testing 3-2-1

New York ed officials may ask for $35 million to revamp state tests — and bring back foreign-language Regents exams

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Regent Collins and Regent Johnson engage in a discussion after a Board of Regents meeting.

New York’s top education policymakers may ask legislators for roughly $34.9 million to help redesign state assessments, according to draft budget priorities discussed at a Board of Regents meeting on Monday.

The potential funding request, which was unveiled with a host of other possible priorities for the legislature, would go towards translating grades 3-8 math exams into different languages, reinstating foreign-language Regents exams, and preparing for “project-based assessments,” which evaluate students based on a series of tasks or projects.

State officials have expressed interest in project-based assessments before — which would mark a significant departure from traditional state standardized tests — but have cited cost as a major hindrance. The draft budget priorities begin to address that concern, with $8 million set aside for “laying the groundwork” to create these types of assessments, according to Regents materials.

The Regents’ budget and legislative priorities are still being workshopped and will not be finalized until either November or December. The Regents do not have any formal power over the legislature, but as the state’s official education policy-making body, they hold sway over some lawmakers.

The changes discussed on Monday are part of an ongoing effort to rethink New York state assessments, with a particular focus on the state’s diversity, according to Regents materials.

New York state’s tests have come under fire recently, inspiring a test refusal movement that led roughly one in five students statewide to boycott state exams the past two years. In response, state officials made several changes to the tests last year, including shortening them and giving students unlimited testing time, while promising to continue reviewing the tests in the coming years.

The draft budget priorities also include funds to help teachers implement the state’s new learning standards, which are currently being revamped. The proposal sets aside $5 million for implementing the standards, including $2 million to develop instructional resources for English Language Learners and students with disabilities. The standards’ accessibility to English Language Learners was criticized by United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew after the state released a draft set of standards this fall.

The full list of draft budget proposals can be found here, and the draft legislative proposals are here.

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below:

Student recruitment

How common is it for districts to share student contact info with charter schools? Here’s what we know.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Staff members of Green Dot Public Schools canvass a neighborhood near Kirby Middle School in the summer of 2016 before reopening the Memphis school as a charter.

As charter schools emerge alongside local school districts across the nation, student addresses have become a key turf war.

Charter schools have succeeded in filling their classes with and without access to student contact information. But their operators frequently argue that they have a right to such information, which they say is vital to their recruitment efforts and gives families equal access to different schools in their area.

Disputes are underway right now in at least two places: In Tennessee, school boards in Nashville and Memphis are defying a new state law that requires districts to hand over such information to charters that request it. A New York City parent recently filed a formal complaint accusing the city of sharing her information improperly with local charter schools.

How do other cities handle the issue? According to officials from a range of school districts, some share student information freely with charters while others guard it fiercely.

Some districts explicitly do not share student information with charter schools. This includes Detroit, where the schools chief is waging an open war with the charter sector for students; Washington, D.C., where the two school sectors coexist more peacefully; and Los Angeles.

Others have clear rules for student information sharing. Denver, for example, set parameters for what information the district will hand over to charter schools in a formal collaboration agreement — one that Memphis officials frequently cite as a model for one they are creating. Baltimore and Boston also share information, although Boston gives out only some of the personal details that district schools can access.

At least one city has carved out a compromise. In New York City, a third-party company provides mass mailings for charter schools, using contact information provided by the school district. Charter schools do not actually see that information and cannot use it for other purposes — although the provision hasn’t eliminated parent concerns about student privacy and fair recruitment practices there.

In Tennessee, the fight by the state’s two largest districts over the issue is nearing a boiling point. The state education department has already asked a judge to intervene in Nashville and is mulling whether to add the Memphis district to the court filing after the school board there voted to defy the state’s order to share information last month. Nashville’s court hearing is Nov. 28.

The conflict feels high-stakes to some. In Memphis, both local and state districts struggle with enrolling enough students. Most schools in the state-run Achievement School District have lost enrollment this year, and the local district, Shelby County Schools, saw a slight increase in enrollment this year after years of freefall.

Still, some charter leaders wonder why schools can’t get along without the information. One Memphis charter operator said his school fills its classes through word of mouth, Facebook ads, and signs in surrounding neighborhoods.

“We’re fully enrolled just through that,” said the leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his relationship with the state and local districts. “It’s a non-argument for me.”

A spokeswoman for Green Dot Public Schools, the state-managed charter school whose request for student information started the legal fight in Memphis, said schools in the Achievement School District should receive student contact information because they are supposed to serve students within specific neighborhood boundaries.

“At the end of the day, parents should have the information they need to go to their neighborhood school,” said the spokeswoman, Cynara Lilly. “They deserve to know it’s open.”