What New York’s top education policymakers are talking about in May

In the second meeting with Chancellor Betty Rosa at the helm, the state’s education policy-making body will tackle charter school renewals, the metric for calculating violence in schools and computer-based testing.

A number of these issues are familiar, but they take on a new meaning as the board continues to chart its course under a new leader. For instance, will the board be tougher on charter schools that enroll a low percentage of high-needs students? Will Regents try to be more careful as they roll out new assessments, like computerized testing?

Here’s what you need to know about Monday’s meeting:

Another round of teacher evaluation tweaks

It’s become a tradition for the board to revisit aspects of the state’s 2012 teacher evaluation law, and this meeting is no different. Most of the changes appear to be small tweaks, but the very fact that there’s still hammering out to do underscores the fact that New York’s approach to measuring teacher quality remains complicated and unresolved.

A new look at charter schools?

At a recent forum, Rosa said the state education department is “very concerned” that some charter schools do not serve a population of students that reflects their communities, which is required by law. Several charter school renewals on the table could put that concern to the test.

The State Education Department is requesting a five-year renewal, the longest possible, for Harriet Tubman Charter School in the Bronx. The school has made considerable progress towards enrolling more poor students, but it still enrolls far fewer English language learners than other schools in the district. What Rosa says — or doesn’t say — about that gap at Harriet Tubman and other schools will provide useful information about how she plans to act on her concern.

The state is recommending that two charter schools get the right to operate only for a short time, three more years, with any further extensions contingent on improved performance — typically a high-stakes arrangement. One of those schools, a Montessori charter school in the South Bronx, had only 5 percent of students meet the state’s proficiency standards in reading last year and also lags the district average in serving poor students, English language learners, and students with disabilities. Rosa has said little about what should happen to charter schools that are not performing well since becoming chancellor, so her reaction to the renewal recommendations could illuminate her approach to accountability.

How to measure violence in schools

Taking a new look at the way the state calculates school violence could take the board into surprisingly tricky waters. Families for Excellent Schools, a pro-charter advocacy group, has used the state’s count of violent school incidents to criticize Mayor Bill de Blasio’s school safety record. But the state itself has called the metric problematic. Monday’s report will help explain how officials want to fix it.

The actual proposed changes to the current system, for now, involve revising the categories of violent incidents based on task force recommendations. The state is also piloting a program in 12 districts to use measures like surveys and attendance data to look beyond violent incidents to rate schools.

Testing with computers

To kick off the state’s switch to computer-based testing, over 950 schools have agreed to participate in field testing this year. The Regents are scheduled to discuss that switch, what schools need to be prepared, and how to support schools through the transition.

The board discussed the switch to computer-based testing at the last meeting, too. Their careful move towards computerized testing shows how sensitive they are to ensuring that schools have what they need to make the transition and an effort to avoid the pitfalls of other state that have switched to computerized testing.

Also on the docket: a proposal to make it possible for people who are not U.S. citizens to teach in New York schools. Not on the agenda this time, despite calls from lawmakers for more discussion: the challenges, and potentially unintended consequences, of creating additional ways for students to meet high school graduation requirements. Stay tuned for the most important developments from the two-day meeting.