The Honorable the Members of the Board of Regents


James A. Kadamus




Strategy to Implement the Regents Policy Statement on Middle-Level Education


June 16, 2004




Implementation of Regents Policy


Goals 1 and 2






            The Board of Regents began a review of middle-level education in December 2001.  The Board’s review was triggered by concerns over low student performance on the grade 8 English language arts (ELA) and mathematics tests.   While many students have done well on the grade 4 tests, their performance on the grade 8 tests is substan-tially lower.  This disparity in student performance further supported the need for the Regents to focus on improvement in the middle grades.


            Added to the Regents concern about low student performance in the middle grades was the worry that the seeds of dropping out are sown in those grades.  Students who are not keeping pace with their peers begin to disengage from school.  This process tends to accelerate in the middle grades as the work gets more challenging.  In many large, urban schools there is no system of support to stop this process.  The result is that many students who do poorly in the middle grades enter grade 9 with very low reading, writing and mathematics skills.


            From December 2001 to July 2003, the Regents conducted regional meetings, surveys of administrators, teachers, students, and parents and consulted with leading experts on middle-level education.  This consultation resulted in a broad–based consensus on what middle-level education should be:  a rigorous academic program and a positive youth development program that support students during their transition into young adulthood.  These dual goals ensure that students are proficient in meeting all of the State intermediate learning standards by the end of grade 8, are ready for high school both academically and personally, and have the knowledge, skills and personal attributes critical for future educational success.  These dual purposes were incorporated into the new Regents Policy Statement on Middle-Level Education adopted by the Regents in July 2003, along with a set of essential elements that have been documented as being in place in effective middle-level programs.


            While there was consensus on what we want students to know and be able to do during the middle grades, educators in New York State remain divided over the best way to implement the Regents Policy Statement.  Key issues of controversy include:  the time allocated to core academic and exploratory courses; how low-performing schools with a majority of students needing academic intervention offer additional instruction in core subjects and provide experiences in exploratory subjects; the need to update the content of certain exploratory subjects; and the ability of schools to offer other subjects of high interest for students as part of the exploratory program.


From February 2004 to May 2004, the Regents reviewed two different approaches to how the middle grades might best be organized.  The field’s response to the two proposals has varied.  Some educators continue to seek more flexibility than was provided in the two proposals and ask for a more extensive restructuring of the middle-level program to provide more integrated instruction to students and to focus more on topics that have higher interest to students.  Other educators seek more flexibility because they have so many students who need academic intervention that they have limited time to meet the program mandates under existing regulations and also help students catch up in subjects where they are far behind.  Still, other educators believe that a reduction in required units of study in exploratory subjects (especially technology education and home and career skills) would ultimately lead to elimination of these subjects from the curriculum.


In their discussions on middle-level education, the Regents have expressed the following beliefs: 


·        All students must have opportunities to achieve the State intermediate learning standards in all subjects by the end of grade 8.

·        There must be methods in place, such as checklists of knowledge and skills, to assess whether students are achieving the State intermediate learning standards in subject areas for which there are no State assessments.

·        A balanced program of rigorous core academics and positive youth development is the foundation of an effective middle-level program.

·        Schools must take steps to ensure that they have the conditions that support student learning.

·        Different types of districts/schools face different challenges in bringing all students to meet the State intermediate learning standards.


Given these beliefs, it is evident that no single model can be put in place to implement the essential elements of an effective middle-level program and ensure that all students have an opportunity to achieve all of the State intermediate learning standards as articulated in the July 2003 Regents Policy Statement on Middle-Level Education.  Therefore, we propose that the Regents authorize the staff to develop a set of models as multiple solutions to the middle school problem.  For example, three possible models immediately come to mind:


Model A:  Retain the current regulatory structure, making full use of the existing flexibility provisions in the regulations, i.e., offering exploratory courses in grade 6.  Most schools other than those in the highest need districts would fall under this model.


Model B:  For schools that have the highest percentage of their students requiring academic intervention, the district would be able to propose a program and structure that strengthens the core academic program, provides proven effective academic intervention and provides all students with access to exploratory subjects that address the learning standards, are of high interest to students and further reinforce core academic learning.  This model would primarily be offered to schools in the Big Five school districts.


Model C:  For high-performing or newly-formed schools, a district would be able to propose new ideas for structuring the educational program and be granted relief from regulatory requirements, while ensuring that all students receive opportunities to achieve all of the State learning standards.  Model C is based on the Next Generation Schools proposal in the May 2004 paper.  It is designed to enable a small number of schools to carefully experiment and document successful implementation of programs that could be replicated in other schools.


            If the Regents agree to this approach, Department staff, in consultation with middle-level experts and field representatives, will:


·        specify flexibility in Model A, design a strategy to update exploratory course content (i.e., Technology Education, Home and Career Skills, Health) consistent with the State learning standards and create checklists of knowledge and skills to assess student learning in those subjects consistent with the State learning standards;

·        develop a set of design principles for Models B and C and a process for engaging districts/schools in deciding which model will work best for them;

·        consider other models that may be consistent with the Regents discussion/ beliefs; and

·        determine the best ways to evaluate how the models are being implemented. 


A full proposal on the models would be presented at the September 2004 meeting.  If that proposal is acceptable, the Regents would, through regulation, grant authority to the Commissioner to establish a process for schools interested in applying for Models B and C.  Because it is based on existing regulations, Model A would not require an application.