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Meeting of the Board of Regents | September 2003

Wednesday, September 3, 2003 - 11:00pm




The Honorable the Members of the Board of Regents


James A. Kadamus


Full Board


Report on School Improvement Initiatives


September 3, 2003




Update on Initiatives to Close the Performance Gap


Goals 1, 2 and 3



Closing the performance gap in New York State schools remains a significant challenge, requiring a consistent and sustained approach. The Department�s statewide strategy on school improvement includes: (1) identifying low-performing schools; (2) organizing to assist identified schools and districts; and (3) assisting the field.

The attached report describes the school improvement strategy statewide. Using data and observations, Department staff assist high-need, low-performing schools to implement appropriate remedial intervention services.

The Regents discussion will provide Department staff with insight on how to further refine this strategy and ensure that school improvement efforts are aligned with Board priorities.


Analysis of the performance gap that exists in New York State is well documented. Disaggregated student achievement data has made the gap more apparent. It exists in schools where overall student achievement may be acceptable, but students in certain sub-populations are failing. It exists most noticeably in high-need schools.

It is not enough to set standards and measure results. The extent to which local schools and school districts are able to address, or even identify, root causes for low performance is related to local capacity. School districts and schools must have the capacity to help students achieve the standards. A statewide school improvement strategy is necessary to provide a basis for improving communication regarding standards and results; providing guidance regarding effective curricula, instructional and assessment practices; developing and using partnerships for school improvement; setting local priorities; and planning for sustained reforms. The strategy focuses internal and regional resources in schools and districts where they are most needed. Salient aspects of the strategy are described below.


Identifying Low-Performing Schools

System of Accountability for Student Success (SASS) and Schools Under Registration Review (SURR)

New York�s system of standards, assessments, and accountability is nationally recognized. In the last year, both Education Week�s "Quality Counts" and Princeton Review�s "Testing the Testers" have rated New York first in the nation in their reviews of state accountability systems. In addition, in January 2003, New York was among the first five states in the nation to have its accountability plan for No Child Left Behind approved by the federal government.

New York�s system is not intended to rate or rank schools or districts or hold them up to public derision. Nor is it a system that seeks to impose intrusive or draconian interventions upon a school or district. Instead, the New York system is intended to help policymakers determine how well schools and districts are performing in relation to preparing students to meet standards in key subject areas and then to provide assistance and support to those with the greatest need. The focus is always on helping schools and districts to help themselves, with the recognition that the continued failure to provide adequate educational opportunities to students is unacceptable and must be remedied.

Since 1989, the registration review process has been the primary means used by the State Education Department to strengthen teaching and learning in the lowest performing schools in New York State. This process is designed to improve student performance by correcting situations that impede quality education. Through registration review, the lowest performing schools are identified, warned that their registrations may be revoked, and assisted in improving their educational programs. As a last resort, schools that fail to improve are phased out or closed. Through the end of the 2002-03 school year, 251 schools had been identified for registration review. One hundred seventy of these schools, including 20 during the 2002-03 school year, have been removed from registration review. Of the 170 schools, 135 were removed as a result of improvement in academic performance and 35 were closed or phased out. At the end of the 2002-03 school year, 81 schools remained under registration review.

In May 2000, the Board of Regents approved amendments to Commissioner�s Regulations that implemented a System of Accountability for Student Success (SASS). SASS expanded upon the Department�s program of registration review, which focused on those schools that are farthest from State standards and most in need of assistance. SASS aligned institutional accountability with the new State assessment program and graduation standards, provided for the establishment of Adequate Yearly Progress targets so that schools could demonstrate the progress they were making towards State standards, and further integrated the State and federal accountability programs. SASS also expanded accountability to schools, programs and students for whom there was previously no State accountability system.

As a result of SASS, the Department had in place a mechanism to identify those schools that were below State standards and failing to make Adequate Yearly Progress. In addition, based upon the status of the Title I schools in the district, the Department was also able to identify districts to be placed in improvement status. Using SASS, the Department has been able to place all schools in the State, both Title I and Non-Title I schools, upon a continuum of school accountability.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act

With the passage of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, SASS is being modified to conform with NCLB. Among the most important changes to SASS, beginning with the 2002-03 school year, are:

  • A strong focus on both district and school accountability;
  • New accountability requirements for the performance of disaggregated groups of students at the school and district levels;
  • New requirements in terms of mandatory participation in State assessments;
  • The use of graduation rate and elementary and middle-level science assessments for accountability purposes;
  • Revised methodologies for calculating whether schools and districts have made Adequate Yearly Progress and for determining the accountability status of schools and districts; and
  • A new continuum of rewards and sanctions for school and district performance.

Taken together, these changes are likely to place greater emphasis on performance at the district level and among disaggregated groups. This, in turn, will require new strategies for data collection and root cause analysis, allocation of resources, and provision of technical assistance and support if districts and schools are to be successful in terms of NCLB accountability.



Organizing to Assist Identified Schools and Districts

Reorganization of the Office of Elementary, Middle, Secondary and Continuing Education (EMSC)

During spring 2003, the Office of EMSC reviewed its organizational structure and processes to ensure that it is positioned to complete the current cycle of education reform and to position Department staff and its partners for the next generation of reform. This review was undertaken recognizing changes that will be required in discharging EMSC responsibilities, including:

  • Adopting a conceptual framework for school improvement and professional development (see Attachment 1);
  • Applying advances in technology to Grants Administration, Information Dissemination, Data Reporting and Testing;
  • Expanding network capabilities through strategic use of State and federal grants;
  • Developing partnership agreements with high-need districts that focus work of both Department and district staff; and
  • Strengthening connections with Department partners within the University of the State of New York (USNY).

After a comprehensive review, EMSC has recently completed a reorganization of its functions to accomplish:

  • Better coherence of work in each Senior Manager area � The mission and responsibilities for each office are clearly defined and support the Department�s strategic plan.
  • Greater synergy of people who work together � Staff will collaborate across EMSC, and USNY, to provide strategic technical assistance and support to a common set of prioritized schools/districts.
  • Increased focus within each area � Staff have been assigned to offices and teams based on interest and ability, with interpersonal and professional development opportunities to promote personal expertise and organizational efficiency.
  • Improvement in major labor intensive processes in EMSC � Key Department/office operations (e.g., application review/approval procedures) are being reviewed to identify revisions which will improve efficiency and make personnel more available for initiatives to close the gap in student achievement.

Refinement of the Regional Network Strategy

Based on the State Accountability System, every school district is assigned placement in one of three tiers. School districts assigned to Tiers 1 and 2 are considered highest priority for the provision of on-site technical assistance by Department personnel, SED-supported networks and our other partners.

Tier 1 school districts have the highest priority. They are the Big Five city school districts, Roosevelt Union Free School District and Wyandanch Union Free School District.

Tier 2 school districts include 55 school districts (excluding those in Tier 1) which have one or more Schools Under Registration Review (SURR), Corrective Action Schools (CA), or Title I Schools in Need of Improvement (SINI).

Tier 3 school districts are the remaining higher performing school districts. Although not prioritized for on-site technical assistance and support, these school districts will receive important information regarding program evaluation, instructional techniques/strategies and analytical information through the Department�s Virtual Learning Space (VLS).

Partnering with regional networks is an important component of the Department�s statewide school improvement strategy. Regional networks bring services closer to schools and draw upon local experts who are familiar with the political and school context. Regional networks may provide general assistance (i.e., improving English language arts and mathematics) or more specialized assistance (i.e., Bilingual Education Technical Assistance Centers, Student Support Centers).

While the work of the Office of School Improvement and Community Services (Regional) is focused on providing sustained, intensive technical assistance to Tiers 1 and 2, some of the activities we engage in will have an impact on the resources available to all schools in New York State.

Regional School Support Center Network

Regional School Support Centers (RSSC) are directly engaged to support low performing schools. One Center is operated in New York City by the Teacher Center. Beginning in 2003-04, six RSSCs will operate in addition to the Center located in New York City. One hundred percent of RSSC resources will be directed to building capacity and improving education performance in identified Tier 1 and 2 school districts, and to improving special education performance in school districts prioritized based on VESID Key Performance Indicators. Approximately $6.5 million has been allocated by EMSC and VESID to support Centers located outside New York City during each of the 2003-2008 school years. An allocation for the New York City RSSC has not yet been finalized.

The New York City RSSC is housed at the Teacher Center in Manhattan (the Teacher Center Professional Development Center). Based on the State Accountability System, this Center provides services to all school districts in the New York City Department of Education. Similar to the RSSCs located in other regions, the Center�s comprehensive set of services is directed to the identification and/or diagnosis of root causes of problems inhibiting student performance, and the development of appropriate interventions through comprehensive planning, coordination of network resources, technical assistance and professional development. This information is documented for each RSSC client school/district in status reports submitted to the Department on a tri-annual basis.

A comprehensive evaluation of the RSSC network was completed in 2002, documenting that the Centers have effectively directed resources to appropriate schools/districts, and have provided strategic services in a data-driven manner. Client schools/districts and District Superintendents have expressed their support of the RSSC network as an important and effective vehicle for promoting improved performance to close the achievement gap.

Other Networks

In order to identify and implement the interventions needed in each targeted school and district, the RSSC specialists and Department school improvement liaisons call upon other statewide networks as necessary. These include such networks as the Bilingual Education Technical Assistance Centers, Adult Education Staff Development Consortia, Career and Technology Education Network, Teacher Centers, Student Support Services Network, BOCES, Special Education Training and Resource Centers and the Middle-Level Support Schools.

Recognizing the specific types of expertise and support available from each network, the regional and New York City Offices of School Improvement and Community Services are establishing program � field office coordination protocols. The first coordination protocol has been established between the Office of Bilingual Education (OBE) and the Offices of New York City School Improvement and Regional School Services. This relationship will ensure that BETAC and OBE personnel are strategically involved in Tier 1 and 2 school districts, and are expressly included in Partnership Agreements.

District Superintendents, as the Commissioner�s regional representatives, will also be involved in working with Tier 1 and 2 schools/districts in order to build capacity and facilitate access to appropriate services for performance improvement. RSSCs will be available to provide technical assistance to BOCES personnel for this service delivery model.

Other Partners

Partnerships support the work of the Department and the networks to improve local capacity in low-performing schools. The RSSCs are expected to reach out to field-based networks, community and State agencies, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations and others who can help. These groups are matched to the needs of targeted schools. Locally based partnerships have the advantage of knowing the political and school context in which low-performing schools operate.

Partnerships are also being strengthened with key organizations and associations to improve academic performance. Such partners include: New York Council of Educational Associations, Association of Mathematics Teachers of New York State, New York State Association of Mathematics Supervisors, New York State Reading Association, New York State English Council, New York State United Teachers, and the National Education Association.

Interagency partners who provide support to improving student performance are VESID, the Center for Educational Leadership, Office of Children and Family Services, Department of Health, Office of Mental Health, Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, Criminal Justice Services, Centers for Disease Control and institutions of higher education.

The Department, in addition to working with State-funded networks, is collaborating with other groups and organizations to build and strengthen local capacity to initiate and sustain school improvement. For example, Department staff are working closely with the Statewide Network of Middle-Level Education Liaisons, the Statewide Network of Middle-Level Education Support Schools, the New York State Middle School Association, the Staff and Curriculum Development Network (SCDN), and Teacher Centers to provide local schools and districts with both knowledge (i.e., best practice) and the necessary technical assistance to implement the Regents Policy Statement on Middle-Level Education and the Department�s Essential Elements of Standards-Focused Middle-Level Schools and Programs. Using both State-funded networks and its other partners, the Department will continue to identify, document, and disseminate promising practices related to middle grade priority areas (i.e., AIS, literacy and numeracy instruction, positive youth development, etc.).

The Office of New York City School and Community Services has long and well-established collaborations/partnerships with a wide array of service providers and organizations. They include, but are not limited to, the Board of Education of the City of New York; the New York Technical Assistance Center at New York University; the LAB at Brown University; the Upstate RSSCs as well as the Teacher Center Professional Development Program of the United Federation of Teachers.

The regional network is an important strategy in augmenting the Department�s resources to make services and technical assistance available to schools/districts that are not meeting State standards. Through the regional network strategy approach, school districts are provided the information and skill development needed to enhance their own capacity to meet the needs of low-performing schools.

Urban-Focused Initiatives

District Comprehensive Education Plans

A performance-based planning process has been in effect in New York City for several years. In September 1997, the New York City Chancellor required all community school district superintendents to submit an annual, data-driven District Comprehensive Educational Plan (DCEP) as an adjunct to their contract with the Chancellor. The DCEP is designed to assist superintendents in identifying areas of educational and organizational need within their districts and to promote performance-based planning and accountability.

Beginning with the 1998-99 school year, the 32 New York City community school districts, the Chancellor�s District, and six high school superintendencies each developed and submitted a single, cohesive DCEP that incorporated activities from existing federal- and State-funded categorical program applications and aligned categorical and tax levy funding streams to support improved levels of achievement for all students. The most important aspect of the DCEP is its focus on supporting and increasing high performance for all students and student achievement. The DCEP continues to be one of the mechanisms utilized by the Chancellor to review the progress made by each superintendent towards the achievement of district goals and objectives as well as towards higher standards of learning for all students.

In New York City, the DCEP process has been built into the fabric of school reform initiatives. The DCEP has demonstrated effectiveness in:

  • Allowing continuity of planning in a massive, decentralized school system;
  • The use of strategic planning for the attainment of increased student achievement; and
  • The facilitation of a streamlined coordination of district resources.

Because the DCEP also serves as the New York City Board of Education�s vehicle for submission of its consolidated application for many federal grant programs, the State Education Department works closely with the Board of Education to design the format and focus of the document. Each DCEP is reviewed by a joint team of State Education Department and New York City Board of Education staff to ensure it meets the requirements of both organizations. Extensive professional development is provided to district office staff to ensure that they understand how to create DCEPs that support educational reform, appropriately align resources with program needs, and meet the statutory requirements of the funding streams that support the plan.

Partnership Agreements

The Department has made a strong commitment to support Tier 1 school districts. This commitment is documented in the Partnership Agreements which are now in place with the Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and Yonkers school districts. These Partnership Agreements are based on major priority need areas contained in each district�s Strategic Plan, indicating expected outcomes, performance indicators, district responsibilities, and services and supports to be provided by the Department and its networks, including external partners such as the School Administrators Association of New York State (SAANYS). In New York City, the District Comprehensive Educational Plans serve the purpose of Partnership Agreements, in that they promote the strategic coordination of funding and services across titles and programs (e.g., special education).

For the Roosevelt and Wyandanch Union Free School Districts, Performance Plans are developed, tracked and revised on a quarterly basis. Similar to Partnership Agreements, Performance Plans list priority areas and support available from the Department and its networks. However, school district actions and responsibilities are prescribed by the Department, and evidence of completion is required of the school districts.

Urban Forums

Based on requests of school district representatives, the Forums are designed to foster the development of an urban school district learning community in a dynamic and nurturing learning environment through dialogue and examination of data and best practices. In 2002-03, Forums were held on Technology Planning and Management; Fiscal Planning and Multi-Year Budgeting; Promoting Academic Success � Curriculum Alignment and Strategies to Improve English Language Arts and Mathematics Results; and Supporting Positive Youth Development. For 2003-04, the Urban Forums will include representatives of the Big Five city school districts and external partners including the New York State School Boards Association and the Conference of the Big Five City School Districts. The topics planned include: Professional Development, Instructional Leadership, Comprehensive Planning and Attendance Improvement.

Mathematics Initiative

During 2002-03, the Department conducted a series of seven statewide, one-day Middle-Level Mathematics Institutes for classroom teachers and persons with building-level responsibilities for intermediate level mathematics. The "by invitation only" sessions were designed specifically for schools which did not meet targets for the State intermediate level mathematics assessment, and included the following:

  • Information regarding standards-based mathematics;
  • The NYS Mathematics Resource Guide with Core Curriculum, with a focus on intermediate level performance indicators by key idea;
  • Test specifications and blueprint for the NYS intermediate level mathematics assessment; and
  • Practical classroom strategies and web-based resources to assist students and teachers in preparing for the State intermediate level mathematics assessment.

The Mathematics Institutes will serve as a platform for the 2003-04 Mathematics Initiative, which is expected to span a five-year period. The Initiative may involve the identification of State and regional mathematics experts to provide technical assistance to low-performing districts and schools and partnerships with institutions of higher education. State level experts will work with New York State Education Department staff in developing mathematics content and instructional materials to be used by regional mathematics experts and placed on the New York State Virtual Learning Space for all New York State teachers to access. Regional mathematics coaches, under the direction of the Regional School Support Centers, will work with identified low-performing schools on site. It is expected that this effort will be supported by an NCLB federal Mathematics Science Partnership Grant of over $7 million, and by VESID funds ($900,000 for 2003-04; $1 million for 2004-05). It is planned that the Mathematics Initiative will be implemented with support from external partners including New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), the National Education Association (NEA) and the New York City Teacher Center.

Reading First

Reading First provides significant support to states and districts to apply scientifically-based research, and the proven instructional and assessment methodologies that are consistent with research, to ensure that all children can read at or above grade level by the end of third grade. New York State�s Year I allocation is $68.5 million; Reading First is a six-year grant period. The State is authorized to retain 20 percent ($13.7 million) for the administrative, professional development and technical assistance functions to support Reading First districts in attaining K-3 reading performance improvement. Critical components are: the application of comprehensive and systematic screening; diagnostic and progress monitoring; and outcome assessments in Reading First classrooms. Professional development and technical assistance will be provided to Reading First districts and schools by the Regional School Support Center network, Department staff, the New York State Reading Academy and, the Virtual Learning Space.

Comprehensive School Reform

Regional School Support Center and Department personnel provide technical assistance and support to Tier 1 and 2 schools/districts in the preparation of competitive applications under the Comprehensive School Reform (CSR) program. Successful applicants receive technical and fiscal (average grant award is $150,000 per year) support for a three-year period to improve student achievement through a three-step approach:

  1. Completion of a needs assessment/root cause analysis to identify what the school needs to improve and identification of the supports/practices which are already in place.
  2. Based on root cause analysis, models which have been demonstrated to be effective through scientific research are reviewed. The review process culminates with the selection of a model that will provide the "best fit" with the school�s comprehensive program.
  3. The model is implemented with periodic evaluation and support to ensure fidelity to operational principles.

Dropout Prevention Initiatives

The Offices of School Improvement and Community Services (Regional and NYC) collaborated on a statewide dropout initiative focused on high poverty urban schools. Technical support was provided by the National Dropout Prevention Center at Clemson University to support 13 middle schools across the State. The initiative included structured site visits by teams of Clemson University and Department personnel, and the development, implementation and assessment of school-community specific dropout prevention interventions by Local Action Teams in each school. A statewide symposium was held in May 2003, to showcase findings, observations and best practices. The School Improvement regional liaisons and the Student Support Services network are continuing to work with these schools to systematize progress and evaluate the success of this initiative.

Guidance on Effective Curriculum and Instruction

Virtual Learning Space - the Web Portal project

Through the New York State Virtual Learning Space (NYSVLS), the State learning standards, teacher resources and other curricular and instructional material will

be available to administrators, teachers, teacher candidates, parents, students and the public. Materials available at include:

  • Learning standards in each of the seven standard areas

  • Performance indicators for each standard area at all levels of education, K-12

  • State resource guides with core curricula

  • State assessments

  • Learning experiences tied to the performance indicators

  • Instructional and curricular resources developed by districts and BOCES

  • Library, archive, museum and public broadcasting resources

These resources will be integral to the work of technical assistance networks, such as the RSSC. As described previously, Department staff are working with RSSC staff to determine prioritized local needs and to develop plans to meet those needs. Technical assistance will be provided to the high-need districts in using the VLS as a resource to help meet their identified needs for such things as high quality content and lessons aligned with the standards.

This will be accomplished in part through our Regional Network Strategy. While the development of the VLS is the direct responsibility of the Office of Curriculum and Instructional Support, a technology liaison in the Office of School Improvement and Community Services (Regional) has been appointed to facilitate ongoing interaction between the two offices. This interaction will be two-way: it will ensure that the RSSCs and the Big 4 districts have access to the technical assistance they need to use the VLS productively, and the VLS will be appropriately structured to align with the capabilities of, and meet the needs for, technology integration in high-need schools. At the same time, VLS resources will continue to be available to all schools, and on-line support in its use is anticipated in the near future.

Research and Best Practices Identification and Dissemination

The Department is proceeding with contracts for the two new Best Practices vendors, one to identify best practices (Task 1) and the other to disseminate them via the Web portal (Task 2). Once these are established, the Regional Network Strategy team will work with the Office of Curriculum and Instructional Support to ensure that RSSCs and the Big 4 have the technical assistance they need to utilize State and national databases (Task 2) about the research-based effective practices that work in high-need districts. These same databases will be available to all districts through the VLS.

The two highest-ranking Task 2 proposals (from which the winner will be selected) both proposed intensive face-to-face technical assistance with high-need districts, and the Regional Strategy team will ensure that such technical assistance will include seamless linkages with the RSSCs and the Big 4.

New York State Academy for Teaching and Learning (NYSATL)

The New York State Academy for Teaching and Learning has provided ongoing peer review opportunities to teachers at a regional and local level since 1996. The process includes rigorous criteria for alignment of teacher-designed lesson plans with standards and assessments. Many New York State teachers have participated in NYSATL since its inception, and their work has resulted in an extensive set of peer reviewed lessons available on-line [] and searchable by standard (content) area, standard number(s), and level.

In addition, the NYSATL initiative has built considerable local capacity, with hundreds of teachers throughout the State being inducted as Academy members through this process. It is now the goal of the Department to transition NYSATL from a Department-sponsored annual event to a series of local events, through the RSSC structure. Each RSSC has an assigned NYSATL representative, who will be responsible for supporting the RSSCs' efforts to offer teachers the NYSATL experience in upcoming years. Office of School Improvement and Community Services (Regional) staff will work closely with the RSSCs to ensure that teachers in target schools have an opportunity to participate in NYSATL with their colleagues and mentors from some of our highest performing schools.

As noted above, all the past lessons approved through NYSATL are available to all teachers and schools through the NYSATL site. The Office of Curriculum and Instructional Support is working with the VLS designers to develop a content workflow process that will be used to add new content to the NYSVLS database, including all necessary quality assurance steps. This process will ensure that past and future submissions, including those from teachers in high-need districts, will make the collective expertise of New York State�s teacher leaders available throughout the State.



This report describes the Department�s school improvement strategy. It is implemented in a focused, coordinated manner by the Regional and New York City school improvement offices, with appropriate support by other Department offices, field-based networks and technology to maximize resources. The statewide school improvement strategy recognizes the variation in types and needs of low-performing schools across the State. The overall goal is to close the gaps in student performance no matter where the school is located in the State.

The Regents discussion will enable Department staff to enhance this strategy and make sure efforts are aligned with Board priorities.



Virtual Learning Space (VLS)/Data/Technology

  • Management and Instructional/Curricular Resources
  • On-Line training, e.g., reading, math
  • Tools for Schools � Video
  • Transferring Success/Best Practices
  • Telecommunications infrastructure
  • Data warehouse and unique student ID
  • Collaborative networks



Support for Big 5:

  • Reading, math initiatives
  • Middle level support
  • Leadership
  • Partnerships with BOCES, SCDN, Higher Education Institutions and others
  • Urban forums

Support for Schools Outside Big 5

  • Reading, math initiatives
  • Middle level support
  • Leadership
  • Partnerships with BOCES, SCDN, Higher Education Institutions and others
  • Regional Information Centers (RICs) and other



Comprehensive Planning

� Multi-year strategic plan

� Use of disaggregated data

� Consultation with key stakeholders

� Big 4 Partnership Agreements

Professional Development

� Content support in reading and math

� Changing classroom practice

� Qualified staff

� Continuing education

School Improvement

� Target assistance to low performing schools

� Target assistance to disaggregated groups