New York’s New Compact for Learning Reflects Essential School Principles

New York was once heavily committed to large-scale testing on two tiers (standardized Regents Competency Tests and more challenging subject-area tests that led to a Regents Diploma). But the state’s New Compact for Learning, adopted by its Board of Regents in 1/91, has galvanized state policymakers into a new push that will ultimately give responsibility for individual student assessments to localities.

The state’s major role would be to assess programs, using sampling techniques and state-of-the-art performance assessments to test whether students have achieved the state’s learning outcomes in key areas and at key points in their development. The state would work closely with schools to support local development of assessment programs that fit each school’s goals and curriculum, and to provide access to a bank of assessment tasks and instruments. And it would evaluate and approve school-level assessment so that it aligns with state goals for teaching and learning, and so the data obtained is cumulative, coherent, and comparable. Certain uses of tests (such as mass-administered standardized placement tests for young children and tests to separate or track “talented” students) would be proscribed. Instead, the state wants local assessments to identify students’ talents and shape instruction to make the most of them across the curriculum. If the new system takes effect, all students will work toward a unitary Regents Diploma, which provides for three levels of distinction. Graduation would follow completion of a “Regents Portfolio” that exhibits competency across the curriculum as defined in the state’s learning outcomes. If a school so chose, it could include state- developed performance assessments to satisfy certain requirements. The Regents Competency Tests (RCT) would be replaced by such new assessments, which would allow for different levels, but not different kinds, of performance. Finally, the state aims to report student performance according to criterion-referenced information, not norm-referenced percentile rankings. Rather than averaging their data, it aims to aggregate longitudinal data about each student over time, so the state can analyze actual growth in performance rather than average data from a shifting student population. And it would revise its current Comprehensive Assessment Report (CAR) to emphasize the school’s program, practices, funding, and other resources that affect its students’ opportunity to learn.