Meandering Toward an ESSA Plan: Can the Commissioner/Regents Satisfy the Electeds, Parents, Teachers and Create a More Equitable Learning Environment?

Where you ever driving down a dark road, lost, you keep on driving, maybe, just maybe you’re not as lost as you think you are, and, it’s a long drive back … unfortunately I fear the folks at State Ed are on that road.

At this point in the process of constructing an ESSA plan the state has identified 36 “High Concept Ideas” and seven questions that it is asking the education community. (Read the High Concept Ideas and Questions here).

The first High Concept Idea:

To ensure all schools are provided with accurate measurement of their students’ academic proficiencies, NY proposes to determine a State-designed rigorous action that will lead to improvements in the participation rate of schools that did not test 95%of their students (as opposed to an action designed by USDE).

So, the most important High Concept Idea, the idea that leads the list is an “idea” that might reduce the number of opt out parents. I understand, we live in a political world, and, it is the political side that votes budgets; increasing the participation rate, in theory, will make the governor, the legislature, and the activist parents happier.

Will Johnny and Mary and Jose and Jamaal learn to read better and calculate better and think better?

The process of creating an ESSA plan forces the state to take a look at itself: have we been moving in the right direction? Are our students ready for post-secondary education, be it college or career? And, if not, why not? And, how can we change direction? And, what direction?

The Union Leader, a New Hampshire newspaper has a relevant article. New Hampshire is in the midst of a major change in direction, moving away from the age-old standardized test to performance tasks and project-based pedagogy.

… when we do hire new employees we find many are ill prepared for the 21st century workplace. Young workers who lack strong communication skills, who struggle with spreadsheets and many who lack the math skills needed to be successful in the world of work today. This challenge is felt in every sector from advanced manufacturing to health care to professional services.

The problem is an outdated understanding of what graduates should be able to do when transitioning from school to the job market.

Business has changed dramatically over the past two decades, and skills that are needed now are far different from those just a short time ago. Think of social media managers, app developers and cloud based engineers – positions that were not heard of 10 years ago. Teamwork, problem solving, technical and critical thinking skills are in high demand, but many employers are having a hard time finding these qualities in graduates from schools that up to now have been focused on old education models of lecturing and exams.

In every classroom, in every school and district the prime emphasis is the grades 3-8 tests and in high schools graduation rates; which equates to passing regents exams. The Work Group on Regents Exams also reported at the Regent Meeting; one of their recommendations was an appeals process for students who failed regents exam: the local district, upon a review of the student’s record could change the failing grade to a passing grade!!  The Work Group chair bemoaned kids who failed regents numerous times; instead of asking why the student failed, instead of perhaps modifying the instruction, for example teach Algebra 1 in a four-term sequence rather than a one year course, the Work Group simply wants to pass the student along to the next teacher in the higher level course. Repeating the course numerous times is foolish, the “answer” is asking ourselves what we can do to intervene so that the student doesn’t fail in the first place.

Later in the day Michael Cohen, the president of ACHIEVE and Linda Darling-Hammond leader of the Learning Policy Institute made presentations to the Board of Regents.

Read presentations:

Michael Cohen, ACHIEVE, “College and Career Readiness. Equity and ESSA,” (http://www.regents.nysed.gov/common/regents/files/Full%20Board%20Monday%20PM%20-%20MCohen.pdf)

Linda Darling-Hammond, Learning Policy Institute,” ESSA and Equity – Opportunities to Close the Opportunity Gap,” (http://www.regents.nysed.gov/common/regents/files/Full%20Board%20Monday%20PM%20-%20ESSA%20and%20Equity_0.pdf)

Cohen compared New York State with other states and took a deep dive into New York State data; his first slide lays out a troubling picture.

* Too many NY students leave high school poorly prepared for college and career

* There are significant “preparation gaps” based on race, ethnicity and income.

* State policies can help improve preparation and close gaps – but not as NY has designed them.

Darling Hammond is clear and concise,

* States are expected to adopt challenging Academic Standards for all students

* Assessments must measure “higher order thinking skills and understanding.”

* These may include “portfolios, projects or extended performance tasks.”

* Scores must be based on multiple assessments during the course of the academic year rather than single summative assessments.

When teachers use and score performance assessments, they [the teachers] can develop a deeper understanding of academic standards and student learning, which translates into more effective teaching and thereby enhances equity.

Take a few minutes and read the presentations from Cohen and Darling-Hammond.

The final plan will not be submitted until mid-July, many months to continue to craft a plan. The process is a unique, states  rarely have an opportunity to make “mid-course corrections,” unfortunately states are like ocean liners, it takes many miles to even change course; and. of course, the problem of Newton’s First Law of Motion  – momentum.

“Why do you do it this way?”

“This is the way we’ve always done it.”

Moving from the traditional classroom to a classroom described by Darling-Hammond is a huge jump that requires buy-in from school districts, school leaders, and, most importantly, the teachers. The lesson from the Common Core, hopefully learned, is the commissioner is not Moses, s/he cannot simply hand us the new Ten Commandments.

Vermont is moving towards adopting performance tasks in lieu of standards tests, the phase-in is in Year 3, each year another cohort of districts entering the process.

On one hand I’m concerned, on the other optimistic; we have a long road ahead of us.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   

But I have promises to keep,   

And miles to go before I sleep,   

And miles to go before I sleep.

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One response to “Meandering Toward an ESSA Plan: Can the Commissioner/Regents Satisfy the Electeds, Parents, Teachers and Create a More Equitable Learning Environment?

  1. They can’t. The Regents has never been favorably disposed toward NYC Public School Issues. It didn’t get better even with such add-ons as Adelaide Sanford from Brooklyn. It got worse when they collaborated with Albany to impose Bi-lingual education on city schools. Going all the way back to Gates and son Of Gates, I cannot honestly re=call any bookmark Regents policy that ever had a beneficial result for NYC schools.

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