EMSC-VESID Committee


Jean C. Stevens


Rebecca H. Cort



Closing the Achievement Gap: 

Strategies on High Schools


May 18, 2006


Goals 1 and 2





Issue for Discussion


Does the Board of Regents concur with the actions identified to improve the performance of high schools?


Reason(s) for Consideration

          Review of Policy.

Proposed Handling


This question will come before the Regents EMSC-VESID Committee on May 22, 2006.


Procedural History


The Regents have received and discussed proposed strategies to close the gap in high schools and improve graduation rates.  Those discussions have identified potential actions to implement the strategies.


Background Information


          The recent Summit on Education, led by the Regents, and the monthly discussions in the EMSC-VESID Committee have spotlighted the problems of high school and the urgent need to close the gap there. The data show the stark facts: 64 percent who entered 9th grade in 2001 graduated in four years, and only 43 percent of black students, 40 percent of Hispanic students, 37 percent of students with disabilities, and 30 percent of ELL students.


The Regents have used the data to shock the State into action.  Our USNY partners at the Summit – higher education, cultural institutions, teacher organizations, school officials, business – saw high school reform as a key element in a coherent K-16 reform, all under the care of one Board. These partners now show they are willing to join forces to improve high school. Leaders in the most troubled schools and districts are taking new actions. But school leaders say that many of their peers do not yet see the need for urgency. Now is the time for the Regents to take a series of aggressive and galvanizing actions both to focus everyone’s attention on high school and to solve the problems.


          The crisis is statewide, national and worldwide. Some New Yorkers are sufficiently aware of the implications of globalization to actually change practice. Others are not.  By 2020, Americans will not be able to fill 14 million of the most skilled, highest paying jobs because there won’t be enough qualified people. Those jobs won’t disappear; they will go to a country that can fill them. At the same time, other nations are seeking rapid educational gains as a matter of national economic policy.  The global implications for high school will affect what we teach, who teaches whom, how schools are organized, and how long we can afford to preserve structures that don’t produce results.


Improving high schools is now a national issue. The National Governors Association, Education Trust, Achieve, Inc., the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the National Center on Education and the Economy, High Schools That Work, and federal, state and local governments are all focusing more on high school. Here are the common threads in the national literature about high school reform: Widespread understanding of performance data, a focus on instruction, intensive professional development, rigorous and engaging curriculum, caring adults who know students in the school, smaller schools, and high expectations for students and teachers.


The Regents have put in place a sound foundation for high school reform, including standards, assessments, and accountability systems rated among the best in the nation by Education Week, SURR actions that have improved 172 schools and closed 47 schools, major reforms in teaching, the School Report Card, a new policy on early education that promises improvement for those just entering school, and a Statewide Plan for Higher Education.


          The reforms have also brought progress – but not enough. Elementary school achievement has doubled. In 1999 only 26% of Black and Hispanic students met the standards in elementary English. Now about 55% do. Similar improvement exists in elementary math and to a lesser extent in middle school math. And fewer students show serious academic problems by scoring in Level 1. This bodes well for higher graduation rates in the future. The nation’s report card (or NAEP) confirms the improvement. According to the Education Trust, “Between 1998 and 2005, New York was #3 in reading growth among African-American 4th graders and 2nd in growth among Latino 4th graders.” Middle school results are mixed. The number of Black and Hispanic children with serious academic problems has declined by more than half, but almost one-fourth of them still score poorly on the state tests in math, more than 12% in English. More students graduate from high school each year now, 153,000 last year, up from 144,000 in 2003. More students with disabilities are also graduating. And these graduates achieve higher standards, with 57% passing 8 Regents Exams to earn a Regents Diploma in 2004, up from 40% in 1996. And the number of students with disabilities getting a Regents Diploma has increased four-fold, something that many people said was not possible a decade ago. Nonetheless, only 64% of students graduate in 4 years.


Local leaders are taking assertive actions. Chancellor Klein in New York City, and Superintendents Williams of Buffalo, Rivera of Rochester, Pierorazio of Yonkers, and Lowengard of Syracuse are implementing plans to improve high school graduation. Most of the high schools with the lowest graduation rates are in one of their districts. In addition, 127 high schools with the lowest graduation rates are in an intense, continuing development effort with us called Destination Diploma.  The district superintendents have created networks to support school improvement, and the Regional School Support Centers are working in the urban school systems. NYSUT leadership is urging an intense statewide commitment. The state is ready for vigorous action.




We recommend that the Regents discuss the proposed actions and reach consensus on their implementation.


Timetable for Implementation


The Regents 24-month calendar will be revised to include discussions and actions on the strategies agreed on by the Board.






















Actions to Close the Gap in High Schools


          Following is a list of potential galvanizing actions to focus everyone’s attention on high school graduation and to close the gap:


  1. Set targets for improving key measures of achievement and publish results.


·       Set targets for graduation and attendance for all students. The Regents would use the accountability provisions under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) to establish consequences for districts and schools that do not make adequate progress.  

·       The Regents have established State targets for improvement of students with disabilities in: participation and performance on State assessments, placement in the least restrictive environment, rates of long-term suspensions, and rates of disproportionate representation by race/ethnicity in suspension, identification, disability categories and placement.  


·       Set targets for English language acquisition for English Language Learners.


  1. Make local school boards accountable for high school performance.


·       The Regents can define consequences for all schools not meeting the targets. The Board can require reports from school boards on results in the lowest-performing 127 high schools and meet with the presidents and vice presidents of those boards to hear what they will do to gain improvements. In the case of New York City, the meeting would be with the Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education.


Based on the results, implement various levels of intervention to improve the performance toward these targets. These interventions could include:


·       Intensive reviews focusing on the root causes of poor performance with a special emphasis on classroom instruction.

·       Technical support emphasizing the effective delivery of services designed to help students develop skills to improve achievement.

·       Withholding funds or redirecting the expenditure of the funds to address major program changes, including use of promising practices.


  1. Strengthen teaching. Check teacher qualifications and order changes where necessary. 


·     After reviewing relevant data and engaging with local educators, the Regents can set a date certain by which, statewide, all teachers who are teaching particular subjects must be certified in the subject. Through its earlier reforms, the Regents used this same process in eliminating uncertified teachers statewide. Monitor to ensure compliance.


·       To increase the pool of teachers from neighboring states who enter the teaching profession in NYS, consider modification of the teaching policy on reciprocity for certified shortage area subject teachers.


·       Advocate for a legislative proposal to enable a limited number of retired teachers certified in acute shortage subject areas, to re-enter the workforce without a pension penalty. This would provide an immediate supply of qualified teachers.


·       Assess the supplementary certification requirements to determine if there are ways in which more certified teachers can achieve second certification in a shortage subject area.


·       Continue to work with all sectors of the higher education community to increase the number of math and science candidates interested in teaching. This will include expanding alternative certification programs and advocating for increased scholarships to finance the preparation of math and science teachers in New York.


·       Hold schools accountable for their curriculum and professional development choices. For schools with low graduation rates, require that professional development be tied directly to the standards and curriculum, focus in part on how to teach reading and literacy, and ensure that teachers are well-versed in the subject they are teaching.  Monitor the professional development plans of the lowest-performing districts to ensure that professional development is being conducted correctly.  If the Commissioner finds deficiencies as a result of this monitoring, he would require schools to provide such professional support.


·       Identify effective practices in teaching students with disabilities in high performing schools and use available resources to disseminate this information statewide. Help low-performing schools and districts to implement proven research-based instruction for students with disabilities.


·       Increase the supply of special education teachers who are certified and highly qualified by:


·       Providing guidance about the structure of New York State’s Special Education and Students with Disabilities Teaching Certificate Titles and the Highly Qualified Teacher requirements and holding schools accountable for meeting these requirements.


·       Reviewing the current certification bands in special education (Birth – Grade 2, Grades 1-6, Grades 5-9 generalist and content specialists, and Grades 7-12 content specialists) that are causing staffing shortages at the middle and secondary level.  This issue will come before the Regents Committee on Higher Education and Professional Practice this year.


  1.  Ensure safety.


The Regents and SED are taking a series of aggressive actions to increase school safety:


·                 Requiring that New York City provide more complete data on violent and disruptive incidents. The Commissioner and Chancellor Klein have discussed this.


·                 Identifying for site visits 100 schools that appear most at risk for incomplete reporting. Thirty-five visits will be completed by June 30, 2006 with first visit scheduled May 24, 2006.


·                 Mobilizing staff from the New York State Center for School Safety, Regional Student Support Service Centers, SED audit team, and DS’s (Risk Managers) to conduct the site visits.


·                 Scheduling mandatory training for school district officials regarding violent and disruptive incident data collection, reporting and analysis.


·                 Letter being prepared and sent to superintendents to emphasize urgency of actions to improve data collection and reporting.


The Regents can also:


·                 Approve more rigorous and comprehensive criteria for the naming of persistently dangerous schools by revising weightings to emphasize the most serious offenses such as homicide and forcible sexual offenses and by establishing a threshold to ensure schools are appropriately named as potentially dangerous.


·                 Direct the Commissioner to review safety plans and data for schools with the largest number of violent and disruptive incidents.  Where necessary, the Commissioner would require immediate corrective action and evidence of follow-through.


  1. Support the highest performers.


·               The Regents can direct SED staff to expand recognition of schools and districts with outstanding or rapidly improving performance.  Options could include developing criteria for the identification of exemplary high schools that would be recognized and visited by representatives from other high schools. Criteria would include success for different student populations, such as students with disabilities and English language learners.





Next Steps



1.     Create coherence between Regents policy and Big Five high school strategies. Other states do not have a constructive relationship with their major cities. We do. Regents policy deliberations can build on this advantage by continuous discussions with Big Five leaders, who could present their high school improvement plans. Renew the partnership agreements with the Big Five.


2.     Assemble the best minds to support Regents high school policy development.


·       Form a panel of national experts with diverse views. These might speak one-by-one to the Regents over several months. The charge to the whole panel would be to ensure that Regents have access to current thinking and research here and abroad about high school improvement policy and strategy.


·       Also form a panel of expert practitioners and scholars from New York, as we did to improve Regents mathematics exams and curriculum. Regents would interact with these experts as they create policy and the Department prepares for implementation.


3.     Engage the public and students.  

·               Conduct a series of regional meetings across the State with students and parents to gather their ideas about high school reform.

·               Prepare a draft RFP for Regents consideration to secure the expert help for a public engagement that supports Regents policy development and implementation.

·               Provide better information to parents on ESL and bilingual programs that can improve their own levels of reading, writing, and speaking English. Key information for parents can be provided through a series of three PBS television shows, produced by SED, and through a parent information website, promoted through news releases. The New York City BETACS will help disseminate information, including parent information brochures, translated into Spanish, Chinese (Traditional and Simplified), Haitian Creole, and other languages. The New York City-based BETACs have been working with the NYCDOE to provide workshops for parents on the needs, laws, rules, regulations and programs/services for ELLs.