Tag Archives: Regents

Who Fails to Graduate High School? And, Why? Thinking Outside the Box (Part 2 Students with Disabilities)

Only about 50 percent of students with disabilities in the 2011 cohort graduated within four years   (NYSED Press release on NYS graduation rates)

Over the last eight years New York State has had five commissioners (Mills, Steiner, King, Wagner and Elia) who have all rolled out “cures,” sweeping initiatives to change outcomes for students, with very little impact.

Graduation rates have crept up a few points at a time, probably better data management and easing graduation requirements. The English Regents exam changed from a two-day, three hours each day to a one day three-hour exam – passing rates jumped, Global Studies has moved from covering two years of work (9th and 10th grades) to one year (10th grade).  The Students with Disabilities safety net drops the passing score to 55.  (Safety Net and Compensatory Option: read here) and under special circumstances students can pass Regents through an Appeals Process (Read description here).

Once again Albany plans to increase graduation rates by tweaking the graduation requirements.

One initiative calls for expanding the appeals process, a process that is rarely used, and, there is an assumption that expanding the appeals procedures would increase the passing rate.

Regents Appeals Process

The Department proposes to widen the score range for students who wish to appeal their Regents Exam result. This proposal is aimed at helping students who have traditionally struggled to earn a diploma and graduate.

Under the current regulation, students may appeal a failing score on a Regents Exam if their score is within three points of passing (62-64) and they:

  • Have taken the Regents Exam under appeal at least twice;
  • Present evidence that they have utilized academic help provided by their school in the subject tested by the Regents Exam under appeal;
  • Have an attendance rate of 95 percent;
  • Pass the course for which the appeal is being sought; and
  • Must be recommended for the appeal by their teacher or Department chairperson in the subject of the Regents Exam under appeal.

The proposal would widen the range of scores by two points to include scores of 60 to 64, permitting students to appeal scores within five points of passing on up to two Regents Exams. As with the current regulation, students who are granted one appeal by their district would earn a Regents diploma. Students granted two would earn a local diploma.

According to an initial analysis, approximately 4,800 students from the 2010 cohort would have met the testing requirements had the expanded appeal been an option. This option would have had a great impact on some of the State’s most vulnerable students. Of the 4,800 who would have earned a diploma with the expanded appeal, more than 3,400 would come from economically disadvantaged homes; 1,700 would be Hispanic; 1,500 would be Black; and nearly 1,000 would be ELLs.

Why does the Department assume that the appeal process would result in higher scores on the re-scoring of the exam? Was every exam incorrectly scored disadvantaging the student?  Until State Ed and the Department of Education prohibited re-scoring, re-scoring commonly referred to as “scrubbing,” was commonplace; is Albany “legalizing” scrubbing?  When we “scrubbed” Regents essay questions we almost always increased a grade to 65, yes; it was not based on any statistical anomaly, it was simply based on kindness.

Project Based Assessment

The Department also recommends the adoption of a new graduation option for students who have successfully completed all the coursework necessary to earn a Regents Diploma but who have not passed the requisite Regents Exams. This option would allow such students to complete a project-based assessment instead of having to pass the Regents Exam, as long as they have taken and passed the course and met the attendance requirements for the school district.

Could a student opt out of taking the Regents and opt into a project-based assessment option? Or, is the option only open to students who have failed the Regents Exam?  The Performance-Based Assessment Consortium high schools in New York State have an approved waiver and offer a project-based classroom; all instruction centers around the course-long construction of a portfolio and culminates in the defense of the portfolio at a roundtable made up of teachers and critical friends (Read a description of the process here).

Project-based assessments would give students who struggle with standardized tests another way to show their competency in a subject. The assessments will consist of a set of rigorous activities that a student must complete independently of classroom instruction in order to demonstrate proficiency in a content area to meet State graduation requirements. These assessments will be developed by teachers and will be designed to be as challenging as Regents Exams. They would be scored by trained evaluators based on a scoring rubric created by educators and established by the State.

I’m baffled, “The assessments will consist of a set of rigorous activities that a student must complete independently of classroom instruction,” are we returning to the “bad old days” of credit recovery?  A few hours tapping away at a computer to earn a credit; students are creating a document “as challenging as Regents Exams.” that is also “independent of classroom instruction”? An after-school activity?  BTW, who are thetrained evaluators based on a scoring rubric created by educators and established by the State”?  Who trains them? Who pays them?   What are the “rigorous activities” in Algebra 1 or Living Environment or Chemistry look like? Why would a student even take a Regents if s/he knew that there was a backup assessment process?

Rather than jumping to Albany generated “answers” perhaps addressing the needs of individual students would be a better place to start.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that  students with a disability are provided with “Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)” that is tailored to their individual needs  and provide children with disabilities the same opportunity for education as those students who do not have a disability. The law requires an Individualized Education Program (IEP), Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), Appropriate Evaluation, Parent and Teacher Participation, and Procedural Safeguards.

 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.

The IEP team determines the class placement on the continuum of services, self-contained or a co-teaching classroom.  The self-contained classroom specifies the class size and whether a teacher aide is required. The teacher must be an appropriately licensed teacher, special education, and if the setting is a co-teaching classroom about a third of the class are students with IEPs with two teachers, a special education certified teacher and a content area certified teacher. The IEP team should determine “accommodations and modifications” as well as “how the student’s disabilities affect academic performance.”

The IEP team could determine whether or not the student should take the Regents Exam, and, if not, the appropriate type of assessment. If a student’s disability includes a computational skills deficit, why should the student be forced to take a Regents Exam that they cannot pass?  Perhaps the Regents Competency Tests should be resuscitated.

Who are the students with disabilities who are failing Regents Exams?  I suspect students in More Restrictive Environments (self-contained classes) are more likely to fail Regents. If so, can an IEP team exempt students from specific Regents exams?

Has the state identified schools, school districts and class configurations that have higher Regents passing rates? And, if so, why are the pass rates higher? More experienced teachers?  Effective common planning time?  Before we hop onto any idea let’s check out the underlying reasons for success.

In the early 1990s the Regents began a debate about the dual diploma system – the local and the Regents diploma. The local diploma was the predominant diploma, and the exit exams, the Regents Competency Exams (RCTs), were low level tests – perhaps 9th or 10th grade. After years of debate the Regents began the incremental phase-out of the RCTs; the process took ten years. Now the commissioner has recommended scaling back the Regents diploma standards.

“Finger in the dike” solutions will satisfy parents of students who are failing Regents exams; however, these “solutions” will negatively impact college and career readiness.

These are complex issues that commissioners and the Regents have only discussed around the edges.

Perhaps asking students, parent, teachers and principals would be a good place to start.

Does Inflating Regents Grades Help or Hinder Kids? Who Are the “Most Effective” Teachers? Demanding or Caring or Tough? Can Too Much Caring Hurt Kids?

I met a kid twenty years after he was in my high school class,

I asked, “Andrew, what do you remember?”

Andrew thought a while, “You kept your foot up my ass – I needed it.”

It is our job to challenge kids, to push them beyond where they think they can go … to expand the boundaries of their lives, to take them out of their comfort zones. At the end of a lesson as a kid was leaving the room he turned to me and said, “That was really hard.” I smiled. I was doing my job.

We win battles kid by kid, and, too many kids fall between the cracks and fall by the wayside. The poorer the zip code the lower the academic achievement, richer the zip code the higher the achievement.

The achievement gap in city schools persisted on high-stakes Regents exams in 2013, according to a Daily News analysis of state data.

Citywide, only 58% of black students passed the integrated algebra exam while 87% of their white classmates aced the test, State Education Department figures show. Hispanic students didn’t fare much better, with 61% passing the test. Records show 63% of students considered “economically disadvantaged” passed.

“The way it is now, your zip code defines your destiny,” said Ocynthia Williams, a parent organizer with the United Parents of Highbridge, a Bronx-based advocacy group. “It’s shameful and it’s really sad.”

The Urbanization Project conducted by Ingrid Gould Ellen, a scholar at NYU finds,

… a study of 3rd-8th grade NYC public school students, found that acute exposure to localized violent crime decreases standardized test scores in English and language arts for elementary school students.

Unfortunately for some school leaders and teachers a combination of fear of school closings and a misguided view of addressing the impact of poverty has led to giving students undeserved passing grades on Regent exams.

To address this widespread practice, and the foot dragging of the NYC Department of Education, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) instituted a policy that prohibited teachers form marking papers of students they taught and moved to a distributive scoring system – papers were scanned and teachers mark anonymous papers.

The NY Daily News reports,

A stunning 373 schools out of 490 saw their passing rates drop after new guidelines barred teachers from grading tests administered at their own school.

Overall, the number of students who failed English exams jumped from 27% in 2012 to 35% in 2013, a statistical leap not reflected in the other nine Regents subjects. At 73 schools the passing rate plummeted by more than 20 percentage points.

Educators admitted that grade inflation was rampant before the policy shift.

“Teachers know their students. Sometimes a bad grade means the student giving you hell again next year, or him not getting a scholarship,” said one teacher at a Brooklyn school.

“There’s a form of empathy coming out. Like, ‘Oh my God, there has to be another point in there! Let’s find it.’”

But teachers took exception to the notion that sympathetic in-house grading amounted to cheating. Rather, they said they are the best qualified to assess their students’ achievement.

Fear of grades of “D” and “F” on School Progress Reports unfortunately may have encouraged principals and teachers to “bend over backwards” to benefit kids. Sometimes teachers are too sympathetic, sometimes they “adjust” for the pathologies of poverty by “going the extra mile,” adding a few points here and there to get kids over the hump … to boost them to a grade of 65 on a crucial Regents Exam.

They are not doing the kid a favor.

The 2013 NYS College and Career Readiness Index of high school graduates finds only 12.5 % of Black students, 15.7% of Hispanic students and 7.3% of English language learner graduates were college and career ready. (The definition of college readiness is grades of 80 on the ELA Regents and 75% on the Math Regents).

The 2009 NYC Community College cohort only 23% of students were still registered after three years and 13.4% earned an associate degree. (See CUNY Retention Rates by college here)

Caring, dedicated sensitive teachers who are advocates for their students may also be their worst “friends.” It is difficult to maintain high standards, to cajole kids, to urge kids, to be tough and strong and demanding, yes, to keep “your foot up their butt,” not being a friend, not suffering from “liberal guilt,” may describe the best teachers.

Too many kids graduate and move on to college only to falter and drop out, kids in the same socio-economic bracket in other schools survive and prosper in college.

The difference: the quality of the instruction.

Demanding a kid write another draft versus “finding” a few points on a Regents Exam may be the difference between succeeding and failing in college.

Is Commissioner King in Denial? Will the Commissioner/Regents Respond to Legislative Threats? A Case Study: How Politics Impacts Educational Policy.

“I understand Mr. Iannuzzi (President of the NYS Teacher Union) is under a lot of internal pressure; I understand that may lead to attacking me. But it strikes me that that the real dispute he has is with the governor and the Legislature.” – State Education Commissioner John King on NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi’s plan to ask for a vote of no confidence in King, via State of Politics.

“I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia,” said Winston Churchill, “It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” The same can be said of NYS Commissioner of Education John King.

Instead of working with parents and principals and teachers the commissioner has imposed an array of initiatives, alienating the very people whose job it is to implement the initiatives

I share the goals of the commissioner: to create an education system that will support students and staff, regardless of wealth or handicap or geography of the school district, to build the best school system possible.

We differ in the route and the message.

New York State was an early adopter of the Common Core State Standards, a dense Principal/Teacher Evaluation rubric (APPR) and participation in In Bloom, a vast data dashboard; three major initiatives that were burdensome, complex and viewed with suspicion.

California, on the other hand, is one of 19 states to join “The Partnership for 21st Century Skills,” with an emphasis on “creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, communication,” appears to have the full support of communities and teachers.

I have listened to the commissioner speak numerous times – he is a passionate and at times an eloquent speaker, yet he seems oblivious to the complexity of what social psychologists call “personal and organizational change.”

“Turning around” struggling schools or struggling school districts is based on changing the culture of the school and/or district, moving from “these kids are so poor and so far behind there’s little that we can do” to “these kids are poor and far behind and while we can’t change their economic circumstances we can improve their academic as well as their non-cognitive skills.” Teaching non-cognitive skills, difficult to measure, may be more accurate predictors of post school success than test scores.

Paul Tough, author of ‘How Children Succeed “, said,” We don’t teach the most important skills,” a list that includes “persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence.” We don’t teach them and we don’t know what to call these “soft skills.” David Conley, EPIC, thinks the non-cognitive skills could more accurately be called “meta-cognitive learning skills.”

Hopefully we are open to new ideas, open to exploring old ideas, and open to changing for the better. Leadership means also being open to change, and acknowledging the complexity of the change process.

There is a vast literature dealing with “personal and organization change,”

Do not ‘sell’ change to people as a way of accelerating ‘agreement’ and implementation. ‘Selling’ change to people is not a sustainable strategy for success. When people listen to a senior management person ‘selling’ them a change, decent diligent folk will generally smile and appear to accept what is being said, but quietly to themselves they are thinking, “I don’t like this. I’ve not been consulted or involved. I am being manipulated. This change will benefit the directors and owners, not me, so actually I won’t cooperate, and I might resist and obstruct this change, in every way that I can…”

The commissioner has been oblivious to the increasing “pushback” from parents in communities around the state. At the twenty community forums held around the state, some by the commissioner and others by elected officials the anger of parents exploded. (Watch U-Tube here)

As the criticism went viral, the U-Tube referenced above has had over 50,000 views the commissioner blamed unnamed “special interests,” as parents at meeting after meeting were not convinced by the commissioner his response was they failed to understand, and, he steers critics to the legislature and the governor, away from his office.

Back in my days of defending teachers it was commonplace for a teacher to “blame” the failure of buses to come on time as an excuse for frequent lateness, or, the failure of the printer as a reason why the teacher was unprepared, a kind of “the dog ate my homework” excuse, this behavior is referred to as denial: the refusal to engage or accept responsibility.

Denial is probably one of the best known defense mechanisms, used often to describe situations in which people seem unable to face reality or admit an obvious truth (i.e. “He’s in denial.”). Denial is an outright refusal to admit or recognize that something has occurred or is currently occurring.

Denial functions to protect the ego from things that the individual cannot cope with. While this may save us from anxiety or pain, denial also requires a substantial investment of energy. Because of this, other defenses are also used to keep these unacceptable feelings from consciousness.

In many cases, there might be overwhelming evidence that something is true, yet the person will continue to deny its existence or truth because it is too uncomfortable to face.

Denial can involve a flat out rejection of the existence of a fact or reality. In other cases, it might involve admitting that something is true, but minimizing its importance. Sometimes people will accept reality and the seriousness of the fact, but they will deny their own responsibility and instead blame other people or other outside forces.

In my opinion the commissioner is in denial.

The Speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, has publicly asked the Regents, the state body governing education policy, to delay the implementation of the Common Core,

ALBANY—Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said Tuesday he expects the state Board of Regents to form a plan for improving and possibly delaying implementation of the rigorous Common Core curriculum standards.

“I think the case has been made, if nothing else, for a delay and a reevaluation of the implementation of Common Core,” Silver said.

I am a fan of the commissioner, his intentions are laudable, but we all know where the road to good intentions leads. The famous Lyndon Johnson anecdote, perhaps apocryphal, needs to be retold. Johnson appointed a sharp critic to serve on a policy committee, his aides demurred, why appoint this loud-mouth critic, Johnson replied, “Better inside the tent peeing out than outside the tent peeing in.” The opinions of superintendents, principals, teachers and parents were given short shrift, a cursory exercise to “touch bases,” viewed as without any intention to listen and incorporate their objections or questions. As the criticism has mounted the commissioner could have opened the doors and invited his critics into the room, instead, he blamed “special interests” or blamed internal union pressures, and directed his critics to look “across the street.” the offices of the legislature and the governor.

Both houses of the legislature and the governor are up for election, with primary elections perhaps as early as June. This is an issue with legs; it will not wane as public interest lags. Another set of state tests of only three months away, the issue of the Common Core is a juicy campaign issue – the 150 members of the Assembly, the 63 members of the Senate and the governor want this issue to be resolved. If the commissioner and the Regents fail to adequately respond to critics the commissioner will be correct – the legislature/governor will impose a solution, a “solution” that could have sweeping impact on the education bureaucracy.