Call for student input 'unprecedented'

SWBOCES honors students weigh in on Every Student Succeeds Act

Members of Southern Westchester BOCES' National Technical Honor Society met Friday, March 3, with District Superintendent Dr. Harold Coles to discuss the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The federal law passed in December 2015 governs U.S. education policy, and the New York State Education Department is seeking public input - including that of students - as it drafts an implementation plan to submit to the state Board of Regents for approval.

ESSA is the successor to No Child Left Behind, which in 2001 succeeded the nation's first federal education law, ESEA, passed in 1965. Similar meetings were held in the fall.

Dr. Coles called state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia’s outreach for student input unprecedented.

"Getting feedback from you is critical to ensuring we're moving in the right direction," he told the group. "You know better than anyone else what you've seen and didn't see in your own education."

Regional meetings with community stakeholders are being hosted this month by New York's 37 BOCES and the five big-city school districts.

Following a video introduction by Elia, six key questions were discussed from among categories that include: Challenging Academic Standards and Assessments; Accountability Measures and Methodologies; and Supports and Improvements for Identified Schools.

On the question of whether New York should consider applying for the Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority, the Honors Society members were in favor. They support classroom-based performance assessments like portfolios and project-based assessments.

The students gave personal rankings to Possible Indicators for School Quality and Student Success, such as chronic absenteeism, student access to highly qualified teachers, high school credit accumulation and students’ participation in advanced coursework. They also ranked various measures as part of the process of differentiating school performance.  

The group was quietly attentive as Dr. Coles laid out the detailed process by which NYSED seeks to garner input for its draft implementation plan and their role in that. It became clear before long, though, that they hold informed opinions derived from their own educational experiences.

"One thing I think the educational system misses,” said Robert DiFeo of Valhalla, “is driving a work ethic into kids.”

Added Jaiden Ovalle of Eastchester, “I think teachers should be more flexible when teaching, not sticking strictly to the books.”

Students often ask how they’ll use the material they are studying in the real world. Francisco Orozco of New Rochelle expressed a version of this sentiment that is particularly relevant on a Career and Technical Education campus like Southern Westchester BOCES’ Valhalla center.

“I feel that high school should pretty much have classes that will help students progress to what they’ll be doing in the future,” Orozco said. “That’s why I came to BOCES.”

The other students who took part in the wide-ranging, 90-minute discussion included Katiana Michalski of Eastchester; Addy Velez of New Rochelle; Kayla Gray of White Plains; Robert Villavicencio of Bronxville; Xavier Andre and Theodore Smith of Sleepy Hollow; and Cindy Zuna of Pleasantville.

The Southern Westchester BOCES Winter Regional Stakeholders Meeting is set for 6:30 p.m., March 13, at 450 Mamaroneck Avenue in Harrison. For anyone who would like to take part, the link to RSVP can be found at