Accountability

New York

Sticks, carrots, and familiar policies in state's NCLB waiver plan

New York will get new terms for high- and low-performing schools — and new ways to define good and bad performance — under a proposed accountability plan designed to replace the requirements of No Child Left Behind. The proposal, which was released in draft form late today and will be discussed by the Board of Regents on Monday, is the result of two months of planning in response to the Obama administration's offer to waive some of the decade-old federal law’s requirements, including one that requires full proficiency by 2014. In exchange, states must to commit to prioritizing college readiness, setting guidelines for teacher and principal evaluations, and holding schools and districts accountable for their students' performance on state tests. Under the proposal, the bulk of the state's testing program would remain unchanged. But elementary and middle school students would take science tests; the bar to be considered proficient on high school exams would be raised; and proficiency would be calculated not just by whether students met certain benchmarks, but by how much they improved. Schools that fall short would not get extra funding to pay for tutoring services, an arrangement that has shown mixed results. Instead, they would get extra money to carry out more of the initiatives that the Regents themselves have endorsed, such as improving teacher training and revising curriculum standards. Five percent of low-scoring schools would become Priority Schools and have to undergo federally mandated school overhaul approaches. Another 10 percent would become Focus Schools, and their districts would have to develop plans to improve them. For the first time, school districts will be evaluated with the same scrutiny as schools were under NCLB. "Since district policies often contribute to why schools have low performance for specific groups of students," the proposal says, "districts must play a lead role in helping schools to address this issue." New York City, a district certain to house many Focus and Priority schools, will not be evaluated as one entire district, according to a provision. Instead, each of the city's 32 districts would be evaluated based on state test scores for its schools.  
New York

Brooklyn charter school with checkered past put on probation

The Department of Education is giving a Brooklyn charter school with a history of trouble just weeks to fix its most flagrant violations. We wrote in April that Williamsburg Charter High School had failed to make rent after a sharp enrollment decline. Now, the city has placed the school on a one-year probation, saying it is "in material and substantial violation of its charter, and in serious violation of applicable laws and regulations." Those laws and regulations include ones governing management, finances, and the school's relationship with the Believe High Schools Network — a relationship that the city says the school entered into illegally and must terminate within six weeks. At least three of WCHS's six board members are employed by the Believe network or one of the other two schools it operates, according to the letter, sent by Recy Dunn, head of the DOE's Charter Schools Office, to the chair of WCHS's board. "Any decisions made by the Board in regards to WCHS’s relationship with the Network would not be valid as those three members would have to recuse themselves; with only three voting Board members remaining, a majority vote decision would not be possible," the letter states. Whether the board actually voted on the Believe relationship is not clear: The board met only four times last year, instead of the required 12. The letter also raises red flags about the school's budgeting, pointing out that the school's own reporting put current assets at about $509,000 and current liabilities — the amount for which it's on the hook — at nearly $5 million.
New York

State's test security proposals suggest big changes to come

The first recommendations of the state task force to boost test security are out, and they suggest that big changes could be coming to the way tests are administered and graded. Next week, the Board of Regents will vote on a measure to start an immediate, independent review of how the state handles allegations of cheating. No action is set yet on the rest of the recommendations. But they provide a blueprint of what the state might do to prevent cheating scandals like those that have gripped Atlanta, Philadelphia, and other cities. To improve the current system, the state could prohibit teachers from proctoring their own students' exams and even exams in the subject they teach; bar teachers from grading their own students' exams, as many currently do; and keep completed exams on hand for longer than a year so they can be checked if cheating is alleged, the recommendations say. The Regents could turn those recommendations into official policy as soon as next month. But a more substantive revision of the testing system would be even more secure, the working group concluded. The task force wants permission to sketch out — and cost out — a centralized, statewide scanning system that includes erasure analysis and other measures to check for irregularities in test results. City officials say they support the changes — as long as the city doesn't have to foot the bill. "We applaud the state for proposing to centralize and strengthen security on its exams," Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky said in a statement. "Their proposals make a lot of sense, provided the costs are not passed on to districts like New York City, where we now spend more than $20 million a year to score state exams."
New York

Beneath strident self-defense, DOE seeking tighter test security

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said she believes the city's schools have improved, but urged the Department of Education should do more to prove that its test scores are "bulletproof." Tisch made the comment at this morning's City Hall News and GothamSchools "On Education" panel: "I think the city has an obligation to show the public that what they've done here is real," she said, noting that she had "had conversations with the city on this issue." Department of Education Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, who also sat on the panel, defended the department against the suggestion that cheating is widespread, noting that investigations substantiate very few cheating allegations. He said that the department plans to release a more complete accounting of its internal investigations into cheating allegations, similar to the one released earlier this week by the Special Commissioner of Investigation, an independent office. But Polakow-Suransky also said that more could be done to tighten test controls and that the city "would welcome more scrutiny." He told GothamSchools that the city has offered to chip in to help the state create a “distributed scoring system” whereby students’ Regents exams could be electronically sent to other schools to be graded by teachers with no relationship to them. Currently, teachers grade their own students' exams. That system would be the best option for preventing teachers from changing exam grades, Polakow-Suransky said, but the cost — which officials pegged as high as $20 million — is too much for New York City to undertake alone. “I think the state has an obligation to pay for that,” he said. “We’ve offered to help with some of our Race to the Top money, and we’re looking into some models that we can begin to test in hopes that they will take it over statewide. That’s the real solution to this.”