Tag Archives: David Conley

Is It Time to Review High School Graduation Requirements? Regents Exams? Computer Science as a Required Course? Authentic Assessments?

The Commissioner and the Board of Regents have been totally focused on writing a new school accountability plan under the provisions of the new Every School Succeeds Act (ESSA).  Hopefully the plan will be more equitable, the plan will identify the Title 1 schools in the lowest five percent as defined by the metrics in the state plan.

Will the plan impact teaching and learning?  Will we be identifying the same schools we would have identified under the prior law, No Child Left Behind?

While I am hopeful that the new plan will be an improvement larger questions emerge: How do we define “college and career ready?” Do our current graduation requirements, courses and assessments, i. e., regents exams, lead to college/career readiness?

David Conley, “Four Keys to College and Career Readiness” is the national expert and has written extensively.

New York State uses a narrow definition: The City University (CUNY) defines college and career readiness as grades of 75 on the Algebra 1 Regents and 80 on the English Regents.  State Ed, under the leadership of acting commissioner Ken Wagner was planning to move to aspirational regents grades: five “levels” of achievement.

Level 5: Exceeds Common Core expectations

Level 4: Meets Common Core expectations

Level 3: Partially meets Common Core expectations … comparable to students who pass current Regents exams with a score of 65

Level 2: (Safety Net) Partially meets Common Core expectations (required for local diploma purposes), expect comparable percentages of students who pass current Regents exams with a score of 55.

Level 1: Does not demonstrate Knowledge and Skills.

These “levels” would be scale scores, the test would undergo psychometric massage to determine the level.

The Commissioner, quietly, backed away from the plan to move from the current  0-100 grading system with 65 passing to aspirational scale score levels.

An underlying issue: courses and assessment exams.

The high school graduation requirements are below:  22 units (44 one-term courses) click on the link for a more detailed explanation.

  1. English, four units of commencement level credit;
  2. social studies, four units of credit … ;
  3. science, three units of credit of commencement level science, at least one course shall be life sciences and at least one in the physical sciences, the third may be either life sciences or physical sciences;
  4. mathematics, three units of credit of mathematics, which shall be at a more advanced level than grade eight, shall meet commencement level learning standards as determined by the commissioner, provided that no more than two credits shall be earned for any Integrated Algebra, Geometry, or Algebra 2 and Trigonometry commencement level mathematics course;
  5. visual arts and/or music, dance, or theatre, one unit of credit; and
  6. health education, one-half unit of credit in accordance with the requirements set forth in section 135.3(c) of this Title. Learning standards in the area of parenting shall be attained through either the health or family and consumer sciences programs or a separate course.

In addition to the courses students must pass exit exams – the Regents Exams.


Mathematics (usually Algebra 1)

Science (usually Living Environment)

American History and Government (usually at the end of the Junior year)

Global History and Geography (currently covers two years (9th and 10th grades) of work, in June 2018 the exam will only cover 10th grade work)

Check here for a detailed description and alternative pathways

Let’s ask some essential questions:

* Should we continue to “nibble around edges,” namely, making it incrementally easier to graduate, or, address the essential questions?

Should we adopt a state-wide core curriculum with required readings? The current EngageNY curriculum modules are not required and the state tests are not based on a curriculum, they are based on a set of standards. Should state tests be curriculum and standards based?

Should instruction be grade level regardless of the level of the students?  Some argue that by teaching to the level of the kids we are assuring that kids will never reach grade level or higher?

There are school and grade organizational models that are far more instructionally impactful than others – is it the role of the state to “strongly encourage” evidence-based grade/school organizational/instructional models?

Should coding and computer science be part of  school curriculum and graduation requirements? New York City has announced a Computer Science for All initiative,

Through an unprecedented public-private partnership, by 2025, all NYC public school students will receive meaningful, highquality Computer Science (CS) education at each school level: elementary, middle, and high school. Over the next 10 years, the DOE will train nearly 5,000 teachers who will bring CS education to the City’s ~1.1 million public school students. 

Hunter College made a presentation at the last Regents Meeting asking the State to approve a new teacher certification area: Teacher of Computer Science. – Grades 9 – 12. (Read proposal here).

Over 18 million students have code.org accounts – has New York State adopted code.org? Has/should the state add computer science to the state curriculum? State graduation requirements?

And, the elephant in the room: moving from pencil and paper (or computer screen) examinations to performance task and portfolio/roundtable assessments, aka, authentic assessments. Are alternative assessments evidence-based assessments, or, the “softening” of assessments?

A cluster of New York City high schools have been granted waivers from Regents exams for twenty years, although the number of schools and the conditions of the waivers have changed (see the Performance Based Assessment Consortium here).

The state of Vermont spent years in the nineties trying to create a state-wide portfolio system that was eventually abandoned primarily due to the absence of inter-rater reliability (Check discussions here and here); Vermont is once again making an effort to move to classroom-based authentic assessments, read here.

The California Performance Assessment Consortium (CBAC) has created a bank of assessments and is working with a wide cohort of schools. Watch a live U-Tube of an  in depth discussion of the program here, including benchmarks and student work, the site of excellent!!

I am not advocating for any specific change – I am advocating for an investigation, moving beyond “playing” with graduation/testing requirements and exploring taking a deep dive into the base questions:

* Graduation requirements, are we requiring the “right” courses, and

* Should  the assessments reflect the curriculum as well as the standards, and

* Are authentic assessments, namely performance tasks and portfolios, “reliable” indicators of the quality of student work, and, if so, should we be moving forward with pilots?

Completing the ESSA school accountability plan is a beginning, a baby step, self-reflection is at the heart of effective teaching, and, effective leadership.

If we’re not satisfied with where we are now how we can we make the system better?

Rethinking and Revising Access to Career and Technical Education (CTE): Turning Gates into Pathways

The Bureau of Labor Statistics issues a monthly report that includes the “unemployment rate,” defined as the percentage of workers who are unemployed and currently seeking employment. The current rate, 4.7% is the lowest since the Great Recession of 2008 and Democrats have lauded the decreasing rate, Republicans have claimed that the ninety million Americans are actually unemployed and the unemployment rate is not an accurate view of the employment scene. The “ninety million” number includes retirees, college students, stay-at-home moms, high school students over sixteen and  recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). The actual number of unemployed Americans is twenty million, about the same percentage of the total work force as before the Great Recession. (More details here)

A Brookings Reports takes a deep dive into the question of labor participation rates,

Prime-age male participation has fallen most dramatically for black men, those with a high school degree or less, nonparents, and veterans … Explanations for the decline tend to focus on supply-side factors (workers are ill-fit for the jobs available) or demand-side factors (employers aren’t hiring). The Council of Economic Advisors leans more on the demand side, suggesting that trade and technology have reduced demand for less-skilled labor, principally in the manufacturing sector … There are likely many more factors dragging down America’s prime-age labor force participation rate—increasing numbers of individuals lack the skills necessary to perform today’s jobs.

Read the full Report here with many valuable links.

A core question: are high school graduates “college and career ready?”  and, what do we mean by “college and career ready?” Do they “lack the skills necessary to perform today’s jobs,” and , if so, how do they obtain the skills?

There is no standard definition of the term college and career ready; David Conley; the recognized national expert has written extensively about the topic. See an explanation here and watch a panel discussion with Conley and others at the New School University here.  New York State uses grades on the English Regents (80) and the Algebra 1 Regents (75) to define the term. About 80% of New York State students graduate in four years and less than half meet the college and career readiness metric..

I spoke with a middle school principal, “My kids are poor, really poor, I asked my counselor to have them apply to vocational (CTE) high schools, after high school they need a job.” And, in New York City there are a wide array of CTE schools. A year old Manhattan Institute report is encouraging,

  • The number of New York City high schools dedicated exclusively to CTE has tripled since 2004 to almost 50; some 75 other schools maintain CTE programs; 40 percent of high school students take at least one CTE course, and nearly 10 percent attend a dedicated CTE school.
  • Data on outcomes are still limited, but evidence suggests that young people who attend CTE schools have better attendance rates and are more likely to graduate; students in comprehensive high schools with CTE programs also appear to score better on standardized tests than those at schools with no CTE offerings.

We don’t know what happens to the kids after high school: do they go on to community colleges? find a job? or wander off?

Outside New York City the situation is hobbled by distance. There are few CTE schools;  and students attend CTE programs at BOCES sites. The students take academic subjects in their home school and travel to the BOCES site for the CTE courses.

At the January Regents meeting staff from the State Ed Department (SED) made a brief presentation (See here). The SED CTE unit is a compliance and authorization operation. Unfortunately the process is a gate rather than a pathway. While I understand SED wants to create high quality CTE programs the hoops are many and high.

I spoke with a few principals. One wanted to start a dental hygienist program, a medical clinic near the school had a fully staffed dental clinic and was anxious to assist. After months of phone calls back forth the principal gave up. Another principal had an Emergency Medical Technician certification program in his school run in conjunction with a Fire Department. Could the state simply certify his program as a CTE program? Not really.

A principal asked: “Can I go online and find functioning CTE programs by school around the state? I would like to contact the school and speak with the principal?” Answer: Does not exist.

After the presentation a Regent members asked, “How many students graduated with CTE endorsed diplomas?” The answer: “We’ll have to get back to you.”

The state announced a company was building a :”high tech” facility in an upstate community. The announcement was made at a press conference with electeds and the local superintendent. I wondered: what are the job requirements for a “high tech” facility? Eventually I tracked down the Human Resources folk at the company and asked: What are the math requirements for a “high tech” job at the new facility? After a  lengthy discussion: good ability with math skills at the Algebra 2 level. How many graduates of the local high school had grades of 75 or over on the Algebra 2 Regents?  Three ….

We have a long way to go.

A few suggestions:

* An easily accessible on-line directory of CTE schools/programs across the state with course offerings and a contact person.

Instead of months of futile phone calls/emails an online directory would encourage school leaders and perhaps set up networks of schools with the same CTE programs/course offerings.

* Review current process of CTE approval by the state.

The current process is onerous, and, while I understand we want to assure that a CTE diploma endorsement meets standards at the same time we don’t want to discourage schools. A Work Group to review the process would be a useful first step.

* A seamless path from high school to community college.

P-Tech schools were created to integrate a school, an industry and a community college, and, the state provides startup funds for about a dozen or so schools across the state. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of the program. All high schools should have relationships with community colleges in their geographic areas, and, by relationships I mean offering courses in the same areas as a major in the community college to prepare the student for the college curriculum. Maybe mini-MOOCs for local high schools created by the community college.

* Community College should offer “badges” and industry certifications as well as Associate Degrees.

Walt Gardner, in Education Week writes, “Community College is the Best Deal for the Majority of Students; it is the best option for the many who have marginally completed high school. Community colleges should offer a wide range of options.

Badges” are a relatively new concept, “Students can earn a ‘badge’ designation during traditional college coursework or on the job that’s designed to meet a specific demand or need in an industry.” Originally CTE programs, in their vocation education phase were meant for the students “who were not college material.” The world has changed; some CTE programs allow a jump to work, others begin a pathway that requires post secondary education. Maybe not a 60-credit Associates Degree, maybe 16 or 24 or whatever the number of credits are required to receive an industry certification and/or a “badge” and a direct pathway into the world of work/career.

I was sitting at a bar and chatting with the bartender, as I am want to do; a bright young man. I asked, “How many mixology classes did you take in college?” He smiled, “My business degree was a waste and hasn’t helped me get a steady job, I bartend and I’m working on a few app concepts with friends”  He did mix a mean Negroni.

Are School Progress Reports a Helpful Tool or a Hammer to Close Schools?

The department used to believe that the best way to roll out “new things” was with a roll of drums and flourishes. Hundreds of us were sitting in an auditorium in Long Island City and listening to Chancellor Klein try and motivate the audience: the topic was an explanation of the new School Progress Reports.

Jim Leibman, the former Accountability czar moved from room to room explaining the new grades A to F Progress Reports.

My notes are clear.

A = 5%

B = 10%

C = 70%

D = 10%

F = 5%

The “grades” would reflect a normal (or Gaussian) distribution, i. e., abell-shaped curve, which is expressed as,

A normal distribution is often used as a first approximation to describe real-valued random variables that cluster around a single mean value … The normal distribution is considered the most prominent probability distribution in statistics.”

Over the six years of School Progress Reports it was essential for the department to show “progress,” and the normal distribution curve morphed into a subjective judgment and the inflation of grades.

Among all City schools that received grades this year, including early childhood, elementary, K-8, middle, high, District 75, transfer schools, and Young Adult Borough Centers, the grade distribution was: 28 percent As, 36 percent Bs, 28 percent Cs, 6 percent Ds, and 2 percent Fs.

That’s right, 72% of high schools and 64% of all schools received grades of “A” or “B.” Not exactly a normal distribution curve.

See department description of methodology here.

Check out all schools on a spreadsheet here.

There is a problem: the New York State Education Department has developed a “college and career readiness” index that is not encouraging.

The new statistics, part of a push to realign state standards with college performance, show that only 23 percent of students in New York City graduated ready for college or careers in 2009

The School Progress Report/State Education Department college readiness metric mismatch is distressing.

What is even more distressing is a close look at the school by geographic area

District 2 (Central Manhattan)

A – 25

B – 17

C – 9

D – 4

F – 1

A single school district with far fewer students has many more schools and 75% of high schools received grades of “A and “B”

District 13, 16, 17 and 19 (Bedford Stuyvesant, Crown Heights and East New York) with many more students has far fewer schools and fewer percentages of schools with higher grades.

A – 10

B – 17

C – 9

D – 4

F – 1.

Is it the quality of the teachers? The principals? Or, maybe the levels of poverty? Why is central Manhattan filled with new(er) high schools and an entire swath of Brooklyn has far few(er) high schools?

The Progress Reports should provide information that enable schools to target professional development and specific cohorts of students within a school. The two hundred plus fully screened schools, schools that select their student bodies, are almost all “A” and “B” schools. The “D” and “F” schools cluster in the highest poverty zip codes.

Principals have a laser focus on their progress grades – not improving instruction, in high schools that means accumulating credits and passing regents exams and offering “college level” courses. An online newspaper reports that a Bronx principal does not offer English or Mathematics in the 11th grade so that he can offer “electives” to his most able kids – he’s trying to inflate his Progress Report grade – even if it means harming kids.

FDNY School for Fire & Life Safety (Brooklyn) got a B and not a single graduate earned a Regents diploma or met CUNY’s basic standards.

Data is important, data can provide us with information to guide policies, data as a stick to whip schools, teachers and families is a failed policy.

A principal, “I asked around and found a support organization that taught how to increase my grade – it has nothing to with instruction – just data manipulation – survival is the primary rule.”

Although we hear a drumbeat of “college and career readiness” we rarely hear a discussion of what the term means! David Conley is the leading authority; watch a U-Tube of a panel from June, 2012, at which Conley discussed college and career readiness in detail,

College readiness is not just grades on regents exams, Conley explains,

We describe skills in four categories—think, know, act, go. The more of these skills that a student has, the more post-secondary options are available:

  • Key cognitive      strategies (think): problem solving strategies, conducting research,      interpreting results, and constructing quality work products.
  • Key Content      Knowledge (know): structure of knowledge in core subjects, the value of      career related knowledge and willingness to expend effort to get it.
  • Key Learning      skills and techniques (act): ownership of learning, and learning      techniques such as time management, note taking, memorizing, strategic      reading, and collaborative learning.
  • Key transition      knowledge and skills (go): post-secondary aspirations and norms, awareness      of postsecondary costs and aid opportunities, knowledge of eligibility and      admissions criteria, career awareness, role and identity, and      self-advocacy.

Progress reports do not examine whether students have acquired “problem solving skills, conducting research, interpreting results or constructing quality work product.” The State and District leaders will tell you that the new Common Core-referenced exams will test these skills.

Only if the curriculum address these skills, oh, what curriculum? Neither State Ed nor the City has produced curriculum.

There are schools in which the school leaders and teachers are engaged in a teaching/learning process that reflects (“thinking, knowing, acting and going”) – too few.

Whether it was intended or not the Progress Report, the A-F Report Card is used to bash teachers and close schools. We have the ability (check out “big data“) to track results in real time, not wait for the end year summative assessment.

Maybe Leonard Cohen has it right: the dice are loaded.