Press Release

New state policy will help eliminate unnecessary enrollment barriers that limit course access for students of color and other under-represented student groups

NEW YORK – New guidance released by the New York State Education Department (NYSED) today represents an important step to ensuring that all students can participate and succeed in advanced coursework that will prepare them for college, careers, and active citizenship, according to the statewide civil rights, education, parent, and business organizations in The New York Equity Coalition.

The coalition’s Within Our Reach report found that across New York State, White students were given nearly twice as much access as their Latino and Black peers to a range of key gatekeeper and advanced courses in the 2016-17 school year. The data revealed that Latino and Black students were both less likely to attend schools that offer critical courses and less likely to be equally represented even when their schools do offer these courses.

The groundbreaking policy guidance from NYSED sets out five key principles to “assist school districts in their efforts to provide course access equity” and, among other important provisions, clearly states that:

  • “An equitable course enrollment policy is rooted in the understanding that students can succeed in advanced courses when they are well-prepared with the appropriate foundation and provided with appropriate supports.”
  • “Districts should carefully consider the use of practices that may have a negative impact on access to advanced coursework for underserved students, including rigid tracking and Honors programs that limit advanced course access to a select group of students without ongoing opportunities for all students to enroll in advanced coursework and required prerequisites. Districts should also consider the impact of any other policies or practices that result in disproportionate under-enrollment in advanced coursework for students of color, students who are low-income, and/or other historically underserved groups of students.”
  • “An equitable course enrollment policy uses multiple measures to identify students for advanced coursework so that no single measure excludes their participation. Districts should carefully consider the use of practices that may have a negative impact on access to advanced coursework for underserved students, including the use of:
    • teacher or administrator recommendations or rigid GPA cutoffs as the sole or controlling criteria for course access;
    • unrelated entrance tasks/exams; and
    • nonessential prerequisites.”
  • “An equitable course enrollment policy may include encouraging students to pursue a wide range of gatekeeper and advanced coursework throughout their academic careers and communicating the benefits of advanced coursework and enrollment information in a language their families can understand. Positive practices include creating a variety of inclusive materials for students and their families, all available in multiple languages or in a language that families understand.”
  • “School districts should ensure that, starting in the early grades, all students are provided with opportunities to access the courses and curriculum that will prepare them for a range of rigorous courses by the time they reach high school.”

The New York Equity Coalition’s review of thousands of pages of documents detailing enrollment practices, support services, and methods of communicating with students and families in the 100 largest school districts in the state along with an additional 10 rural high-need districts highlights the importance of NYSED’s policy guidance. Among the findings from these 110 school districts, based on documents requested in Summer 2018:

  • Only 12 school districts provided examples of positive messaging that encourages all students to enroll in gatekeeper and advanced courses and signals high expectations for all students.
  • Only 33 school districts provided examples of multiple entry points to advanced coursework in at least one subject area at the high school level, and in some cases a student had to be deemed “accelerated” as early as middle school in order to be eligible for course opportunities later in their academic career.
  • 68 school districts provided examples of heavy reliance on GPA requirements and teacher recommendations at the high school level, which may reflect implicit bias.
  • 43 school districts provided examples of rigid pathways and tracking at the high school level.
  • 42 school districts provided examples of a large number or nonessential course prerequisites at the high school level.
  • Only 4 school districts provided examples of information on accelerated or advanced courses made available in multiple languages.

The coalition also identified bright spots that can be replicated, including school districts providing multiple entry points into advanced coursework, eliminating problematic enrollment requirements, and publishing inclusive materials in multiple languages.

“For this generation and beyond, we have the responsibility of ensuring every child is prepared at the highest levels and that all barriers to achieving this are removed,” said Brenda McDuffie, president and CEO of the Buffalo Urban League. “Our Regents and the New York State Department of Education should be applauded for adopting new critical policies to make this happen for all children, especially Black and Latino students who have not been prepared or had access to advanced course work.”

“This new guidance to school districts will be instrumental in opening up courses to more students who are capable of the rigor,” said Heather Briccetti, president and CEO of The Business Council of New York State. “With the success of unscreened Dual Enrollment programs like P-TECH and others, we’ve seen that students who were not the highest achieving students were still able to excel in advanced coursework, even in college coursework. Data show that students who take advanced courses in high school are more likely to complete high school and are better prepared for college. This guidance will help more students have access to advanced coursework, better preparing them for college and careers.”

“I applaud the Board of Regents and the New York State Education Department for adopting a policy that will eliminate unnecessary enrollment barriers that have prevented students of color from accessing advance coursework,” said Mark Eagan, president and CEO of the Capital Region Chamber.  “The state must continue to ensure that all students have access to advanced coursework, which will prepare them for college, careers, and active citizenship.”

“We commend the Board of Regents and the New York State Education Department for taking this critical step and reinforcing to parents across New York their commitment to ensuring all students have access to the high-quality academic experiences that will set them up for a successful future,” said Samuel L. Radford III, past president of the District-Parent Coordinating Council of Buffalo and co-chairperson of We the Parents. “All parents want the very best for our children, and that includes access to high-level courses that will prepare them for college, careers, and civic readiness.”

“Chancellor Rosa, the Board of Regents, and the New York State Education Department have made clear that access and success in gatekeeper and advanced coursework is a fundamental equity issue for New York State,” said Ian Rosenblum, executive director of The Education Trust–New York. “Ensuring that all students, particularly those who are historically under-served, are encouraged and supported to enroll in courses that will prepare them for college, careers, and active citizenship is an educational justice imperative.”

“Complicated, unaligned, and subjective barriers to advanced courses are just means of segregation by another name,” said Paula L. White, executive director of Educators for Excellence-New York. “The New York State Education Department’s guidance will help districts move away from policies that create separate and unequal educational opportunities for students of color and students from low-income households. This is a strong move towards ensuring all students are able to participate in courses that prepare them for careers and college.”

“We applaud Chancellor Rosa, the Board of Regents, and the New York State Education Department for taking this necessary and important step to level the playing field for Latino and Black students,” said José Calderon, president of the Hispanic Federation. “For far too long, our students of color have been denied equal access to advanced coursework that prepare young people for college and life success. This new state policy not only helps address this long-standing injustice, but it sends the message that rooting out these historical inequities is essential to ensuring that all of our children receive a high-quality education.”

“With this new guidance, the Board of Regents and the New York State Education Department have responded to the calls of parents and other stakeholders across New York State who know that it is imperative that all students have access to the courses that will prepare them for college, careers, and active citizenship,” said Arva Rice, president and CEO of New York Urban League. “Removing the barriers that all too often prevent students who are historically underserved from enrolling in advanced courses is an important and necessary step to putting all New York students on the path to a bright future.”

“We applaud Chancellor Rosa, Regent Lester Young, and all the members of the Board of Regents, as well as the New York State Education Department for taking such an important step in ensuring access and equity for all students, especially those in the low-income communities we serve,” said Sheena Wright, president and CEO of United Way of New York City. “United Way of New York City’s work is rooted in moving families to self-sufficiency, which we know is fueled through educational attainment. By offering clear guidelines for school districts on how to enroll more students in courses that will prepare them for college, careers, and active citizenship, NYSED is effectively moving families towards self-sufficiency and economic stability.”

“It is important that we do not conflate availability with access,” said Sebrone Johnson, vice president of operations for the Urban League of Rochester. “It has been tragic that even in schools where advanced courses were available, not all students have access. We applaud this acknowledgment that we must further reduce the barriers that exclude too many children of color from direct opportunities for advancement and success.”

“Ensuring all students have access to the educational opportunities that will prepare them for success in college and careers is critical not just here in Westchester County, but across New York State,” said Sorraya Sampson, president and CEO of the Urban League of Westchester County. “And state leaders can play a critical role improving access and opportunities for all students, particularly those who have been historically underserved by our education system.”

“YWCA Brooklyn’s college access program serves young women of color attending under-resourced high schools who have been disproportionately impacted by limited access to advanced and accelerated courses that are readily available to their more affluent peers,” said Martha Kamber, president and CEO of YWCA Brooklyn. “Exclusion from these opportunities, which improve students’ ability to attend competitive colleges and attain scholarships, has a negative impact on the educational and economic outcomes specifically for low-income students of color. YWCA Brooklyn applauds the policy guidance by the New York State Education Department to help increase equitable opportunities for students of color. We see firsthand, through our college access program, the devastating effect of institutional racism and inequity in public education. Access to advanced and accelerated courses, as well as increased educational expectations for all students, regardless of the school they attend or the neighborhood they live in, will have a significant positive impact on their educational and economic future.”

Visit EquityinEdNY.org to learn more about this issue.

The New York Equity Coalition includes Better Schools Better Neighborhoods, Brooklyn YWCA, the Buffalo Urban League, The Business Council of New York State, Business Council of Westchester, Capital Region Chamber, Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, Democrats for Education Reform-NY, District-Parent Coordinating Council of Buffalo, The Education Trust–New York, Educators for Excellence, EPIC-Every Person Influences Children, Hispanic Federation, National Center for Learning Disabilities, New York Urban League, Otsego County Chamber of Commerce, Public Policy Institute of New York State, Read Alliance, Turnaround for Children, UnidosUS, United Way of New York City, the Urban League of Rochester, and the Urban League of Westchester County.