December 2007

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Note: The purpose this report is to help the Regents frame the major discussions at the December meeting and beyond. In full Board at the end of the meeting on the last day there will be a Commissioner’s Summary that will highlight what we accomplished together and what is coming next.

It’s Been a Good Year

The Regents, SED, and our partners have accomplished a lot together this year. The Board’s long advocacy for a Foundation formula was rewarded in the 2007-08 budget, which embraced not only the Foundation concept but also the largest-ever aid increase. Many other elements of the P-16 Plan were also included in the budget, such as the renewal of the learning standards, and additional capacity for SED. Pre-kindergarten programs and enrollments expanded dramatically, and the Regents contributed to this not only through continuous advocacy, but also by timely regulatory change to encourage mid-year startups. The Regents moved quickly to define the parameters of the Contracts for Excellence, and did so through emergency regulations that provided early guidance while remaining open to insights from educators and advocates. The Contracts for Excellence were completed to Regents expectations. Assessment results improved. Roosevelt began the year under new leadership. The Regents sought and secured new resources from foundations to implement still other parts of their P-16 agenda. The year ahead will have many challenges, but we pause at year’s end to recognize progress earned by focused effort.

Regents Secure Foundation Support to Implement their P-16 Plan

The Regents created a P-16 Plan after the USNY Summit in response to the need to raise achievement. The Regents sought and have now secured major support from the Gates and Wallace foundations to implement three connected parts of that plan: a P-16 data system in joint venture with certain school and university partners; SED organizational capacity with a service orientation to carry out school improvement and accountability; and the systematic infusion of expert advice on best practice in school improvement and accountability.

The Regents have asked SED staff for a comprehensive plan to accomplish the work with foundation support. The PII Committee will discuss that proposed plan. The plan defines roles and relationships, structures and staffing, and using the initial work plans proposed by three consulting groups, outlines the work ahead. The Regents are the customer for these three engagements with the foundations. The Board defines expectations and strategic direction and also provides on-going guidance. There are many other important roles and relationships, particularly in the P-16 data system design, which is a joint venture involving the Regents, the chancellors of CUNY, SUNY, and NYCDOE, and the superintendents of Yonkers and Syracuse. Executive oversight, operations, and day-to-day work require structure with particular responsibilities and staffing. The proposed plan addresses these issues.

Three products are expected during 2008: recommendations for the design of a P-16 system ready for implementation; recommendations for the redesign and implementation of SED organization capacity and systems to support school improvement and accountability; and a continuing series of Regents-convened sessions with experts on best practice related to school improvement and accountability.

With these initiatives, the Regents are introducing three powerful levers for change. The P-16 data system will connect schools and higher education as never before, and will identify barriers to success that can then be removed through a combination of policy and administration. The Regents-led sessions with experts will introduce new intellectual capital to our discussions on how to improve instruction and accountability. The organizational analysis and design will add to SED capacity to do the new work of P-16. These are three, linked proposals from the P-16 Plan, which will improve student achievement.

Why are we are doing these three things? The Regents proposed these actions in the P-16 Plan, which was a product of the USNY Summit. For the last two years the Board and SED have been developing relationships with foundations to underwrite this essential work.

Communication and Advocacy

The Chancellor has asked for proposed communications and advocacy strategies. The Policy Integration and Innovation (PII) Committee will discuss proposed communications and advocacy strategies, and a month-by-month budget and legislative advocacy plan. The proposal reflects the belief that we must communicate vigorously as part of the policymaking and implementing process, and that Regents are the best advocates for the Board’s policy decisions. The proposals are intended to make effective use of the Board’s strength. The committee will develop the core message with staff support, using the Regents P-16 Plan and the Board priorities, among other materials. The proposal outlines communications and advocacy strategies and materials. Some of this already exists, such as the Regents monthly report, and other elements will be created over the next several weeks with the committee’s guidance. The Regents adopted five budget and legislative priorities in September. A sixth priority, school safety, has been suggested and needs further discussion.

Long-Term Calendar

The Board will discuss a proposed revision to its 2008 monthly meeting calendar in response to the Regents desire for more time to discuss policy issues. The proposal includes 11 monthly meetings in Albany and a series of off-line regional committee meetings, which would be devoted to a single policy topic. To accomplish the 11 monthly meetings in Albany, the proposal includes new dates for November and December 2008.

The off-line regional committee meetings are a new idea designed to allow the Board to develop topics on which they intend to make policy decisions. Which committee is involved will depend on the topic the Regents select. To ensure focus and public participation as well as efficient use of SED capacity, the proposal envisions only one such off-line committee meeting a month. The first meeting would be in January, with one in each month, or until the Regents decide they want to modify this approach. The first four topics might be: Career and Technical Education, Contracts for Excellence and comprehensive monitoring, autism, and teaching in urban schools.

The format of the regional committee meetings would evolve but might include discussion with local educators and members of the public, consideration of data, visits to high quality programs reflecting best practices, and development of Board policy options. To be most effective, the Board might return to the same topics in several parts of the state, with a future policy decision scheduled to focus comments from interested parties.

2008-09 Policy Agenda Proposal

The Regents will consider a proposed policy calendar. The intent is to spur debate and revision. The adopted policy calendar has to reflect what the Regents want to do. The intent is to schedule sufficient time for Board discussion, research, consultation with experts and all interested parties to produce well-informed decisions. A calendar would enable SED to schedule and deploy capacity to support the Regents. The Regents P-16 plan, the Regents budget and legislative priorities, periodic reviews of previous Regents policies, and issues that emerge from the state, national and international scenes are all sources for this calendar.

To be most effective, the calendar would remain evergreen, with the Regents through the committees continually renewing the agenda. A completed proposal will suggest topics, when the Board would initiate them, and when they would decide. Obviously, once begun, an issue would appear in the appropriate committees in the ensuing months, but the draft proposal leaves out those details for simplicity.

Career and Technical Education

The EMSC-VESID Committee will discuss a proposal to expand Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, particularly in large city school districts. The Regents developed and adopted a CTE framework in 2002, after extensive consultation with national experts, District Superintendents, and the employer community. The resulting policy led to rapid expansion of CTE enrollment in many areas of New York, but not in the cities. The Board concludes that now is the time to resolve this problem.

The existing CTE policy involves a local self-study in relation to Regents criteria, a peer review of the results, the completion of 22 credits of course work, which may include courses that combine academic and career subjects, passing scores on five Regents exams, and completion of the an industry-specific assessment. Graduates generally perform at least as well as non-CTE graduates on the Regents exams, and in addition, can prove that they meet entry-level industry standards of skill and knowledge.

Issues for the Regents to discuss include why this particular formulation works well outside the cities, but has not succeeded in the cities. The Board has the results of two external reviews of the program, and probably will want to collect additional information on the ground. How to measure student achievement is another issue. In 2002, SED could not identify industry-recognized exams in the academic subjects that matched the rigor of the Regents exams. The Board will want to look again at assessment, as the national repertoire of exams may have improved. New assessment will, of course, be reviewable under No Child Left Behind.

Teacher certification is yet another related issue. We need to consider additional ways to address the shortage of CTE teachers by reviewing the current certification structure, what the optimal teacher preparation frameworks are, and how will colleges and large city districts collaborate to recruit, prepare, and place CTE teachers as the program expands.

The Regents P-16 perspective will help here. As workplace skill demands continue to rise, the Regents may want to envision CTE as a structure that combines high school and the first two years of post-secondary education.

Coordinated Monitoring Plan

The Regents will discuss a proposal to expand our existing coordinated monitoring to include certain VESID activities and the new monitoring responsibilities that attend the Contracts for Excellence, with a combined system in place for 2008-09. The proposal involves 41 P-16 staff who will also be involved in Contracts for Excellence monitoring, with reports issued within 30 days of monitoring visits.

The item before the Board is conceptual and will require additional detail to fully respond to the Regents interest in staffing capacity, valid and timely data, accountability, and service orientation in the State Education Department’s work. The service orientation will have to be visible to local educators and the public in the coherence and utility of the reports that result.

Special Education Certification Structure

An important part of Regents policy deliberation is the review of existing policy, and this month’s agenda includes an example. The Regents 1998 teaching policy changed the special education certificate structure in ways that are no longer workable. What had been a single special education certificate has become 45. There are severe shortages of special education teachers and the certificate structure may be a barrier to eliminating that shortage. There is a mismatch between the numbers of students with disabilities in particular grades and the number of teachers qualified to teach them.

After consultation with the field, SED has suggested an alternative framework. If the Regents concur with the general direction, the Board will begin work on regulations that could affect practice in the fall of 2009.

The context is well-known to the Board. The Regents have higher academic and career expectations for students with disabilities, and understand that well-prepared teachers are indispensable to meeting these expectations. The Board also recognizes that the outcomes of special education can only be as good as the outcomes for general education. Consequently, the proposed framework attends to the relationship between practitioners in both special and general education. No Child Left Behind and the requirement that all teachers be highly qualified is also part of the context. The resulting solution has to work in a diverse and dynamic school system that educates 3 million children. And the Board has also drawn everyone’s attention to the P-16 context. There will be a P-16 solution to this policy issue in that it will reflect implementation changes in both the schools and higher education.

A Framework for Teacher Tenure Regulations

The Regents will discuss a framework for implementing part of Chapter 57, Laws of 2007 concerning local teacher tenure decisions. The relevant section of Chapter 57 is attached to the item. A teacher’s use of assessment results in instruction is an element to consider in deciding tenure.

The focus for this discussion is improving student achievement through effective teaching. The Board may find it helpful to reflect on the tenure decision as but one part of a continuum of decisions including recruiting, preparation, placement, professional development, and mentoring. Taken together, these processes should be coherent and focused on student achievement, and also workable in the real context of schooling. The Board will want to see the research basis for what is proposed.

A tenure decision should never be routine, nor should it be confounded with concerns about teacher shortages. The aim is to find, prepare, and develop new teachers with the expectation of tenure and a long career in the service of high student achievement. But tenure must be withheld from those who do not meet professional standards in their practice.


The Regents will discuss a monthly report on the status of the Roosevelt school district. The report outlines what’s improving and what problems remain. Robert Wayne-Harris, the new superintendent, is off to a solid start. While the Senate and Assembly have introduced bills to resolve the budget deficit, no legislation has been adopted. The Office of the State Comptroller produced its first quarterly report in October, which showed that current spending is under control and also identified remaining issues, such as weaknesses in fundamental controls. While we recognize the major improvements accomplished in Roosevelt by local educators, the community, and their external allies, we must pay particular attention to the remaining problems. Chief among them is continuing weakness in financial systems and data. Regents questions about these issues would be especially helpful to further progress.

State Testing and NAEP

The Regents will discuss the relationship between the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and state test results, with an eye toward possible policy action. Here is some background for that discussion. NAEP has been in use for decades, first as a periodic national test and more recently in state by state reading and mathematics tests in 4th and 8th grades. The national NAEP cycles through major school subjects with long intervals before a given subject is tested again. The state NAEP is limited to reading and mathematics and takes place every two years. A recent elaboration of state NAEP is the opportunity for large cities to choose a city-level NAEP that allows comparisons with large cities around the nation. New York City participates in this option.

No Child Left Behind and the requirement for grade-by-grade testing has brought more attention to NAEP results. No Child Left Behind requires peer review of state testing systems and USED approval, but leaves to individual states the task of setting standards and creating the test to measure their achievement. NAEP provides a common measure for all states. Given that NAEP and state tests, as well as the related standards, are prepared separately, it’s inevitable that national and state results will be different. In some states the difference is large, while it’s small in others. This presents an obvious question for the public and policy makers: which results are correct?

The standards measured by NAEP and state tests are not the same. And the two systems test different content. NAEP tests reading. New York tests reading, writing, and listening. NAEP tests a sample of about 4000 students in New York, while about 200,000 4th graders take the New York ELA exam. Both NAEP and state tests use four levels of performance, but the cut points are much higher in NAEP. In the case of NAEP, no student takes the whole test. Rather the NAEP results reflect a composite picture of a sample of students answering different sets of questions. In contrast, the same ELA test is taken by all New York students in a particular grade. One other important difference is in the stakes involved. Teachers and students perceive that stakes are high for performance on the New York tests and students are encouraged to do their best. There are no consequences to a school or a student from NAEP, and there are no student or school reports of NAEP results. It is difficult for states to persuade schools to take part in the NAEP sample in each cycle because there is no perceived local benefit. A rich scholarly literature has challenged NAEP validity since the early 1990s on the grounds that many students do not take NAEP seriously. In the upper grades, many students do not complete the NAEP exam.

Here are some issues the Regents might explore. What do long term trends in NAEP data show and what do they mean? What actions might the Board take to improve results or improve testing? Is there a case for raising standards in New York? The Regents raised standards in 1996 in response to public concern that tests allowed high school graduation for essentially 9th grade performance. It’s time to raise the standards again, and the Chancellor has appointed a Regents committee to do that. How challenging should new standards be? How exactly are state tests prepared and reviewed for validity and reliability? This is a highly technical question, but as the Regents recently demonstrated with state aid, it’s a topic that most people can understand given the opportunity. What does SED do to secure multiple independent opinions about critical parts of testing? What might the Regents and SED do to make state testing more transparent? And while we are at it, let’s take a look at the research on NAEP. Just as state tests have their thoughtful critics, so does NAEP.