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October 15, 2004

Council: State must sustain its commitment to school standards, achievement, and accountability

In an era in which jobs are becoming more knowledge-based and requiring more education and training, New York State must keep its academic standards high, measure student achievement based on them, and hold schools, teachers, and students accountable for results, The Business Council’s education-policy specialist testified at a state hearing this month.

Margarita Mayo, the Council’s director of education, training, and quality testified Oct. 7 at a hearing on the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The hearing, which took place at St. John’s University in Manhattan, was sponsored by the Public Education Network, a national network of organizations interested in education reform.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act, which took effect in January 2002, is designed to improve teaching and learning by ensuring stronger accountability for results, improving the quality of teaching, encouraging the use of proven educational methods, and giving parents more choices.

By then, Mayo noted, New York had already made a strong commitment to higher standards, tests based on them, and more rigorous accountability—in part because business has been warning that the state's future prospects depend on improvements in teaching and learning.

“At a time when jobs are becoming more complex and requiring more education, the country with the world’s biggest economy is falling behind other nations in getting young people through high school and college,” Mayo said. She noted that the U.S. now ranks 10th among industrialized nations for the share of its population aged 25-34 with a high school degree.

“Yet solid skills and higher education are now the passport to getting and keeping a good job. By the end of this decade, two-thirds of all new jobs will demand skills that require at least some college training,” she said.

“In the information age, knowledge has become the fuel that drives the global economy. If we don’t ramp up our education system, we run the risk of losing our competitive edge in innovation within a generation.”

NCLB and New York's own programs “afford the best hope for assuring that our education system does indeed provide the opportunity for a high quality education for all students regardless of race or economic circumstances,” Mayo testified.

“In order to improve, we must embrace higher standards, objective and reliable measures, accountability for student achievement, professional development for teachers and school leaders, and rewards and sanctions where appropriate,” she said.

Just as businesses obtain and use data to win competitive advantages, information on student
achievement “provides information to help our schools pinpoint areas in which students need additional help and signal where we need to direct resources and energies.”

To hold schools, teachers, and students accountable for achievement, student achievement data, by school and by district, must be published, Mayo said.

The Council also supports annual tests in reading and math in the early grades, with a strong connection between tests and challenging academic standards, she added. She noted that New York’s strong commitment to standards and tests based on them, both of which preceded NCLB, has given everyone in the system motivation to improve. More than 62 percent of fourth grades met New York’s English language arts (ELA) standards, in 2004, up from 38 percent in 1999. And 78 percent of fourth-graders met the math standards, up from 67 percent in 1999.

Mayo also urged education policy-makers to take advantage of the eagerness of the business community to help schools achieve and improve. For example, The Business Council, through its Pathfinder Award program, has recognized the 24 most improved elementary schools in New York State yearly since 2001. The Council also organizes and conducts "Engage New York "seminars around the state. These are designed to promote the involvement of business leaders in policy discussions related to increasing student achievement.