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SED rethinks computerized testing, plans phase-in over several years

On Board Online • October 13, 2014

By Eric D. Randall

Last spring, more than 16,000 students in New York State took computer-based tests in a pilot project. This spring, it could be zero.

The State Education Department has slowed down its plan to switch from paper tests to computer-based tests as early as this school year.

New York is part of a multi-state consortium called PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), which will be offering online assessments this spring. All PARCC members except New York will be using those assessments, said PARCC spokesman David Connerty-Marin. Participating will be Washington, D.C. and 11 states – Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio and Rhode Island.

Several concerns make waiting a better option, according to Ken Wagner, deputy commissioner for curriculum, assessment and educational technology.

They include:

NYSUT loses first round in tax cap litigation

On Board Online • October 13, 2014

By Kate Gaffney
Senior Staff Attorney

The state’s property “tax cap” law is not unconstitutional, according to a recent decision of the state Supreme Court in Albany County. New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), along with various state residents, taxpayers and parents, had challenged the constitutionality of the law claiming, among other things, that it erodes local control of education spending, limits educational opportunities statewide with a disproportionate impact on poorer districts and diminishes the voting power of individuals who favor exceeding the cap.

Under the law, school district property tax levies can grow from one year to the next only by the lesser of 2 percent or the rate of inflation. A school budget that would result in a tax levy that exceeds the district’s cap requires a supermajority vote of 60 percent to pass.

6 in 10 NYS seniors not ready for college

On Board Online • October 13, 2014

By Eric D. Randall

Only 39.2 percent of New York seniors who took the SAT scored high enough to be considered ready for college and the job market, according to a College Board analysis of the class of 2014.

The State Education Department (SED) has an even lower estimate – 37.2 percent. That’s the percentage of students who graduated in June 2013 and scored at least a 75 on the English Regents exam and at least an 80 on a Math regents. Those scores “correlate with success in first-year college courses,” according to SED.

The College Board figure is based on its “College and Career Readiness Benchmark” – an SAT score of 1550 out of a possible 2400. “The SAT benchmark score of 1550 is associated with a 65 percent probability of obtaining a first-year college GPA of B- or higher,” according to the College Board.

Among New York’s African-American students who took the SAT, only 14.1 percent met the benchmark. Among Hispanic students, the figure was 19.3 percent.

Why NYSSBA offers Innovation Awards

On Board Online • October 13, 2014

What do a toothbrush robot, a wind turbine, and an internship at Lockheed Martin have in common? If you’ve jumped ahead to the center pages of this issue of On Board, then you already know the answer.

Each is a part of an educational program that was selected to receive a Be the Change for Kids Innovation Award, a program run by NYSSBA and sponsored by the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering within the SUNY Polytechnic Institute.

I was thrilled to participate recently in the news conference at SUNY Poly announcing this year’s award-winning districts. Of all my duties as president of our association, none is more exciting to me than honoring the outstanding accomplishments of students in our schools.

My hat goes off to the judges because this year school districts around the state submitted 41 incredible projects for consideration. All of these programs are noteworthy and deserve recognition. But, unfortunately, we can only give out three awards. Many of the judges are professors, engineers or administrators at the NanoCollege. They certainly had their work cut out for them.

Three districts – the Chenango Forks Central School District, the Mineola Union Free School District and the Saratoga Springs City School District – each walked away with $5,000, plus the opportunity to participate in a wonderful recognition ceremony at the sprawling Nanotech facility.


Developing new governmental efficiency plans seen as challenge for cost-conscious districts

On Board Online • October 13, 2014

Charles K. Trainor
Special Correspondent

Just in time for Halloween – and just before November elections – taxpayers across the state are getting rebates that are part of New York’s version of “trick or treat.”

The treat is a tax credit, averaging $300, that rewards each taxpayer who is eligible for the state School Tax Relief Program (STAR) and resides in a school district whose current budget did not exceed the state tax cap – a law that requires supermajority approval before a school district and other local governments can raise their tax levies more than 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.

The “trick” is being played on local school districts, which have long sought operational efficiencies. This school year they will be required to develop an efficiency plan that will undergo a review at the state level. Districts are being required to offer a credible plan with savings equal to 1 percent of the annual tax levy for each of three school years – 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19. Failure to do that will mean taxpayers won’t get rebates due in the fall of 2015.

Why aren’t more students earning Advanced Designation Diplomas?

On Board Online • October 13, 2014

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

Fewer than a third of high school graduates in New York earn the Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation. The State Education Department has begun to examine why the figure isn’t higher, particularly in the state’s largest cities.

State officials say they want to gather more information on how much access students in different school district have to rigorous coursework and other factors that can affect readiness for college and careers.

While patterns in test scores are one barometer of students’ level of preparation, “we don’t want to reduce ‘college and career readiness’ to test scores,” said Ken Wagner, deputy commissioner for curriculum, assessment and educational technology. “We want to remind everyone that it’s not only about test scores. It’s also about access and persistence through advanced coursework. That’s what kids really need in order to be ready for what’s next.”

Feds decline to hear Schenectady’s claim that NYS aid system violates civil rights

On Board Online • October 13, 2014

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

Two federal agencies have declined to consider the Schenectady City School District’s claim that New York’s school aid distribution system effectively discriminates against students who are members of racial minorities.

Representatives of each agency have said the issue should be reviewed by the other.

In April, the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights begged off on the claim, saying it should have been filed with the U.S. Department of Justice. Now, the Department of Justice has notified the district that it won’t consider the complaint because it should go to the Education Department.

Simply seeking to be heard has turned into a frustrating runaround for the district, said Superintendent Laurence Spring, since it appears that neither agency has yet reviewed the substance of the complaint.

“Between the two federal agencies, one of them has to acknowledge that they have jurisdiction,” Spring said.

What SROs (and everyone else) need to understand about youth

On Board Online • October 13, 2014

By Linda Bakst
Deputy Director of Policy Services

A flyer crossed my desk inviting me to a seminar with an intriguing title: “Policing the Teen Brain.” It described a training event sponsored by the state Police Juvenile Officers Association that would provide information to help school resource officers (SROs) and local law enforcement be more effective in the school environment.

In school policy circles, the issue of school safety has always been a topic of high interest, but the tragedies at Columbine in 1999 and Newtown in 2012 brought it to another level. Many districts have increased law enforcement presence as a result. But what knowledge, attitudes and behaviors enable SROs or juvenile police officers to develop the kind of rapport with students that creates a safer school?



New state program promotes solar energy in schools

On Board Online • October 13, 2014

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

School districts considering the feasibility of installing solar energy systems in their buildings can receive free guidance and expert advice under a new state program called K-Solar.

The program, a joint project of the New York Power Authority and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, also is expected to create a purchasing coalition to enable school districts to lower the cost of buying and installing solar systems through high-volume pricing.

As of early October, 137 school districts from around the state had registered to participate in the K-Solar program, which offers consulting services related to potential energy savings, likely costs and financing options.

A purr-fect solution to a PR problem

On Board Online • October 13, 2014

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

A Schenectady High School student’s online campaign to get his cat included in his formal yearbook photo has ended with a compromise that has everyone wearing Cheshire smiles.

Sixteen-year-old Draven Rodriguez’s online petition, headlined “Get my Photo into the Yearbook,” attracted thousands of signatures, and his quirky photo with his cat, Mr. Bigglesworth, became an Internet sensation. The story drew national media attention and even inspired a spoof by comedienne Ellen DeGeneres (

The digital image, produced by Schenectady photographer Vincent Giordano, features a background scattered with laser beams and an inset of a pensive-looking Mr. Bigglesworth gazing off into the distance (see page 1). Rodriguez told reporters he wanted an unconventional senior picture that would convey his sense of humor, but it was far from the formal portraits traditionally published on Schenectady’s senior pages.

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