Regents strengthen commitment to equity imperative

by Betty Rosa

On Board Online • July 24, 2017

Betty Rosa
Regents Chancellor

The June meeting of the Board of Regents was meaningful to me, both as chancellor and on a personal level. At the meeting, the board acted on two issues that I believe will have long-term, positive implications for our students and our state.

First, we announced our decision to reduce the number of days that children will spend taking state exams. Starting next year, the grades 3-8 assessments in English language arts and mathematics will be reduced from three days to two. This decision not only limits the amount of time students will spend taking tests, but also returns valuable instructional time back to our teachers - where it belongs. And we will make certain the tests continue to provide a valid and reliable measurement of student achievement.

The board's decision shows that we have been listening carefully to the public's concerns about our testing program and what people expect from New York's education system. I have always said that there is a place for standardized tests in school. At the same time, it's clear that many parents rightly reject the over-testing of children.

The Regents believe students should spend the least amount of time necessary taking state assessments - no more time than is needed to get results that are diagnostic, valid and reliable, and that provide timely and practical information to teachers, principals and parents. That is what the public has been demanding, and that is what the Board of Regents has delivered.

Second, I appointed the Regents Research Work Group to oversee our efforts to bring greater diversity and integration to New York's schools and school districts. This work will be led by the Work Group's co-chairs, Regents Judith Johnson and Luis O. Reyes.

New York is one of the most racially and socioeconomically diverse states in the nation. Yet, more than 60 years after the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, our state continues to have the most segregated school system in the country, according to some studies.

The research is clear. Socioeconomic and racial integration leads to better academic outcomes for all students - while at the same time reducing the achievement gap among students of different racial backgrounds. We will close the achievement gap and lift the overall level of student achievement only when we level the playing field for all.

Higher levels of student achievement translate to better life opportunities for more students, both in terms of their access to higher education and their preparation for meaningful careers. Similarly, a better educated, more highly skilled workforce translates to stronger communities and a healthier, more productive state economy. In short, ensuring the success of all students is not only a moral imperative, but an economic imperative as well.

So, we ask ourselves: "Does the American dream belong to all our students? Are we willing to take the difficult steps that are necessary for all to achieve that dream?" To me, the answer is clear. We are obligated - both from a moral and an economic standpoint - to take those difficult steps.

But I believe there is an issue even more fundamental to student success than diversity and integration. Above all, we must address head-on the issue of educational equity. The Center for Public Education (CPE) defines equity this way: "Equity is achieved when all students receive the resources they need so they graduate prepared for success after high school."

Education advocate Steven Singer puts forward that it's not enough to give all students the "chance" for an excellent education; rather, we must ensure that they do, in fact, receive an excellent education that prepares them for future success.

So, we need to look closely at the ways we can advance equity. According to the CPE, assuring equity requires not only adequate funding, high-level curricula, good teachers and non-discriminatory discipline policies, but also "extra academic supports for low-performing students, access to technology both in school and at home, comprehensive family services, mentorships, trained counselors, and more."

Commitment to the success of every student means that we acknowledge the uneven playing field that exists for so many of our students in so many of our schools. We must have the courageous conversations about the issues that impact those who are disadvantaged by economic disparities.

Once the equity issue is addressed in a meaningful way, I believe the related issues of diversity and integration will fall into place. Delivering quality education to all in an equitable way is the key to our success.

After countless hours of work and public hearings on the state's ESSA plan, we are getting close to finalizing the draft that will be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education for approval. Our draft plan emphasizes the urgent need to foster educational equity for New York's students - so much so, in fact, that I'd like to change the name of the law from "Every Student Succeeds Act" to "Equity Supports Student Achievement." That's an ESSA plan we can all get behind.

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