systems within SED, among USNY institutions and to the public through a redesigned website, streaming videos and other digital resources to  allow all New Yorkers to access and share information in the USNY network.  The Regents discussed the communications and website late last year. The other two initiatives are topics on the May Regents agenda. 

P-16 Data: Indispensable Capacity

              The Regents aim is high achievement for all children, at all levels.  They want the achievement gap to narrow and finally close. After the USNY Summit, the Board declared that all students will read early, complete middle school ready for high school, graduate high school, and enter and complete postsecondary education.  Among the indispensable strategies to accomplish that aim is creation of a data system that reveals the barriers and accomplishments all along the way from early education through higher education.  The Regents, their partners, and SED, with major foundation support and the work of the Parthenon Group, are creating a P-16 data system.  The EMSC Committee will lead a comprehensive discussion of P-16 data, and will engage several experts.

              Thomas Kane of Harvard University and the Gates Foundation has conducted research around the nation on what commonly available data reveal about how to improve student achievement.  He urges that states and local districts report achievement data at the individual teacher level.  To not make that connection is to miss a huge opportunity to improve results.  He has found many low cost and practical opportunities to use achievement data to understand which approaches work.  And he suggests that states rethink their role in providing data.  We might ask, for example, what data would teachers find useful in modifying their practice to improve student achievement?

              Tammy Battaglino and her colleagues from the Parthenon Group have worked with us for nearly two years to design a P-16 data system to support the Regents goals.  This month Parthenon representatives will outline elements of the system and show examples of what the data reveal.  For example, top and bottom quintiles of school districts show dramatically different secondary and postsecondary outcomes for similar groups of students.  To cite another example, as 8th grade ELA scores improve, the probability of graduation and a more rigorous diploma increases (Advanced Regents Diploma instead of Regents or local diploma.)  Not only do ELA scores predict the type of diploma students earn, but also the type of diploma predicts post-secondary outcomes.   

              A report from the Data Quality Campaign shows that 21 states currently link student data to individual teachers and others will in the future.  These states have an advantage over New York in the knowledge they can develop at every level to raise achievement.  The Board will hear from Robert Hughes, president and CEO of New Visions for Public Schools, who will describe how achievement data has helped the schools under his care.

              The Higher Education Committee will engage in a related discussion about trends in higher education enrollment, persistence, and graduation.  They will discuss data about the sectors of higher education and the implications of changes in high school graduation numbers. 

Education Technology Plan

              The Regents, the USNY Technology Policy and Practices Council, and SED have collaborated to create a draft statewide educational technology plan.  At its heart are statements of mission, vision, and expected outcomes.  Now we need to engage those most affected – teachers, students, parents and all parts of USNY -- to define the actions we will take together to accomplish those outcomes and bring the vision to reality.  Before the May Regents meeting we will have begun a survey of digital capacity. The resulting data will further shape the draft.  We recommend that the Regents approve this framework and direct SED staff to engage the field and complete the plan by October 2009.

IEP Diploma

            The VESID Committee will continue its discussion of state policy and practices regarding the high school individualized education program (IEP) diploma for students with disabilities.   It will consider policy alternatives to better prepare students and provide a credential that documents the academic and career skills of students with disabilities who because of the challenges of their disabilities cannot achieve a regular high school diploma.   This discussion will take into account public comment from approximately 300 individuals from across the state and a regional Regents meeting in Yonkers on April 29. The IEP diploma also will be part of the Board’s review of graduation rates next month.

A Look Ahead to June

            At the conclusion of the May meeting, the Board will discuss its June agenda to ensure continuity and follow-through. The Regents will conduct a comprehensive discussion of graduation rates at that meeting.  During four recent meetings they have reviewed graduation rates for the entire state, many cohorts, students with disabilities, black and Hispanic males, and English language learners.  They have heard from national experts on policy and practice.   The Board will pull all these elements together to define policy options in June.  Two other major items will be the Higher Education Committee’s review of a leadership model in urban schools that reflects the work funded by the Wallace Foundation grant and a broad coalition, and discussions leading to the Regents 2010-2011 state aid proposal.  The 2009-2010 state budget created a two-year phase in the foundation aid program, and foundation aid remained flat only because $1.1 billion in federal stabilization funding was available.  The Board’s challenge will be to encourage the continued phase-in as part of a broad strategy to raise achievement.