commissioner letterhead

July 2008





A Proposed Growth Model of Accountability

New York’s accountability system identifies the status of schools and districts in relation to the standards by reporting, among other things, the proportion of students at each performance level, and by making a judgment about whether or not the school and district have made adequate yearly progress for particular groups of students. What it does not do is recognize the schools for the progress of students who are not yet proficient but are clearly on a path to proficiency. In other words, it does not measure the academic growth of individual students through the grades.

The Regents are primarily concerned that all students meet high academic standards, and that Board policy provides the appropriate incentives and measurements to drive that result.

The Regents discussed a proposed interim growth model of accountability in June. That proposal reflects previous Regents discussions about the purpose of growth models, and how they work in concept. This month the Regents EMSC Committee will devote most of its time to this issue and will talk with Brian Gong from the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment, who will provide additional information about the proposed growth model and respond to questions.

Chapter 57 of the Laws of 2007 requires the Regents to adopt an interim growth model of accountability by the start of the 2008-09 school year. The statute envisions a two-stage process that results in a value-added accountability model by 2010-2011. The Regents are responsible for defining the accountability system and have done so in the past. Now the task is to take accountability to a new level, using growth accountability concepts. While the topic is technical, the policy questions are fundamental and only the Regents can establish the authoritative answers. Here are some of the questions that can guide the growth model design: How will the Regents define growth? What is the purpose of a growth model? How will it be used? How will it pave the way for a value-added approach to accountability? How will New York’s design meet federal criteria for approvable growth models? The Regents will consider the advice of technical experts, field leaders, and others in defining the policy on this topic.

New York’s proposed growth model is designed to support the Regents policy to close the achievement gap and improve student performance. This model will give schools and districts credit for students making sufficient progress towards becoming proficient and meeting state learning standards. The proposed model shares features with other states' growth models that have been approved by USED, and alsoincludes unique features to make it appropriate for use in New York.

The proposal embodies a “proficiency plus” concept for grades 3 through 8, with enhancements for middle and high school grades. Proficiency plus means that schools get credit for all students who are proficient, and also for all students on track to proficiency. North Carolina’s approach, which has USED approval, is built on a similar concept. There are, of course, other models employed elsewhere, and the Board will want to ask about these alternatives.

The Regents and the State Education Department are committed to thoroughly engaging the field and the public on this issue before the Board adopts a growth model proposal. If the Regents agree, we would submita draft proposal to the USED as a placeholder so that New York does not lose the opportunity to have its prospective growth model peer-reviewed and approved for implementation. We alsowould continue the public comment process, which no doubt would lead to revision of the proposal.

Regents Secure Resources to Develop School Leadership

The outcome we all want -- students who possess the skills and knowledge described in the learning standards -- depends on the quality of the instructional core of every school system. The instructional core is the interaction between teachers, students, and content. Much of Regents policy is an effort to strengthen that (instructional) core. For example, teacher education and certification policies, grade-by-grade mathematics curriculum, and the foundation aid formula based on the cost of a successful education are a few of the many policy decisions that support the instructional core. The Board has a new opportunity with a $3 million, two-year grant from the Wallace Foundation to build capacity to support school leadership. School leaders are those closest to the instructional core. Their skills, knowledge, and character are indispensable to its improvement and the student achievement that results.

The State Education Department engaged many partners in developing the grant proposal, including the New York City Department of Education, the New York City Leadership Academy, the New York State Council of School Superintendents, the School Administrators Association of New York State, the Collegiate Association for Developing Education Administrators, New York State United Teachers, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, and the Metropolitan Council for Educational Administration Programs.

The gist of the proposal is to use research-based national leadership standards to renew New York policies, capacity and practices for leadership preparation and professional development. As the Regents item says, the goal is leadership preparation programs that are “outcome-based, theory driven, internally coherent and integrated, focused on teaching and learning, and grounded with an intensive clinical experience.”

Should Regents Modify Policy on the IEP Diploma?

The Regents P-16 Plan calls for action in three categories to raise achievement: students, structures, and systems. One of those actions concentrates on groups of students, including those with disabilities who need additional support to achieve the standards. This month the Regents will review their policy on the IEP diploma. State Education Department data suggests that the IEP diploma may be over-used. While 1 percent of the student population or 8 percent of students with disabilities have significant cognitive disabilities and might be expected to qualify for an IEP diploma, in fact 2 percent of the total or 14.8 percent of students with disabilities leave school with one. The spread between expected need and actual use of the IEP diploma is even greater in the large cities and high-need rural districts.

The decision to use the IEP diploma in a particular child’s case may be made earlier than necessary, resulting in lower academic expectations. Parents and students may be unaware that employers and educational institutions do not consider the IEP diploma equivalent to the regular high school diploma.

The VESID Committee item outlines three policy questions. Should the IEP diploma be replaced with an alternative credential? Should it be continued but under conditions that limit its use? Should it be renamed to eliminate confusion with a regular diploma?

Employment of Retired Educators

In June the Regents adopted emergency regulations to improve the administration of the waiver process mandated by Section 211 of the Retirement and Social Security Law. The law permits retired persons between the ages of 55 and 64 to earn compensation in certain types of school districts while continuing to receive their pensions, provided that the Commissioner approves. In response to public concerns about instances of individuals receiving high compensation in addition to their pensions, I suspended the waiver approval process for 60 days to evaluate and improve it. We consulted many stakeholders, examined the data, and informed executive and legislative leadership of recommended improvements. The Regents adopted emergency regulations, which were generally consistent with a bill that was then advancing in both houses, and which has since passed both houses and is before the Executive. We resumed granting 211 waivers in a manner consistent with the amended regulations. The proposed action before the Board would repeal the emergency regulations adopted in July and replace them with new regulations that incorporate the legislative language.