Testimony on the state’s proposed accountability system under ESSA

This testimony along with the Opportunity to Learn index is downloadable as a pdf here.

Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters

June 6, 2017

Good evening, Regent Cashin, Regent Reyes, and Commissioner Elia.  My name is Leonie Haimson and I’m the Executive Director of Class Size Matters, a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing class size in NYC and the nation at large.  We belong to the coalition called NYS Allies for Education, and I was also a member of the NYSED ESSA working group assigned to provide input on the state’s accountability plan.

Congress passed ESSA to move away from the high-stakes testing regime of NCLB towards a more holistic and equitable vision of school quality that would allow children and their teachers to focus on real learning and positive change.  Yet I fear that this proposal will not move us in this direction.

When NYSED surveyed parents and the public at large about what additional indicators they believed should be used to assess schools other than test scores and graduation rates, the most popular responses by far were factors related to the opportunity to learn, including small classes and access to art, music, science, and physical education and more.  This is most critical to emphasize in NYC, where more than 350,000 students continued to be crammed into classes of 30 students or more, and where thousands of students do not receive the minimally required coursework in art, music and physical education as mandated by state law and regulation. Yet the current proposal ignores the need to include these factors.

As you have heard tonight from all these eloquent high school students, how important it is that their transfer schools had small classes, make them feel like they are known, and gave them the support that allowed them to thrive.  Wouldn’t it be even better if all NYC schools were places where students feel truly cared for and receive the attention they need, and do not have to first drop out of school to find a place where they know they matter.

As others have pointed out, using chronic absenteeism as the single additional school quality indicator for elementary and middle schools will unfairly penalize schools with large populations of disadvantaged, homeless, or immigrant students, or those with chronic illnesses.  Using absenteeism as the sole high-stakes indicator of school quality would not only unfairly penalize these schools, but may also lead to unintended consequences, including such students to be ostracized, excluded or pushed out.

For high schools, the additional factor proposed along with absenteeism is something called college, career and civic readiness, as defined primarily by advanced coursework.  This could incentivize schools to provide more AP classes – even as most private schools are moving away from AP because of their superficial nature — at the potential risk of further narrowing the curriculum and reducing access to art, music, physical education, and more.

I urge the Board of Regents to revise this proposal and ensure that it includes a wider range of evidence-based Opportunity to Learn factors, proven to improve student outcomes, as enumerated in the attached document.  Some of these factors such as class size reduction has been shown to provide more equity by narrowing arrow the achievement gap for disadvantaged children. The more factors that are included in the accountability system will also lessen the risk that one indicator will distort incentives and cause schools to game the system in ways that would be damaging for children.  Not coincidentally, as mentioned previously, these factors were also those that ranked the highest in the NYSED survey.

One more word about the way opt out students will be counted:  If NYSED is determined to go ahead and count opt out students as level 1 in calculating a school’s academic indicator, the accountability system will implode and sacrifice its credibility, as the lowest ranking schools will be those on Long Island and elsewhere where the opt out rates are 50-80%.  Parents cannot be forced to make their children take the state tests and will not do so until they believe the exams are shorter, less stressful, more reliable and usefully diagnostic, and with high stakes removed.  Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.  


Include an Opportunity to Learn Index in the NYS Accountability System


March 2017

The new federal education law called ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) allows states to design a new accountability system that include school quality indicators, in addition to strictly academic measures such as student test scores and graduation rates.

New York State’s accountability system must reflect a strong commitment to learning experiences and opportunities that align with the cognitive, social, and emotional needs of students. The addition of an Opportunity to Learn Index will ensure that all children and youth from prekindergarten through 12th grade have equitable access to a rich education that sparks their curiosity and imagination, and equips them with the essential 21st-century skills of problem-solving, collaboration, communication, and civic leadership.

NYS Allies for Education and Class Size Matters urge the Board of Regents and the Commissioner to incorporate an Opportunity to Learn index in the new NYS accountability system. Such a system would include the following essential, measurable and evidence-based factors:

  1. Programs● Whether the school offers prekindergarten (and whether full or half-day);● Whether the school offers full-day Kindergarten;● Average class sizes by grade (which in turn affect student achievement, achievement gaps, school safety and discipline, student engagement, teacher attrition rates etc.);

    ● How much arts education is offered and whether this meets the state requirements;

    ● How much physical education is provided and whether this meets the state requirements;

    ● The extent to which recess aligns with the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines.

    ● Whether the school uses and documents social-emotional supports, restorative practices or other proven positive behavior interventions;

    ● The number and percentage of students who are not receiving their mandated services, including special education services, ENL/ESL and bilingual classes;

  2. Staffing● The number and percent of teachers in the school who have completed a four-year teacher education program;● Teacher attrition rate and average years of experience;● The ratio of counselors per student and in high schools, the ratio of college advisors per student;

    ● Number of school based team/school psychologist, social worker and/ or designated full-time specialized staff per students with IEP’s;

    ● Number of qualified nurses per student;

    ● Number of full time librarians and whether there is a library;

    ● The experience level of administrators (principals, APs, and department chairs) as administrators and as teachers;

    ● Number of teachers (special education and non-special education) and administrators who have received a full complement of training in evidence-based interventions (such as Orton-Gillingham and others) for children identified with serious reading, writing and math disabilities.

  3. Parent involvement● Whether the school has an active PTA and a School Leadership Team or School-based Management committee that includes parents, with regular trainings and meetings; as verified by the district;● Whether the school gives annual surveys to students, parents, and teachers, and considers the results for school improvement. (The survey results themselves should not be factored into the accountability system, but to inform administrators and the school-based management committee of how to improve the school environment.)
  4. Other Critical Factors● The availability of data regarding use of police or law-enforcement surrogates in schools● Whether the school tracks the types and number of interventions provided to students identified as at risk of dropping out;● The attendance rate of students and percent of students who are chronically absent.

    ● Student attrition, discharge, suspension and expulsion rates.


    Selected References in Support of Opportunity to Learn Index Indicators

    The Arts

    Deasy, R. J. (2002). Critical links: Learning in the arts and student achievement and social development. Arts Education Partnership.

    Ruppert, S. S. (2006). Critical Evidence: How the Arts Benefit Student Achievement. National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.

    Scheuler, L. (2010). Arts Education Makes a Difference in Missouri Schools. Missouri Alliance for Arts Education.

    Class Size

    Baker, B. D., Farrie, D. and Sciarra, D. G. (2016), Mind the Gap: 20 Years of Progress and Retrenchment in School Funding and Achievement Gaps. ETS Research Report Series.

    Haimson, L. (2016) Summary of Class Size Reduction Research, Class Size Matters.

    Institute of Education Sciences. (2003). Identifying and Implementing Educational Practices Supported by Rigorous Evidence: A User Friendly Guide. U.S. Department of Education.

    Krueger, Alan B. (2003). Economic Considerations and Class Size. The Economic Journal, 113.

    Mathis, William J. (2016). Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking: The Effectiveness of Class Size Reduction. National Education Policy Center, University of Colorado.

    McLaughlin, D. and Drori, G. (2000). School-Level Correlates of Academic Achievement: Student Assessment Scores in SASS Public Schools. U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics.

    Schanzenbach, D. W. (2014). Does Class Size Matter? National Education Policy Center Policy Brief.

    Zyngier, David. (2014). Class size and academic results, with a focus on children from culturally, linguistically and economically disenfranchised communities. Evidence Base, 1.

    Full Day Kindergarten

    Bingham, G. E., & Hall-Kenyon, K. M. (2013). Full-and half-day kindergarten programmes: Examining impacts on second language learners. Early Child Development and Care, 183(2), 185-199.

    Gibbs, C. (2014). Experimental evidence on early intervention: The impact of full-day kindergarten. Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, University of Virginia.

Parental Involvement

Jeynes, William H. (2005) Parental Involvement and Student Achievement: A Meta-Analysis, Harvard Family Research Project.

Physical Activity & Recess

The Center for Health Affairs (2013). Childhood Obesity:Weighing in on a Generation at Risk.

Chomitz, V. R., Slining, M. M., McGowan, R. J., Mitchell, S. E., Dawson, G. F., & Hacker, K. A. (2009). Is there a relationship between physical fitness and academic achievement? Positive results from public school children in the northeastern United States. Journal of School Health, 79(1), 30-37.

Ramstetter, C. L., Murray, R., & Garner, A. S. (2010). The crucial role of recess in schools. Journal of School Health, 80(11), 517-526.

Singh, A., Uijtdewilligen, L., Twisk, J. W., Van Mechelen, W., & Chinapaw, M. J. (2012). Physical activity and performance at school: a systematic review of the literature including a methodological quality assessment. Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine, 166 (1), 49-55.

Strong, W. B., Malina, R. M., Blimkie, C. J., Daniels, S. R., Dishman, R. K., Gutin, B., … & Rowland, T. (2005). Evidence based physical activity for school-age youth. The Journal of pediatrics, 146 (6), 732-737.

Trudeau, F., & Shephard, R. J. (2008). Physical education, school physical activity, school sports and academic performance. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 5 (1), 1.

School Libraries

Gretes, F. (2013). School library impact studies. Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.

Smith, E. G. (2001). Texas School Libraries: Standards, Resources, Services, and Students’ Performance. Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Student Absenteeism

Gottfried, M. A. (2009). Excused versus unexcused: How student absences in elementary school affect academic achievement. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 31(4), 392-415.

Roby, D. E. (2004). Research on school attendance and student achievement: A study of Ohio schools. Educational Research Quarterly, 28 (1), 3.

Teacher Experience

Boyd, D., Grossman, P., Lankford, H., Loeb, S., & Wyckoff, J. (2006). How changes in entry requirements alter the teacher workforce and affect student achievement. Education, 1(2), 176-216.

Chetty, R., Friedman, J. N., Hilger, N., Saez, E., Schanzenbach, D. W., & Yagan, D. (2010). How does your kindergarten classroom affect your earnings? Evidence from Project STAR(No. 16381). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Huang, F. L., & Moon, T. R. (2009). Is experience the best teacher? A multilevel analysis of teacher characteristics and student achievement in low performing schools. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 21(3), 209-234.

Rice, J. K. (2010). The Impact of Teacher Experience: Examining the Evidence and Policy Implications. Brief No. 11. National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research

Teacher Retention

Guin, K. (2004). Chronic teacher turnover in urban elementary schools. education policy analysis archives, 12, 42.

Ronfeldt, M., Loeb, S., & Wyckoff, J. (2013). How teacher turnover harms student achievement. American Educational Research Journal, 50 (1), 4-36

Schaefer, L., Downey, C. A., & Clandinin, D. J. (2014). Shifting from stories to live by to stories to leave by: early career teacher attrition. Teacher Education Quarterly, 41(1), 9-27.

Simon, N. S., & Johnson, S. M. (2013). Teacher turnover in high-poverty schools: What we know and can do. Teachers College Record, 117, 1-36.

Struyven, K., & Vanthournout, G. (2014). Teachers’ exit decisions: An investigation into the reasons why newly qualified teachers fail to enter the teaching profession or why those who do enter do not continue teaching. Teaching and Teacher Education, 43, 37-4

Universal Pre-K

Yoshikawa, H., Weiland, C., Brooks-Gunn, J., Burchinal, M. R., Espinosa, L. M., Gormley, W. T. & Zaslow, M. J. (2013). Investing in our future: The evidence base on preschool education. Ann Arbor, MI: Society for Research in Child Development.

Categories Testimonies & Comments, Uncategorized, Updates | Tags: | Posted on June 7, 2017

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