The state Board of Regents discusses regulations to carry out the federal Every Student Succeeds Act at its meeting in Albany on July 16, 2017. The panel is expected to act on the regulations on Monday. Photo Credit: Hans Pennink
ALBANY — Sweeping new objectives for school districts and students, with potential effects on controversial state tests and academic standards, are on the state Board of Regents agenda at its first meeting since classes resumed for the 2017-18 academic year.
The 17-member educational policy board on Monday will tackle the issue of regulating districts as it works toward agreement on enforcement of the revamped federal law called the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA. New York, like many other states, must submit its enforcement plan to the U.S. Department of Education by Sept. 18 for final approval.
A 200-page draft plan, under review since May, would regulate schools on a range of objectives important to Long Island.
Those include steps to discourage students from boycotting state tests — a movement that last spring swept up about 19 percent of more than 1 million students statewide in grades three through eight eligible to take the exams. That included about 90,000 students in Nassau and Suffolk counties, more than 50 percent of the region’s test-takers in those grades.
Later on Monday, the Regents are scheduled to approve new academic standards, formerly known as Common Core and recently renamed as Next Generation Learning standards. The detailed guidelines — 1,048 standards in English and 450 in math — encompass classroom lessons from preschool through 12th grade statewide.
The actions, while distinct from one another, are largely intended to settle controversies over student testing and school accountability that began rocking the state more than seven years ago. Though disagreements continue, policy experts said the Regents’ upcoming actions could set the state’s educational course for years to come.
Highlights of proposals the Regents are expected to consider include:
- School districts that don’t meet federal requirements for student participation in testing — and that includes all but a handful of districts on the Island — would have to draft plans for improvement. Systems that don’t improve would face potential intervention by a regional BOCES district or the state.
- The goal for high school graduation rates would eventually rise to 95 percent statewide, from a current level of slightly more than 80 percent. State education officials have not decided how diploma requirements might be revised to make that reachable.
- In rating school districts’ academic performance, greater recognition would be given to students who score well on college-level exams sponsored by the Advanced Placement program and by International Baccalaureate. For some districts, that could help balance out low performance by other students on the state’s own grade-level tests.
- Greater weight also would be given for student improvement, or “growth,” on state tests, as opposed to recognizing only the percentage of students who reach proficiency level. This reflects the intent of the Every Student Succeeds Act, signed into law in 2015 by President Barack Obama, which was to provide states with greater flexibility in regulating schools than was possible under the former federal law known as No Child Left Behind.
Questions linger over whether the proposals will have an effect on stemming the test-refusal movement, especially on the Island.
Jeanette Deutermann of North Bellmore, chief organizer of the Long Island Opt Out network, predicted that test boycotts in the region will continue unabated as long as the state sticks with academic standards that she and many other parents believe place too much stress on students.
Deutermann pointed especially to standards in the earliest grades.
“Pre-kindergarten standards say all students should write their numerals to five,” she said. “Some kids are just learning how to hold a pencil.”
At the state level, education leaders credit the Regents’ leadership and Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia for listening to their concerns and quieting debate over tests and related issues. Statewide, the percentage of those opting out of the spring English and math exams was down 2 percentage points from 2016.
New York State United Teachers, a statewide union umbrella group that once fiercely opposed federal and state efforts to tie test results to teacher performance evaluations, recently expressed support for much of the state’s plan to enforce ESSA.
“Overall, it’s reasonable and rational,” said Andy Pallotta, president of the 600,000-member NYSUT organization, during an interview on WCNY-FM, an upstate public radio station. “I think we’re on the way.”