N.Y. Unveils Checklist To Gauge Progress on Goals
Commissioner of Education Thomas Sobol of New York State has moved to provide concrete guideposts for school reform by proposing a set of indicators of progress toward goals already adopted by the state board of regents.
A draft of the proposal, released this month for public review and comment, outlines a specific and lengthy list of benchmarks for achieving the goals of "a new compact for learning,'' a reform plan approved by the regents in 1991.
The benchmarks call, for example, for raising the percentage of the state's 4-year-olds in qualified pre-kindergarten programs from 29.7 percent in 1991 to 50 percent in 1995, 70 percent in 1997, and 90 percent in 2000.
The regents are slated to review the public comments on the progress indicators later this fall and could vote thereafter on whether to adopt them, according to Pat Keegan, a spokeswoman for the state education department.
The recommendation for the milestones is significant because "the goals aren't going to go anyplace unless we spell out how we're going to go toward them,'' Ms. Keegan said.
The proposal for progress indicators goes beyond the general objectives set forth in the national education goals and appears to be among the most specific and comprehensive of any state.
"No other [state reform plan] that I know of has been this specific,'' Ms. Keegan said.
Eight Strategic Objectives
For each of the eight "strategic objectives'' that are part of the state's reform plan, the new proposal lays out progressive milestones to be achieved within three, five, and eight years.
In addition to pre-kindergarten attendance, the guidelines present target participation or achievement levels for such areas as academic-test scores, dropout rates, college-preparatory curriculum offerings, and student suspensions.
For dropout rates, the plan calls for a reduction of the statewide rate from 4.9 percent in 1989-90 to 4.6 percent in 1995, 4.3 percent in 1997, and 4 percent in 2000.
Separate dropout goals would be set for the state's large cities, with rates projected to fall from 7.7 percent in 1989-90 to 7 percent, 6 percent, and 4 percent in the three target years.
Progress toward the goal of having high school graduates who are prepared for college, work, or both would be measured by a survey of state employers. Employers would be polled next year to set a "baseline'' level of moderate or high satisfaction with the performance of New York graduates in entry-level jobs.
By 1995 that level of satisfaction would have to improve by 5 percentage points, the plan says, and by an additional 8 points by 1997. By 2000, all employers are to be well satisfied with the performance of graduates.
Wider Social Goals
The proposal also includes goals for issues beyond the scope of the education system alone. It calls for greater levels of prenatal care and health-insurance coverage, decreased felony-conviction and substance-abuse rates of juveniles, and more voter registration.
While setting goals in such areas may seem ambitious, there is "a lot of attention now on interagency coordination'' in New York, Ms. Keegan said.
"We need the input and cooperation of these [social-service] agencies,'' Ms. Keegan said, so they will be asked to review and make suggestions on their indicators.
Heads of social-service agencies have already reviewed and offered advice on the draft progress indicators, and education department staff members are consulting with their counterparts at those agencies, according to a memorandum from Mr. Sobol.
The proposal does not call for any punitive measures if the guidelines are not met. The absence of sanctions is appropriate for the intent of the broader reform plan, Ms. Keegan said.
"The whole spirit of the compact,'' she said, "is to help each other--it's to get away from the monitoring.''
The proposed set of progress indicators also dovetails with another state plan for a nontraditional method of evaluating schools' effectiveness.
The new plan, which is modeled in part on the British "inspectorate'' system, would both encourage schools' self-evaluation and provide for outside teams of educators and community members to visit schools. (See Education Week, Sept. 9, 1992.)
The progress indicators now under consideration, Ms. Keegan said,
could become some of the criteria that evaluators use to assess
compliance with goals for student learning.