Tuesday, October 8, 2019

NY Rethinks High School Graduation Requirements

In a Process likely to last years, the New York Board of Regents is considering Changing High School Graduation Requirements, which may include Revising or Creating a Substitute for the Regents Exams. To Graduate, most Students must currently Pass Five Regents Exams with 65% or better. But while the Education Policy-Setting Board recently Announced its Exploratory Plans, another Path to a New York High School Diploma already Exists. It is a Set of Performance-Based Tasks that Test Students on an Array of Skills meant to be more in line with College and Career-Readiness than what Typical Standardized Exams Measure.

The New York Performance Standards Consortium abide by the Performance-Based Assessment Tasks as their Graduation Requirements, along with the English Regents Exam.

The Beginnings of the Consortium were formed in the early 1990s when the State Education Commissioner at the time agreed to Grant a Waiver to a Group of Schools that had been using Performance Assessments instead of the State’s Standardized Exams. The Official Organization formed in 1998, and now about 30,000 Students Attend the 38 Consortium Schools in Ithaca, New York City, and Rochester.

Students at Consortium Schools complete Written Tasks and Oral Presentations called Performance-Based Assessment Tasks (PBAT) against a Set of Rubrics, and must also Pass the English Regents Exam. The PBATs Include: an Analytical Essay on literature; a Social Studies Research Pape; an Extended or Original Science Experiment; and Problem-Solving at Higher Levels of Math. Instead of Learning a Vast Amount of Material for the Regents Exams, Students at Consortium Schools may Choose to take a Deep Dive into One Topic for their PBAT, such as Writing a Paper on “Why did the Civil Rights Movement happen when it did?” or Conducting an Experiment on “The Effect of Tank Volume on Goldfish Growth.”

Students Work on their Projects for Months, compared to a Regents Exam that may be Conducted over a Day or Two. Students give a Presentation on their Work to a Panel of Three External Evaluators, and Teachers use a Standardized Rubric for Grading. The Rubric is Aligned to State Educational Standards, and each year the Consortium Conducts Studies where Teachers from every Consortium School Compare their Students’ Work to Align Weak, Medium, and High Performances to ensure Standardization.

The Board of Regents announced a Plan in July to Form a Commission that will make Recommendations about Potential Changes to the State’s Graduation Requirements. Earlier this month, that Mission was fleshed out slightly more, giving the Commission a Two-year Timeline. The Commission is expected to be Formed in February 2020 and have Representatives from New York City, the State PTA, Teachers Unions, among others.

While some raise Doubts about moving away from the Standardized Tests as what they call an “objective measure,” the PBAT Consortium has been slowly Growing and may Offer a Model for the Larger Shift that could be afoot.

The State allows Students to Substitute the Social Studies Exam for other Tests in Career and Technical Education, Art, or Math, also known as the “Four Plus One” Option. Additionally, there is an Appeals Process that may Allow a Student to Earn a Regents Diploma with a Score Lower than the Passing 65%.

At the July Board of Regents Meeting, Several of the Regents expressed the Need for the Commission to Examine the Emphasis of State Tests as the Only Measure of Achievement, what Learning looks like in the 21st Century, and how some Students, including some who Pass the Tests, do Not have the Reading and Writing Skills necessary to Succeed in Higher Education.

New York State Education Department Officials said the Board of Regents has Only Discussed the Process to Review Diploma Options in New York, and there has been No Discussion on Specific Alternative Diploma Options at this point. Spokesperson Emily DeSantis said the Board of Regents wants to Ensure “ample time is provided” for the Commission to carry out its work, and “no decisions have been made at this point.” “The Board of Regents and the State Education Department have made it a priority to allow students to demonstrate their proficiency to graduate in many ways,” DeSantis said. “As we have said, this is not about changing our graduation standards. It’s about providing different avenues — equally rigorous — for kids to demonstrate they are ready to graduate with a meaningful diploma.”

According to a 2017 PBAT Consortium Report, the Consortium Schools have shown Strong Results: they had about a 20% Higher Percentage of Students Enrolling in College and Higher College-Readiness Numbers than Students from other New York City Public Schools. The Report said Consortium Schools have a Higher Percentage of Hispanic Students, Students Living at the Poverty Level, and English Language Learners. The most recent Data set available for Consortium Schools was Based on Information from the 2014-2015 School year.

The Report also showed that Teacher Retention Rates were Higher for Consortium Schools by 8%, and the Consortium’s Four-year Graduation Rate was 80% compared to the Larger Department of Education’s 71%. In 2018 the New York City Graduation Rate rose to 76% while the Number of Students the City University of New York deemed Ready for College was 66%, according to State Data.

The Consortium’s Assessment System would be Difficult to Spread across the State as currently there is a Limited Number of Waivers the State will Grant. Most Consortium Schools are in New York City, and the Board of Regents and the State Education Department has Extended the Waiver allowing Consortium School Graduates to Earn a Regents Diploma Five times since the 1990s. There are 16 Consortium Schools in Manhattan, 9 in Brooklyn, and 4 in Queens. Some Member Schools include Beacon High School in Manhattan and Bronx Lab School.

Gareth Robinson said when the Institute for Health Professions at Cambria Heights, the High School he Co-Founded and serves as Principal, was forming, an Adviser suggested that the School was Functioning more as a Consortium School rather than a Traditional School. Robinson said he had Not heard of the Consortium before, but contacted the Consortium about becoming a Member School. At the start of the Process, the Institute First became a Pilot Consortium School, where Students still needed to Pass All the Regents Exams to Graduate but Teachers and Administrators started to Prepare the Work for the PBATs. Robinson said there First had to be a Referendum where 90% of the Teachers and the Principal agreed to become a Pilot School.

Later, the Consortium received from the Board of Regents and State Education Department an Expansion on the Number of Waivers it was Allowed to Grant to Schools looking to become Full Members. Robinson said Two Schools that were supposed to Receive the Waivers Dropped Out because their Referenda Failed, and the Institute was able to Secure a Waiver to Administer the PBATs.

Robinson said Teaching PBAT is a lot of Work for Teachers who have to Design their Curricula “from the ground-up” and have to know their Content “really well.” He said while Curricula is still Aligned to State Standards, it can be more Individually Designed to Fit Students’ Struggles and Strengths. Because Students spend Months Working on their Assessments, they have more Opportunities to Check-In with Teachers and get Help if needed. He added that the Process of Scheduling Outside Evaluators to Conduct the Panel Portion of the Assessments is a Lot of Added Work on Schools.

Parents who are familiar with Progressive Education, Robinson said, have No Questions about the Work done in Consortium Schools. He said once they Explain how the School Works to other Parents, “they get it.” Robinson added that when the School announced it was becoming a Consortium School, some Students did Transfer because their Parents felt being at a Regents School would look better to Colleges.

“Now we have our third graduating class and I can safely say in three years, 100% of our kids have been accepted to at least one school,” Robinson said. “I have for the first time in my teaching career, one of my students is getting into my alma mater, Tufts University”.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

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