testing testing

Should a failed Regents exam mean a project-based second chance? Officials set to discuss

The Board of Regents will consider a series of measures on Monday that could shake up the way students across New York state earn a high school diploma.

State education officials are looking for the go-ahead to develop rules allowing students to substitute project-based assessments for failed Regents exams and to offer more leniency for those who barely fail a Regents test. Another proposal would allow a “career development” credential currently available only to students with disabilities to count in place of the fifth Regents exam required for graduation.

The discussion comes as earning a high school diploma in New York state has become more difficult. A 2012 decision required students to pass five Regents exams with a score of 65, instead of the previously required 55, to receive a traditional diploma. Though the graduation rate has continued to rise, Regents exams are scheduled to become more rigorous in the years ahead, raising concerns that more students will fall short.

“The Board of Regents has been committed to providing multiple pathways for all students to graduation with a regular high school diploma,” reads Regents material posted online.

State officials have already approved a “4 + 1” option that allows students to pass four Regents exams in core subjects and show proficiency in an alternative subject, like a technical field or art, in place of a fifth exam. The Regents have also approved “safety net” provisions for students with disabilities.

But the measures up for discussion on Monday could pave the way for some of the most comprehensive changes yet. They are also likely to raise questions about what skills students should need to graduate, and how to help more students earn a diploma while maintaining high standards. More than three-quarters of CUNY community college students who graduated from city high schools in 2014 took remedial classes, according to the New York Post.

One of the most wide-ranging items calls for the development of project-based assessments, which would assess students on a series of tasks or projects completed on a computer. Those assessments, which the proposal says would be of “the same rigor” as the corresponding Regents test but measure the standards differently, could be available to all students who fail a Regents exam.

The proposal is in line with the Regents’ recent moves to reconsider the role of traditional tests. At last month’s meeting, they supported recommendations from the governor’s Common Core task force, which suggested editing the learning standards and providing more flexibility around the grade 3-8 state tests.

Another proposal would allow the Career Development and Occupational Studies credential help students earn a traditional diploma. Currently, the CDOS credential is a skills-based certificate available to students with disabilities. Regents materials indicate that, if approved, the credential would be available to all students.

The state created the CDOS credential in 2013 as a way to signal students’ readiness for entry-level employment. But the credential is not accepted in place of a diploma, keeping students from attending college, entering the military or finding a job in most cases, advocates said.

“The CDOS commencement credential is in many ways a road to nowhere,” said Abja Midha, a project director at Advocates for Children who works to establish alternative pathways to graduation for students with disabilities. “Panera Bread asks if you have a high school diploma. What are the options for these kids?”

Allowing both project-based assessments and the CDOS credential could help more students with disabilities earn a diploma. In 2014, only 53 percent of students with disabilities graduated on time statewide.

Creating new ways for students with disabilities to graduate has been a goal of many Regents this year. Regent Roger Tilles from Long Island rallied on Sunday with Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky and other education officials to support alternative graduation pathways for students with disabilities.

The final measure up for discussion Monday would allow students who score between 60 and 64 on a Regents exam to appeal their score — a change officials noted could affect 4,000 students. Currently, students are eligible to appeal their score only if they miss the mark by three or fewer points.

STEM in Colorado

Colorado lawmakers are stepping in to help prepare students for the state’s booming tech sector

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Students at Northglenn High School who are studying biomedical science work on an assignment. The class is part of the school's STEM offerings.

More Colorado students could be building smartphone apps by the end of next school year.

In an effort to prepare students for the state’s booming technology job market, lawmakers are considering three bills that would beef up access to computer science classes and provide students with new credentials after they leave high school.

A Chalkbeat analysis last year found that only about two out of every seven students in Colorado have access to courses in STEM — short for science, technology, engineering and math.

The bipartisan bills could change that, increasing access to computer science courses for the state’s black, Latino and rural students, and — for the first time — begin to define what a quality STEM program is.

The first bill scheduled to be debated by the House Education Committee on Monday would require schools to include technology in lessons alongside traditional subjects, such as English and civics.

It would also require the education department to create lessons to help educators teach computer science as a standalone course, and set up a $500,000 grant program to help train them.

“Kids need to be up to speed on these things in order to function in the current marketplace,” said Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Canon City Republican and one of the bill’s sponsors, along with Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Denver Democrat. “The more they’re attuned to the technology of the times — all the better. It will help them in college and getting their job and careers.”

The technology sector is the fastest growing in Colorado. There are an estimated 13,517 open computing jobs in the state, according to Colorado Succeeds, an education reform advocacy group that represents the state’s business community.

Some states have already made the shift to include technology in their learning standards. In Arkansas, which made the change in 2015, officials say the new standards have already started to break down stereotypes about who can do computer science.

“What we’re trying to do is to make computer science a normal part of their academic lives,” said Anthony Owen, the state director for computer science education in Arkansas. “When we make it normal for everyone, it’s abnormal for no one.”

A second bill under consideration in Colorado would make mostly technical changes to the state’s new P-Tech schools, a model that mirrors a New York City school that partners with IBM to give students work experience and a path to an associate’s degree while in high school.

The model allows students to stay in high school for up to six years — which has caused schools that house P-Tech programs to worry about their graduation rates.

House Bill 1194 would change the way the state calculates graduation rates to avoid penalizing schools that have P-Tech students enrolled for an extra two years.

The third bill, House Bill 1201, would create a special kind of diploma that shows colleges and employers that its holder is proficient in STEM subjects. To get the diploma, students would have to take a variety of STEM classes, earn high marks on standardized math exams, and demonstrate their science skills through a special project they complete their senior year.

“I want to make sure, across Colorado, that we have clear expectations and that they’re equitable expectations,” said Rep. James Coleman, a Denver Democrat and sponsor of the bill. “All of our schools are doing a good job preparing our kids, but I want to be specific in terms of what our colleges and workforce is seeking in our graduates.”

The bill, however, stops short of defining what coursework students must complete. Local schools will decide that. That was important to Jess Buller, the principal of West Grand’s K-8 school who helped write the bill. He noted that different schools and districts offer different STEM courses.

“We want that STEM endorsement to be that sign of distinction, that a student completed a program and does not need the remedial work that might be required for other students,” Buller said. “The bill is specific enough, but flexible enough.”

Morgan Kempf, the STEM science specialist for Pueblo City Schools, said she is excited to offer such a credential.

In the absence of a special diploma, Pueblo Central High School, the city’s STEM school, has sought outside accreditation to give weight to its STEM courses. The school has also started handing out school letters, usually a tradition reserved for varsity athletes, to exceptional STEM students.

“It’s an extra stamp of approval that recognizes and appreciates what they’re doing and at the level of rigor they’re doing it at,” Kempf said. “That stamp of approval lets students and potential employers know they’re meeting expectations.”

power players

Who’s who in Indiana education: House Speaker Brian Bosma

PHOTO: Sarah Glen

Find more entries on education power players as they publish here.

Vitals: Republican representing District 88, covering parts of Marion, Hancock and Hamilton counties. So far, has served 31 years in the legislature, 9 of those as Speaker of the House. Bosma is a lawyer at the firm Kroger, Gardis & Regas.

Why he’s a power player: Bosma was House Speaker in 2011, when the state passed its large education reform package, creating the first voucher program for students from low-income families. Along with Rep. Bob Behning, Bosma helped develop the state’s voucher program bill as well as the bill that expanded charter school efforts that year. As a party and chamber leader, he plays a major role in setting House Republicans’ legislative agendas.

On toeing the party line: With the debate over state-funded preschool front and center during this year’s session, Bosma has expressed far more enthusiasm than his fellow Republicans for expanding the state’s program. Indeed, Bosma has long been a supporter of state-sponsored preschool. Currently, low-income families in five counties can apply for vouchers to use at high-quality preschool providers. Bosma has said he’d like to see that number triple, if not more.

Recent action: In 2016, Bosma ushered through one of the few teacher-focused bills that became law in the wake of news that some districts in the state were struggling to hire teachers. The bill created a state scholarship fund for prospective teachers, and began awarding money to students this year.

A perhaps little-known fact: In the late 1980s, Bosma worked at the Indiana Department of Education as the legislative adviser to H. Dean Evans, the state superintendent at that time. Then, as with this year’s House Bill 1005, lawmakers advocated to make the state superintendent an appointed position, a bill Bosma is carrying this year.

Who supports him: In past elections, Bosma has received campaign contributions from Education Networks of America, a private education technology company; Hoosiers for Quality Education, an advocacy group that supports school choice, charter schools and vouchers; Stand for Children, a national organization that supports education reform and helps parents to organize; K12, one of the largest online school providers in the country.

Conversely, given his support for choice-based reform, the Indiana Coalition for Public Education gave Bosma an “F” in its 2016 legislative report card highlighting who it thinks has been supportive of public schools.

Legislative highlights via Chalkbeat:

Bills in past years: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017

Also check out our list of bills to watch this year.