Who Fails to Graduate High School? And, Why? Thinking Outside the Box (Part 1 ELLs)

Whether we like it or not the NYS education system is judged by high school graduation rates and scores on grade 3-8 standardized tests.  The latest release of high school graduation rates was touted by Albany,

The New York State Education Department today released high school graduation rates for the 2011 cohort (students who entered 9th grade in 2011). The overall graduation rate for the 2011 cohort increased to 78.1 percent, up 1.7 percentage points from 76.4 percent for the 2010 cohort.

The release does point to the downside, kids who have dropped out of school,

… nearly seven percent of students in the 2011 cohort—about 14,590 students—dropped out of high school. Of those who dropped out, 62 percent were Black or Hispanic; 64 percent came from economically disadvantaged homes; and 58 percent were male.

Sadly, the release does not take a deep dive into the numbers – who are the 21.9% who failed to graduate? We know that seven percent dropped out – how about the remaining 15%?  In the past an additional three or four percent graduated in five or six year. Who are the others?

If the Regents and the commissioner are going to craft programs to increase graduation rates we have to know who is not graduating, and, more importantly, why did they fail to graduate?

While students in the “Big Five” school districts are doing better,

Graduation rates for the Big 5, high need urban-suburban and rural districts have risen over the past three years.

the gap between high wealth and low wealth districts is substantial,

… only 68.4 percent of students from high need urban-suburban districts graduated on time in 2015, compared to more than 94 percent of students from low need districts.

The Department has added a few additional pathways, unfortunately the new pathways are narrow, very narrow, and I think few students are aided by the new pathways.

Let’s take a deeper dive and look at English language learners (ELLs),

For ELLS, the five and six year graduation rates are significantly higher than the four year rate of 34 percent (cohort 2011). The five year graduation rate for ELLs is 44 percent (2010 cohort) and 50 percent (2009 cohort) respectively.

Half of ELLs fail to graduate in six years. Who are they? And, why are they failing to graduate?

The state fails to disaggregate the data in a useful manner.

Let’s divide ELLs into different categories:

* “Ever” Ls: Students who have been in schools for many years without scoring out of formal ELL programs

* SIFE: Students With Interrupted Formal Education – students enter schools by chronological age although they have been out of school in their native countries.

* Students who have entered the country within the last four years

If students who have been in English language learner classes for many years why aren’t they graduating?  Is there a difference between student in ESL and Bilingual classes?  Are particular schools or school districts more successful, and, if so, why?

SIFE and recent arrivals probably represent the largest group of non-graduates and I suspect there is a cohort of ELLs who leave school to go to work, to support themselves or to support their families. Schools, traditionally, have a 9 to 3 school day.

Are some ELL instructional configurations more successful than others? and, if so, why?

In New York City,  twenty-five years ago,  a school was designed to meet the needs of students with non-traditional school/work schedules.

Currently we force students to accommodate to the traditional school day, Manhattan Day + Night High School: Serving Students Around the Clock  serve 700 students, half are ELLs

From the school’s webpage:

(What do we do?) We are a school community that is dedicated to engaging students in realizing their full potential and preparing them to succeed at college and employment by providing them the opportunity to earn a high school Regents diploma.  (Who do we do it for?) As a transfer high school, we work with older, under-credited students whether they are long-time residents of NYC returning to high school or recent immigrants.  (How do we do it?) With classes offered around the clock from 8:00 a.m. – 9:31 p.m. Monday – Friday, we provide students who have adult responsibilities a schedule that meets their needs. We offer a challenging program with Advanced Placement and College Now classes and an extensive English language immersion program for foreign-born students. We are fortunate to have Comprehensive Development, Inc. (CDI)  as our non-profit partner which provides free, on-site student support including tutoring, college advisement and placement, scholarships, career exploration and internships, legal assistance, referrals for housing and medical issues, and post-graduation services.

The partner organization, Comprehensive Development, Inc. provides a wide range of services that extend beyond graduation.

Our programs provide high school students and recent graduates with college and career advising, legal, medical and housing assistance, case management, and intensive tutoring. We also continue to support our graduates during the first two critical years after high school. According to CUNY’s most recent Where Are They Now? report, students who receive CDI services average 26% higher in GPA, 15% higher in course pass rate, and 14% higher in first year college retention compared to similar students who didn’t receive services.

Is the commissioner simply unaware of the school?  Why doesn’t the state explore similar models in Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester? And, other sites within New York City?

The 9 – 3 school day no longer fits the needs of all students, a simple, more flexible model is increasing the hours of school to accomondate students who work as well as offering claases at the workplace and associate the school with a support organization as referenced above.

While Manhattan Comprehensive is a model for students who are struggling in their current school the fifteen schools in the Internationals Network admit students in the ninth grade. The student results are stunning when compared to students in the citywide  pool of ELLs

Recent immigrant students at the secondary level have only four years in which to acquire the academic content and deeper learning skills necessary to succeed in the classroom and graduate high school on time. As a result, immigrant English language learners make up a significant share of those who fail to graduate with their peers. However, students in [Fifteen New York City] International High Schools routinely outperform their counterparts in other schools and often are the first generation in their families to graduate high school and attend college.

NYC ELL High School  4-Year Graduation Rate (2014) –       37%

Internationals High School  4-Year Graduation Rate (2014) –  64%

NYC ELL High School 6-Year Graduation Rate –      50%

Internationals ELL High School Graduation Rate –    74%

A study of the International Network conducted by Michelle Fine and others,  The Internationals Network for Public Schools: a Quantitative and Qualitative Cohort Analysis of Graduation and Dropout Rates: Teaching and Learning in a Transcultural Environment (CUNY, 2005) validates both the instructional modalities as well as the philosophical underpinnings of the network.

The International schools cannot simply be cloned, if you visit one of the schools you are immediately impressed by the staffs and the school leaders. The fifteen schools (as well as the other Internationals across the country) are public schools operating within union contracts, the schools have strong school district and community support and the schools share a common commitment to the students they serve.

The approach of both the governor (maybe he is learning) and State Ed has been woefully inadequate. State Ed constructed a “diagnostic tool,” and they have worked with a number of districts, a self-study; however, parachuting educational “solutions” has never been successful.  The presenter at a Regents panel told how much the district appreciated all their help – I would have asked: did anything change? And, did they invite you to the party after you left?  I’m not being snide (well, maybe a little), we’ve been telling schools what to do for decades with very little success. We rarely ask them: how can we help you?

Both Manhattan Comprehensive and the International Network grew in fertile soil. Teachers and school leaders built a culture from the bottom up, a culture that is to a large extent antithetical to the surrounding larger school system culture.

In New York City, and, I suspect other school districts around the state superintendents and chancellors buy a program with which they are comfortable – in New York City, the Lucy West Math Program  and the Lucy Calkins  Reading and Writing Project, are favorites of the chancellor.  Do these “parachute programs” change the culture of the school?

You cannot pick up Manhattan Comprehensive or an International School and drop it in Buffalo … you can plant seeds and nurture the seeds.

For too long we have simply plugged students into archaic structures that no longer serve the complex needs of students. (De)Formers have thrown out idea after idea, none of which grew at the local level.

The State spent years fiddling with Part 154, the regs for English language learners. The regs are a compliance document – what classes you must create in schools, minutes of instruction and teacher licensure. Principals scramble to make sure they are not “out of compliance,” whether or not the configuration is serving the needs of a particular cohort of kids is not part of the discussion.

Manhattan Comprehensive and the International Network were not created by the bureaucracy, in fact, they were created in spite of the bureaucracy; the first International school sued the commissioner to retain part of their instructional model.

Let’s track down some of the 14.000 kids who dropped out of the 2011 cohort and ask them a simple question: why did they stop going to school?  And build from that point.

If kids in a particular district are dropping out of school to work maybe we can offer classes at a local church, in a housing project, at the worksite, bring the teachers to the kids.

Before the commissioner and the Regents begin to change graduation requirements perhaps they can investigate.  The irony is that we live in a data-driven world, superintendents and chancellors love to run huge number sets, yet, they fail to spend the time investigating in the fields, in communities and they fail to connect with the “product” – the kids.

Flash: there are very smart people in schools, and, many of them are brimming with ideas – force-feeding geese may make foie gras, force-feeding teachers does not improve the lives of the kids they teach.

All ideas are not great, the role of leaders is to sift the ideas, to facilitate the discussion, to pamper and nurture and question   …  do commissioners and school district leaders have the confidence to trust school communities?

Selecting New Members to the NYS Board of Regents: The Race Is On

As I am writing this morning I am watching the interviews for the Regent for the Syracuse Judicial District. The interviews for the At-Large seat will take place over the next two weeks.

I understand there are over fifty applicants – most for the At-Large vacancy.  The process is simple – send in a cover letter with a resume – there are no other qualifications. The interviews are convened by the Education and Higher Education committees of the Assembly. Any member can drop by and ask questions – the interviews run anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes.

The applicants range from retired teachers and other educators to parents and others involved in community organizations. Some have carefully spelled out agendas; others have long experience in education, and some just want to be part of the democratic process.

In the past the decisions were made by the Speaker and other senior members, the new leader of Assembly, Carl Heastie clearly allowed the electeds from within the boundaries of their Judicial District to play a major role.

The Board of Regents is a policy board; they hire the commissioner and set a direction for the department. The Board will select a chancellor from among their members at the March meeting.

I occasionally watch a CUNY Board meeting – the chancellor of CUNY races through the agenda with a nary a peep from the other board members. The Regents ask sharp. pointed questions and the discussion can be intense.

The Board of Regents is a busy and working board. The board is structured into committees, P-12, Higher Education, ACCESS (Adult Education), Arts, Special Education, Budget and the Professions. The Regents oversee public education, higher education, adult education, proprietary schools, libraries, museum and about fifty professions across the state.

The Regents meet monthly (except August) for a day and a half in Albany. The members are unpaid.

Some members serve as if they were full time; attending numerous community meetings while others hold full time jobs and spend more limited time.

While opting out of state exams and the state exams themselves have been major news items the Regents have a limited capacity to make any changes. The exams are required by federal law and federal regulations require 95% participation rates by sub-groups – with a threat of a loss of funding if a school falls below the required participation rate. The commissioner has provided each superintendent with a toolkit to use to urge parents not to opt out.

Is it the role of the Regents to get involved?

Some candidates are activists in the opt out movement and want the Regents to lead the anti-testing, anti-Common Core charge.

Others are primarily concerned with low graduation rates for English language learners – only 50% receive a diploma after 6-Year in high school. A Working Group to Improve Outcomes for Boys and Young Men of Color has created a legislative agenda to address low graduation rates for students of color, others are involved in addressing the new exams required for all teaching candidates, are the exams too difficult? Are four exams too many? Are the exams the reason for the sharp decrease in teaching candidates in college? Is the current five Regent requirement for a high school diploma too high? Should the Regents seek additional pathways?  Or, are we simply “watering down” the value of a diploma? Should the next round of testing reduce the time of the tests? Should the state seek a waiver from the feds to pilot performance tasks in lieu of universal standardized tests? Just an example of a few of the items on the table.

Regents members are bombarded with e-communications from constituents – how should each member respond?  Do the loudest voices represent the most pressing issues?  Who speaks for the English language learners, the undocumented who are afraid to speak, the poorest families who are not well-organized?

Over the last year the major educational initiatives have come from the governor; his budget included a radical change in teacher evaluation and a receivership approach to the lowest achieving schools, and, in September he appointed a Task Force who issued a 20-recommendation report – adopted by the Board.

The candidates represent a broad spectrum, Alan Singer, an active blogger and a strong supporter of the opt outs and their agenda, David Bloomfield, a Brooklyn College professor and Hechinger blogger has been a frequent critic of the current NYC administration, I understand that Elizabeth Dickey, the past president of Bank Street and before that a long time administrator at the New School University is a candidate. Also, Joyce Coppin, a district and high school superintendent in New York City, head of the Leadership Programs at CCNY and Mercy College and a member of the Congregational Council at Trinity College; both with decades of leadership roles in education; other candidates are parents active in the opt out movement.

Some argue that the Board should be more diverse – more Hispanics, a member of the handicapped community, perhaps a college student.

Ultimately the decision will be made by the Speaker, with considerable input from members.  The formal election will take place in March at a joint meeting of both houses of the legislature; however, since the Democrats far outnumber the Republicans the decision will come from the Democratic Conference.

The Board has been remarkably free of political stain – I have been attending Regents meeting for a number of years and the decisions represent the views of the members, not any political caucus. If you ask me the political affiliation of any member I would no idea from their actions on the board.

Sadly, as I listen to the candidates most have no idea of the role of a board member and many are only vaguely aware of the current policy debates. For example, calls for moving away from annual standardized testing, “If I’m elected I would …..”   The law is the law, annual testing is required. The fight to move to grade span testing was lost.

We are seeing a sharp change in the composition and leadership of the board.  In April a new chancellor and vice chancellor and seven out of seventeen board members will have two or fewer years on the board.

While the Regents are the constitutional body tasked with setting educational policy the role has been preempted by the guy on the second floor across the street in the Capital building. For the members of the legislature the Sturm und Drang of education is troublesome. Over the next two years about 15,000 bills will be introduced by the members of the legislature – a few hundred will become law; very few will deal with education. The major items under consideration by the Regents are not legislative issues – the legislature does not vote on the Common Core, or, probably understand what it is … legislators want a board member who can take the heat … legislators want to tell a constituent to call their Regent, the “issue” or “problem” is not in their domain.

I have been impressed with the dedication of the members, I don’t always agree with them; however, they are thoughtful and question sharply. Fourteen of the members represent geographic areas around the state, three are At-Large, and members for the most part are readily available to represent the pulse of their community. Unfortunately funding and the equity of funding are in the hands of the governor and the legislature and day to day school operations in the hands of mayors and elected school boards.

I wonder why the members expend so much of their time and energy – it can be an enormously frustrating job, lots of criticism, not too much praise.  In most other states, boards of education at the state level are chosen by governors and the public has no input.

We are lucky to have seventeen citizens willing to dedicate themselves to improve outcomes for all the children of our state.

Intergenerational Conflicts: Why Do Veteran Teachers and New Young Principals Clash?

Tom Porton is a teacher who changed lives. For forty-five years he toiled as an English teacher at James Monroe High School in the Bronx and at a successor small high school. A new principal dismantled all that Porton created, David Gonzalez in the January 24th NY Times chronicled the drama, “A Beloved Bronx Teacher Retires After a Conflict With His Principal,”

Now he is at the center of drama: Last month he clashed with Brendan Lyons, the school’s principal, who disapproved of his distributing H.I.V./AIDS education fliers that listed nonsexual ways of “Making Love Without Doin’ It” (including advice to “read a book together”). This month, he said the principal eliminated his early-morning civic leadership class, which engaged students in activities such as feeding the homeless, saying it was not part of the Common Core curriculum. Mr. Porton was already skeptical of that curriculum, saying it shortchanged students by focusing on chapters of novels and nonfiction essays rather than entire works of literature.


I was sitting next to a senior teacher at a faculty meeting led by a newly assigned principal; he leaned over and whispered, “My tie is older than he is.”


A new principal, with a decade as a teacher and a couple of years as an assistant principal, was frustrated. His senior staff was hypercritical of everything he tried to do. “There were three assistant principals, one was ‘acting,” I put her back in the classroom and formed another first grade class, the first grade teachers were happy, everyone else whined, I was ‘punishing’ the acting assistant principal. Nothing happens during common planning time, the culture of the school is ‘leave me alone.'”


I was planning to answer questions from a group of new teachers, which rapidly disintegrated into complaints about the senior staff.  “Just because they’ve been teaching a long time doesn’t mean they’re good teachers … they treat the kids like crap.”  “She’s my mentor, not my mother, all she does is criticize.”

Susan Moore Johnson, a Harvard professor, leads the Project for the Next Generation of Teachers,  “Intergenerational conflict is usually unaddressed, …principals … often have difficulty bridging the divide between independent, sometimes complacent, veteran teachers and inexperienced, often distressed, novice teachers,”, Johnson describes the senior cohort of teachers,

When the cohort of teachers now preparing for retirement entered the profession in the late 1960s and early 1970s, public service was respected and long-term careers were the norm. Throughout society, individuals were expected to pursue just one career—for example, engineering, accounting, or law—and many even dedicated themselves until retirement to a single employer …  public schools attracted a talented and committed cohort of new teachers at relatively low expense.

And comments on their behaviors,

Most of [these teachers] have chosen to focus their careers on becoming better teachers within the classroom instead of seeking administrative positions   … As a group, they prize the privacy of their classrooms and rely on their colleagues primarily for social support.  … The egg-crate structure of schools, with each teacher working alone in a classroom, reinforces these preferences and discourages the development of specialized roles for teachers.

The current generation of teachers lives in a different world, with a different view of their job, themselves and their future,

Members of the new generation of teachers enter the workforce in a different context. Fields that once excluded talented women and people of color—such as technology, law, business, medicine, and finance—now actively recruit them. In contrast to public education’s low pay and static career path … As society’s career patterns change, young people now routinely anticipate having several careers over the course of their working lives … teachers studied by the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers, only 3 were entering teaching as a first career and planned to remain in the classroom full-time until retirement …  many new teachers today are career switchers …  the conventional image of the new teacher as a young, fresh college graduate fails to fit a significant portion of those entering classrooms today.

{Career changers] and their younger counterparts tend to be surprised by the isolation of a classroom, expecting instead to learn from colleagues and work in teams. They also hope to have varied responsibilities and gain increasing influence over time but quickly realize that the egg-crate school—with its separate classrooms and uniform teaching roles—does not encourage this kind of growth.

New teachers today repeatedly state that they hope eventually to assume roles that extend their influence beyond the classroom.

In school after school senior teachers feel under assault by much younger school leaders.  Conversely younger school leaders are frustrated by veteran teachers who are seen as resistant to change and disrespecting the young school leaders.

The cultural differences, Boomers (1946-64) versus Generation X (1966-79) and Generation Y (1980-1994), can divide staffs, instead a collaborative staff sharing practices schools divide along age divisions, frequently distrusting each other and retreating into their classroom.

Johnson muses,

The retiring generation of teachers is relatively uniform, having prepared in traditional university-based programs, entered teaching directly after college, and committed to work in the classroom long-term. In contrast, the profile of new teachers entering schools today varies much more widely. This cohort includes first-career and midcareer entrants, those who prepared in traditional programs and those who prepared in alternative programs and many who do not plan to make a long-term commitment to classroom teaching. To ensure that these two cohorts work together, schools must become more flexible and collaborative workplaces.

Johnson urges principals to organize their schools so that they can “…  augment [teacher] capacity for continual learning when they give veterans explicit responsibility and the authority to assume leadership roles, especially those that involve advising new teachers.”

The UFT contract created a number of new titles, for example, a Lead Teacher receives an additional stipend and works with other teachers. In a few schools the Lead Teacher functions as a department chair, works with the staff with no formal supervisory responsibility.  The veteran teacher in the role of Lead Teacher continues to teach, works with staff and receives additional compensation.

The contract also requires that principals meet with school union leaders at consultation meetings; schools can use the consultation process to collaboratively create union-endorsed approaches to instructional issues.

Over 150 schools have taken advantage of a new contract section,

Of all the breakthrough ideas in the new contract, none has more potential to empower teachers and their school communities than the PROSE initiative. PROSE stands for Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence, and the opportunities for redesign at the heart of this program are predicated on the UFT’s core belief that the solutions for schools are to be found within school communities, in the expertise of those who practice our profession.

Schools can craft changes in school schedules, length of school days, teacher assessment, a wide range of changes, a “flexible” contract approved and supported by the union and the department.

New principals may have been granted the scepter and orb; however, the serfs no longer take oaths of homage and fealty.  How many principals use their 40-minute required faculty conference to “talk at the staff?” How many “engage the staff?”

How many principals use the faculty meeting as a lesson:  A dialogue between the principal and staff and among staff members?

Why don’t school leaders create a sociogram (a graphic representation of social links that a person has. It is a graph drawing that plots the structure of interpersonal relations in a group situation) … who are the isolates, the “witch doctors,” the subgroups (example: the car pool from New Jersey, the Friday TGIF crowd), and, how can the principal use the social links to engage the staff?

Sometimes a single act of kindness can win over a staff  … a new principal was assigned to a school over the summer. On the first day of school a district-wide strike commenced. I was walking the picket line when the side door of the school opened, a lunchroom worker appeared rolling out a cart with a 50-cup coffee urn – the lunchroom worker pointed to the window, “It’s from the principal.”

For governors, mayors, commissioners and chancellors the goal is higher graduation rates and higher scores on state tests. Principals are “scored” based on metrics – their success or lack thereof is measured; teachers interact with students daily and the success of a student validates the work of the teacher: teachers spend their days with living and breathing students. The trials and tribulations of students are part of the daily lives of teachers – the socio-emotional life of a child trumps the score on a test. Porton, the teacher referenced in the New York Times article spent a long career changing lives, AIDs awareness and prevention saves lives, engaging students in fighting homelessness or feeding the hungry was at the top of his agenda. Immersing students in the lives of Romeo and Juliet made far more sense than reading a chapter here and there which supposedly would help a student on a standardized test – to instill the love of literature, the love of learning was the goal of his teaching, not a score on a single test.

The principal sits at endless meetings with the superintendent, the metrics are clear and the route to the metric is clear. High schools are measured by graduation rates and that means passing subjects and regents exams – all else of superfluous.  Teaching about AIDs or lessons impacting homelessness took away time from preparing for regents exams.

Principals and teachers can live in different worlds.

For the principal, and, sadly, far too many in the top echelons of school systems, the single goal is improving data.  The veteran teacher who volunteers his time to run a leadership class and developing the skills necessary to pass a regents exam are not in conflict. The competent principal makes use of the skills of his/her staff. Studying homelessness can include developing research skills, understanding the use statistics, upgrading computer skills; all of which assist a student in passing a regent exam. All of which engage students, and, student engagement is far more effective than test prepping for an exam.

I’ve been in schools made up of clusters of teachers that never interacted, the principal directed, everyone “saluted,” and went their own way. Others schools were vibrant, teachers working together, principals utilizing the varying skills of the entire staff.

Knowing how to blend the skills of both veteran and newer teachers, boomers and Gen Xers is a necessary leadership skill, too often absent from the leadership tool kit.


                                Characteristics of Generational Cohorts 

Boomers (1946-64):   This generation began to challenge some of the rules, but were more consensual, team-oriented, and horizontal thinkers.  They are self-oriented and very creative.

Generation X (1965-1979):  This is a generation where for the most part there were two working parents or single parent households.  For the first time, latchkey kids were common.  This generation became fiercely independent because they had to be.  They were less afraid to take risks.  They grew up with computers for work and play.

Generation Y: (1980-1994): Everything is online, including educational programs.  There is a lot of pressure to perform both in educational settings, and in the workplace.  They like to collaborate with others, and their way of collaborating is multifaceted due to the many ways they can communicate with each other.  Unique to this generation is “Make it meaningful to me.”  It has to be something that they can immerse themselves in.

Untimed Tests. Fewer Questions: Will the Opt Out Families Be Assuaged? Suggestion: A Comprehensive Plan, Not Piecemeal Fixes

Within the last few days superintendents across New York State received a missive from Commissioner Elia announcing the federally required grades 3-8 English and math tests would have fewer questions and the testing would be untimed.

The announcement was a surprise, and, sharply criticized by the New York Post,

Fewer questions makes for a less-meaningful test — especially since the state inevitably “disqualifies” several questions every year after students have taken the exams.

Far worse, she’s ordered that the tests no longer be timed.

This is lunacy. Nowhere in the world do standardized exams come without time limits (though New York makes an exception for kids with certain disabilities).

You can make a case for giving all kids a bit more time — but killing limits makes no sense. It may help more children “pass,” but it won’t help any get a better education.

Tests are about gauging a student’s knowledge and skills — including the skill of time-management. Without time limits, they’re a far less accurate measure.

While the Post is virulently anti-teacher union and curmudgeonly; they’re not all wrong.

The release of the report of the Cuomo Task Force in December contained twenty recommendations, one of which related to the timing of tests. including

Undertake a formal review to determine whether to transition to untimed tests for existing and new State standardized tests aligned to the standards.

At the December meeting the Board of Regents voted (with Regent Tisch casting the only dissenting vote) to accept the report.

Instead of a “formal review,” as recommended by the Task Force the Commissioner announced that the spring tests would be untimed. Students with disabilities, if their Individual Education Plan (IEP) directs, already have extended time. English language learners with more than one year in the country must take the same tests as all other students and time limits may adversely impact their performance. The decision to lift the timed nature of the test for all students was surprising.

The reduction in the number of questions is an issue for the test makers, the psychometricians who design the tests. How many questions are required to produce a valid, reliable and stable exam?  Commissioner Elia, in defending the importance of the tests, argues that the tests indicate progress or lack thereof for students, individually, by grade, school and school district. With the information, the test results, teachers can adjust instruction to emphasize areas of poorer performance as well as highlight instructional practices that resulted in better performance.  Hopefully we embed assessment into our daily practice, usually referenced  as formative assessment, aka,  “…diagnostic testing, a range of formal and informal assessment procedures conducted by teachers during the learning process in order to modify teaching and learning activities to improve student attainment.”  The state tests are summative assessments, tests that “measure” output, the teaching/learning process over a school year. For the school community  the only use of the tests is to “grade” individual principals, teachers and schools; using the summative assessment to fire (or reward) principals and teachers and to close schools.

The Cuomo Task Force, correctly, called for halting the practice until a new system can be crafted for the 2019-2020 school year.

This has been an odd year characterized by the Governor’s metamorphosis: from the angry, retributive April leader who punished teachers, principals and schools to the collaborative December leader who calls for a thoughtful approach to rethinking and restarting the revision process with the stakeholders: the education community. The twenty Task Force recommendations (see below) incorporate the wide range of criticisms that have swept across the state since the ill-considered John King attempt to impose change. Change is a process, change can be uncomfortable, change requires a space to discuss and debate, a space to acclimate ourselves to changes in direction.

The Task Force has provided us with that space – a number of years to find our path.

The Commissioner is anxious to start the process, and let’s be honest, anxious to reduce the number of opt out families.

If the reason to move precipitously to untimed tests is an attempt to assuage the opt out parents the commissioner is mistaken.

While it may be an unintended consequence (or, maybe not!!) summative testing as measured by year-end test scores drives classroom practice – if you don’t  “prepare” kids for the tests teachers and principals risk a low score and the dire consequences – test prep rules.  We continue to search for the happy median, rich, engaging classrooms in which students make progress both on measurable scales as well as the probably unmeasurable social and emotional scales.

One approach is to move from end of year summative assessment, the current system, to a performance task assessment conducted throughout the school year. In a thoughtful essay the new testing company, Quester, discusses the pros and cons (Read essay here)

A performance assessment is a test in which a student performs some number of tasks to show his or her knowledge, skills, and abilities in a particular area, such as conducting a science experiment. That is, a student must show how to solve a problem using what he or she knows about the assessment prompt. The best performance assessments are authentic, which is when the task is realistic and is considered something that would be done in the real world,

A performance task assessment system would require substantial changes in day-to-day classroom practices – I encourage the commissioner to explore, a pilot program in a few districts.

A far more radical change is a move to competency-based groupings, personalized learning, and incorporating technology into the core instructional process – highly controversial (Read a Quester essay here)

 … meet a number of 21st century teaching needs such as individualized and personalized instruction, personalized learning, competency-based grouping and progression, seamless blending of instruction and assessment, and timely impact of assessment results to affect instruction.

Do we believe we can create summative assessments, year-end tests that will be both accepted by parents and teachers as well as fit the needs of the State Ed, school districts, schools and teachers?

Are performance task assessments better indicators of student progress and more useful to teachers and parents?  Or, so complex and burdensome that the effort will not be fruitful?

Are we finally reaching a point when technology can be seamlessly blended with traditional classroom instruction?  Or, are we once again casting aside the social and emotional needs of children?

Let’s begin the discussion before we all hold hands and jump into the pool.


Cuomo Task Force Recommendations

Recommendation 1: Adopt high quality New York education standards with input from local districts, educators, and parents through an open and transparent process.

Recommendation 2: Modify early grade standards so they are age-appropriate.

Recommendation 3: Ensure that standards accommodate flexibility that allows educators to meet the needs of unique student populations, including Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners.

Recommendation 4: Ensure standards do not lead to the narrowing of curriculum or diminish the love of reading and joy of learning.

Recommendation 5: Establish a transparent and open process by which New York standards are periodically reviewed by educators and content area experts.

Develop Better Curriculum Guidance and Resources

Recommendation 6: Ensure educators and local school districts have the flexibility to develop and tailor curriculum to the new standards.

Recommendation 7: Release updated and improved sample curriculum resources.

Recommendation 8: Launch a digital platform that enables teachers, including pre-service teachers, and teacher educators, to share resources with other teachers across the state.

Recommendation 9: Create ongoing professional development opportunities for teachers, teacher educators, and administrators on the revised State standards.

Significantly Reduce Testing Time and Preparation and Ensure Tests Fit Curriculum and Standards

Recommendation 10: Involve educators, parents, and other education stakeholders in the creation and periodic review of all State standards-aligned exams and other State assessments.

Recommendation 11: Gather student feedback on the quality of the new tests.

Recommendation 12: Provide ongoing transparency to parents, educators, and local districts on the quality and content of all tests, including, but not limited to publishing the test questions.

Recommendation 13: Reduce the number of days and shorten the duration for standards-aligned State standardized tests.

Recommendation 14: Provide teachers with the flexibility and support to use authentic formative assessments to measure student learning.

Recommendation 15: Undertake a formal review to determine whether to transition to untimed tests for existing and new State standardized tests aligned to the standards.

Recommendation 16: Provide flexibility for assessments of Students with Disabilities

. Recommendation 17: Protect and enforce testing accommodations for Students with Disabilities.

Recommendation 18: Explore alternative options to assess the most severely disabled students.

Recommendation 19: Prevent students from being mandated into Academic Intervention Services based on a single test.

Recommendation 20: Eliminate double testing for English Language Learners

Advice to the New Upcoming Leadership of the New York State Board of Regents

After twenty years on the Board of Regents Chancellor Tisch and Vice Chancellor Bottar have announced they will not be seeking another term. Chancellor Tisch was elected chancellor by her colleagues in 2009 and Bottar in 2012.  I am told that the Board, including the outgoing members, will select the new officers at the March, 2016. The two new Board members, who will be elected by a joint meeting of both houses of the state legislature in March, will assume their seats on April 1.

The last decade has been turbulent, with five different commissioners, Mills, Steiner, King, Wagner and Elia.

With the election of President Obama in 2008 the education community was hopeful, perhaps a reconfiguring of the 2002 No Child Left Behind law; instead the appointment of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education resulted in a drastic change, the new secretary used his power to consolidate education policy-making in Washington. From Race to the Top to the Common Core to two national testing consortia (PARCC and SBAC) and  data-based (VAM) grading of teachers, there had been a sea change.

The Board of Regents, in the first years of the Obama years enthusiastically supported the presidential agenda. When Commissioner Steiner unexpectedly left his virtually unknown deputy, John King, was selected as commissioner.

Commissioner King “managed” the Board, with some dissent; Regents Cashin and Rosa voted against the VAM-based teacher evaluation plan and increasingly challenged the commissioner’s agenda. Regents Phillips (who left the Board a year ago) and Tilles, were uncomfortable; however, voted with their colleagues.

Slowly and inexorably educators and parents across the state began to lose confidence in the Board and the Commissioner.

A year ago as the revolt against state testing and privacy concerns grew and grew Commissioner King was basically fired, actually “moved” to Washington.

The archaic structure of the Board and the ineptitude of King lost the confidence of the governor, the legislature and the education community – an example of a failure of leadership.

Let’s take a look at the basic principles of leadership:

Robert Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense for both presidents Bush and Obama has a new book, A Passion for Leadership (2015), his core principles,

People, not systems, implement an agenda for change

People at every level in every organization need to know their work is considered important by the higher-ups.

 At every level, a leader should strive to make his employees proud to be where they are and doing what they do. It doesn’t matter whether you are president of the United States, CEO of a huge company or a supervisor far down in the organization.

To lead reform successfully, a leader must empower subordinates.

A successful leader, and especially one leading change, treats each member of his team with respect and dignity. It seems obvious, but in far too many bureaucracies, bosses at all levels fail to do so.

On Election Day, a staff development day, five hundred teachers met in an auditorium, squirming, waiting to be “talked at” for a few hours.

The superintendent walked out onto the state – with a guitar.  He, hesitantly, explained his hobby was song writing and playing the guitar- and- he had written a motivational song, he’d like to try it out.  It was pretty good! He explained that no one gets better unless they are willing to take risks, to move into new areas, to try new approaches. Risk-taking was at the core of improving as a teacher. Five hundred teachers saw their boss taking a risk.

A contingent of District Office types came to a school to meet with the principal, without an appointment, at the beginning of the school day. The secretary said they’d have to wait, the principal wasn’t available. As they began to hassle the secretary snapped back – “He’s not available, he’s teaching.” The principal taught a phy ed class first period so that teachers could meet in common planning time.

Leadership is earned, titles do not determine leadership: employees and the wider public determine leadership.

Decision-making processes must be transparent with as participation as possible for all the stakeholders.

I would strongly recommend that the Board consider more transparency and to seek avenues for stakeholder and public involvement; for example, the entire Board meetings, including the committees, should be web cast.

  • Stakeholders, especially parents, should have an opportunity to participate in Regents Meeting; we do live the cyber age.
  • Why can’t the State/Regents do a simultaneous translation in Spanish?
  • Agendas should be set at least a week, not days before a Board meeting.
  • The public, through Twitter or e-mails should have an opportunity to participate – to ask questions?
  • High opt out districts encouraged to pilot performance tasks?(See sample performance tasks here)

Rule # 1 of Organization Change: participation reduces resistance – the more parents, teachers, principals and superintendents feel they are listened to, feel that they respected, feel they are part of the process, the more all the stakeholders will be invested in the success of the education system.

Randi Weingarten was speaking to hundreds of teachers explaining why the American Federation of Teachers had endorsed Hillary Clinton. At the end of the talk the first person she called on was a Bernie Sanders supporter, and, at the end of his statement she thanked him and urged him, regardless of the eventual nominee, to work within the union.

For too many parents and teachers State Ed and the Regents are the enemy, the only way to win them back is to include them in the process, to make feel valued.

Hopefully the new Regents leadership will begin the path towards inclusion.

Students with Disabilities and High School Graduation: Can the State Create Additional Graduation Pathways Without “Tracking” Students?

The New York State Education Department today released high school graduation rates for the 2011 cohort (students who entered 9th grade in 2011). The overall graduation rate for the 2011 cohort increased to 78.1 percent, up 1.7 percentage points from 76.4 percent for the 2010 cohort.

Only about 50 percent of students with disabilities in the 2011 cohort graduated within four years.

(New York State Education Department Press Release)

Half of students with disabilities do not graduate in four years.  For decades the state offered a regents diploma and a local diploma alternative. The regents diploma required passing five regents exams (English, Science, Mathematics, American History and Global History); the local diploma required passing the Regents Competency Test (RCT), a test at about the ninth grade level. In the mid-nineties, after years of debate the state moved to a single regents diploma and began the phase-out of the local (RCT) diploma.

Currently the only diploma option is New York State is the regents diploma.

All students, regular education and students with disabilities (fka special education) must pass courses and exams to qualify for the regents diploma, except for the cohort of students with “moderate or severe” disabilities

There is a vast array of statute and regulation establishing the rights of students with disabilities and proscribing the types of education. The following is a summary of the requirements.

 The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) … ensures students with a disability are provided with Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that is tailored to their individual needs …  the goal of IDEA is to provide children with disabilities the same opportunity for education as those students who do not have a disability.

 The sections of the law requires an Individualized Education Program (IEP), Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), Appropriate Evaluation, Parent and Teacher Participation, and Procedural Safeguards

The act requires that schools create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each student who is found to be eligible under both the federal and state eligibility/disability standards. The IEP is the cornerstone of a student’s educational program. It specifies the services to be provided and how often, describes the student’s present levels of performance and how the student’s disabilities affect academic performance, and specifies accommodations and modifications to be provided for the student.

 IEP team must include at least one of the child’s regular education teachers (if applicable), a special education teacher, someone who can interpret the educational implications of the child’s evaluation, such as a school psychologist, any related service personnel deemed appropriate or necessary, and an administrator or CSE (Committee of Special Education) representative who has adequate knowledge of the availability of services in the district and the authority to commit those services on behalf of the child. Parents are considered to be equal members of the IEP team along with the school staff.  The IEP must place the student in a Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) which provides “…access to the general curriculum to meet the challenging expectations established for all children” (that is, it meets the approximate grade-level standards of the state educational agency)

Simply put, the LRE is the environment most like that of typical children in which the child with a disability can succeed academically (as measured by the specific goals in the student’s IEP) and asks,

  1. Can an appropriate education in the general education classroom with the use of supplementary aids and services be achieved satisfactorily?
  2. If a student is placed in a more restrictive setting, is the student “integrated” to the “maximum extent appropriate”?

The general education classroom option is called a co-teaching classroom; a subject area teacher and a special education certified teacher in the same classroom, about a third of the students in the co-teaching classroom are students with IEPs. The special education teacher modifies the instruction pursuant to the IEP of the student.   Other students are placed in “more restrictive setting,” self-contained classrooms, with lower class sizes and frequently with a teacher aide.  There has been a sharp reduction in the number of self-contained classrooms.

Although the student with a disability may be entitled to additional time on tests, once again, pursuant to the IEP, the student must meet the same requirements as far as passing the required courses and regents exams.

The commissioner, in her presser, referenced a number of possible pathways to improve graduation rates for students with disabilities.

Whether these pathways comply with law is open to question.

 These proposals include widening the score range for any students who wish to appeal their Regents Exam result;

The appeal/re-scoring option is rarely used and onerous, most school districts are unaware of the option, and, would the re-scoring increase a grade?

establishing a graduation pathway in Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS);

The CDOS credential is not a diploma, the credential is offered to students in sites designed for “moderately and severely handicapped” students, such as BOCES sites in the state and District 75 sites in New York City.  It is unrealistic to expect that general education high schools could offer the credential (Read the description of the CDOS credential here)

and the creation of a project-based assessment for students who pass coursework required for a diploma but who have not passed required Regents Exams.

Forty high schools have a waiver from New York State to substitute a portfolio-roundtable system in lieu of the regents exams. (See the performance-based consortium (PBAC) website for a description here). The PBAC schools utilize a different instructional model – students work on performance assessed projects throughout the school year culminating in the submission of the portfolio with a roundtable of teachers and “critical friends” questioning the student and, using a rubric, assess the portfolio.

The danger is replicating the credit recovery debacle. Schools purchased a software package, such as Plato (See website here), the student worked at the computer with the general supervision of a teacher, and earned a credit.  Instead of the 54 hours required for course credit a student could earn a credit with substantially less time.  Creating a “project-based assessment” that is equivalent to a regents exam is a challenge.

These new options are intended to give all students—especially those with disabilities, English language learners (ELL), and students at risk of dropping out—additional ways of earning a diploma while continuing to measure them against the State’s rigorous standards.

The commissioner suggests a number of alternative pathways, the source of the pathways are the IEP process. The IEP “specifies the services to be provided and how often, describes the student’s present levels of performance and how the student’s disabilities affect academic performance, and specifies accommodations and modifications to be provided for the student,” the members of IEP team determine the pathway.

Perhaps it is time for the commissioner to explore the creation of an alternative exam, a backup for the regents exam. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of students who can pass two, three or four regents exams, not all five, especially with the new Common Core exams. If a student with disabilities can pass all of their subjects, and not all of the regents exams, should they be deprived of a diploma?

Can the state create a diploma “with conditions” that are specified on the diploma?

Some would argue that this type of option should be available to all students; however, we must not create a “tracking” system. Our goal must be a regents diploma for all, with the realization that for some students, the pathway is not realistic.

It’s time for the state to begin a dialogue.

Graduation Rates: Why Do Kids Drop Out of School? Fail Courses? Fail Regents? How Can We Increase Graduation Rates Without Ruses?

With fanfare and some backslapping the New York State Education Department released graduation data for the 2011 cohort – students entering the ninth grade in the 2011-2012 school year.

The overall graduation rate for the 2011 cohort increased to 78.1 percent, up 1.7 percentage points from 76.4 percent for the 2010 cohort.

Once a student registers in a school, usually that means moving from the eighth to the ninth grade, the student “belongs” to the high school. The student remains in the cohort until they graduate, move on to another school or dropout.  The SED presser reports that seven percent of the cohort has dropped out and “… of those who dropped out, 62 percent were Black or Hispanic; 64 percent came from economically disadvantaged homes; and 58 percent were male.” Fifteen percent of the students neither graduated nor dropped out, they either failed to pass the requisite courses, failed to pass five regents exams (with the safety net, if eligible) or a combination of both and are currently in their fifth year of high school (or, failed to report to school this year).

Graduation rates can be increased by better data management that has nothing to do with the school instructional program. For a number of years I worked on a team that assisted new, small high schools, and succeeded in increasing graduation rates. Who were the “long term absences” and where did they go?  Were they enrolled in another school and not removed from the previous school register?  Has the school attempted to track down the student?  Form letters and phone calls do not suffice: a counselor, social worker or attendance teacher also has to become a detective. If the student moved back to South Carolina in what school is the student enrolled – can we ask the South Carolina school for an enrollment document? Does school personnel have the language skills to communicate with family and friends? How many of the dropouts are English language learners, how many Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE) are in the dropout cohort?  Does school staff have the computer skills to search databases?  Unfortunately low functioning schools are low functioning in multiple domains: high failure rates, low attendance, and high suspension rates and poor data management. The SED should provide a guide to tracking down dropouts – turning “bad” discharges to “good” discharges.

It’s crucial to disaggregate the remaining fifteen percent – the students who neither graduate in four years nor dropped out: Who are they?

* English language learners

Let’s disaggregate the ELLs, “Ever” Ls, students who been Ls for many years, are the NYSSLAT scores increasing?  Is the student making progress towards graduating in a fifth or sixth year of high school?

Is the L student overage?  Poor attendance?  Is it likely that without proper guidance and support the student will dropout?

Does the student have a path to graduation?  Making progress both in passing courses and passing regents?

* Special Education

How many students are in Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) classrooms and how many students in self-contained classrooms? Is there a difference in course and regents passing rates?  And, a core question: how many special education students pass courses and fail regents exams and which regents exam is the most common failure?

Black, Hispanic and Disadvantaged

Are there common denominators?  High absence rates? High suspension rates? Overage?  Are there specific courses and regents exams that are more commonly failed?

If the data is useful, if we expect schools to utilize data schools must adopt a culture, a culture that respects the use of data to drive the construction of school polices. New Visions for Public Schools described the process in an excellent report:  Navigating the Data Ecosystem: A Case Study of the Adoption of a School Data Management System in New York City.

Culture drives practice. A school can promote a culture of inquiry only if there are systems in place to support regular analysis of student data …  teachers have cited the lack of time for data analysis as a major barrier to using data systems, and in some cases they reported feeling they must choose between data-driven work and their teaching. Effective data use within the context of inquiry requires that time be made available to teacher teams specifically for this activity …  schools should make this structured collaborative time a priority, ideally happening a few times each week, depending on individual school needs.

Why haven’t more schools adopted cultures that promote inquiry that promotes “structured collaborative time?”  Eric Nadelstern, in the January 13, 2016 Hechinger Report  suggests,

Devolve responsibility, resources and authority to schools. Centralizing decision making simply lets principals and teachers off the hook for student performance.

Our goal is to create schools with the ability take responsibility; however, Nadelstern’s answer, endlessly close and create new schools is a chaotic solution and chaos is not what students and teachers need.

The commissioner proposes a number of options that are patches,

Department proposed to the Board new options that would provide students with additional opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in order to earn a diploma. These proposals include widening the score range for any students who wish to appeal their Regents Exam result; establishing a graduation pathway in Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS); and the creation of a project-based assessment for students who pass coursework required for a diploma but who have not passed required Regents Exams. These new options are intended to give all students—especially those with disabilities, English language learners (ELL), and students at risk of dropping out—additional ways of earning a diploma while continuing to measure them against the State’s rigorous standards.

Only about 50 percent of students with disabilities in the 2011 cohort graduated within four years. Graduation rates for Black and Hispanic students continue to lag behind those of their White peers. In the 2011 cohort, about 88 percent of White students graduated in June 2015, but only 65 percent of Black and Hispanic students did.

Will these proposals raise graduation rates and will they also recreate a tracking system?

Twenty years ago the Regents, after years of discussion, began the phase-out of the Regent Competency Test (RCT) driven local diploma. The RCT was a low level test – about ninth grade level, that was a common pathway to graduation.  I taught in a New York City high school with an excellent reputation, and, only about 25% of the senior cohort earned a regents diploma. In high poverty schools regent diplomas were rare. Will the commissioner’s proposal return us to the tracking of twenty years ago?

The new reauthorized law, ESSA, allows states to seek waivers, and, New Hampshire is in year two of a waiver that is exploring performance tasks in lieu of standardized tests.  New York State should begin exploring their own waiver; there are forty high schools that have had an approved waiver  for twenty years, utilizing a student portfolio-roundtable system in lieu of regents exams.

The time is ripe for the Regents and the State Education Department to begin a process – how can we assess pupil performance without the burden of rigid standardized tests.