Public Policy Updates: April 2022 Board of Ed

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education met for their regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, April 26, 2022 at 9 am. The agenda can be found here online; video of the meeting is available here.

The meeting opened with public comment.

Boston parent Lisa Jeanne Graf spoke of Autism Acceptance Month and asked the Board to support House bill 225, which would ban the use of aversives in Massachusetts schools.

Parent Gerry Mroz argued that the competency determination is a low bar and that the system has ‘stagnated’ under this system.
Charlestown High School teacher Sarah Grimmett was among several who testified against state receivership of the Boston Public Schools, arguing that it is a failed model and that her school needs instead to be listened to and to have resources, inclusion done right, update to buildings, and increased funding for wraparound services. Charlestown High School senior Justin Perez said that he values the diversity of the community there; he further stated, “I really believe that if we give power to the state we diminish the community.” Senior Jaden Pinet, who serves on the school site council, said that the school is one that values and celebrates differences; he noted,” what needs to change is amount of support and resources” available to the school.

Boston parent Suleika Soto said that it is no coincidence that just as Boston, a majority city of color, is moving towards an elected School Committee, state is moving towards receivership; she noted lack of voice and resources in receivership districts like Lawrence. Boston parent Sugey Scannell said as the mother of immigrant children, one of the main resources she moved here is the education of her sons; she wants them to be capable and competitive, and to get close to the American Dream. She said,”I believe we have a school system that works. Like everything in life, it’s not perfect, but it works.”

Chair Katherine Craven asked the Commissioner to put together a task force on mental health, as it is “important for the Board to be seen as having a proactive stance.” Secretary James Peyser reminded the Board that the STEM Summit is Thursday.He also noted that the House budget fully funds the early college expansion proposed by Governor Baker. Commissioner Jeffrey Riley noted that the Department has been collaborating with MIAA, MASS call to action on addressing bias and hate that we are seeing around athletics.

The Commissioner next brought forward a panel of superintendents: Dianne Kelly, Revere Superintendent; Patrick Tutwiler, Lynn Superintendent; and Tim Piwowar, Billerica Superintendent. Kelly said they were there to highight four areas of concern, followed by several requests. The four areas of concern are:

  1. mental health, not just of students but also of staff.  There is related concern about stress on educators given public vitrol, and the press to create data which “no one can say has any interpretable meaning.”
  2. recruitment, particularly as teachers are being driven away from education. The field needs a pipeline and support.
  3. diversification of workforce, both in creating new educators and in supporting those who already hold positions. The public levels of vitriol are disrupting the work.
  4. collaborate and engage other stakeholders and meaning of work of education


Tutwiler noted that he spoke only for himself, but he is certain that there are parallels in every district. He said, “this is by far the most challenging year I’ve experienced as an educator.” He is deeply concerned about the mental health of students, and, even with the expansion of services possible through the funding Lynn has received due to the Student Opportunity Act, the district has struggled to move beyond triage. The lack of people applying for positions continues to haunt the district, as well. Commenting “you shouldn’t be a superintendent or an educator if you’re not an optimist,” he said, “as hard as things have been, things will get better.”

Piwowar said we can’t transform until stabilization and healing are met. It has been, he said, a brutal year for about everyone in education, and it is harder than the year before. Last year, he said, challenges were being met by a sense that we were in it together and that this year would be normal, but that has been replaced by fear and anger; negative emotions have permeated so many of the aspects of the work. He has understood his role to act as a sort of human shield for staff, but to have principals and individual teachers attacked has a detrimental effect. He said the Department’s assistance is needed in changing the narrative and building hope and optimism.

In response to questions from the Board, the superintendents noted the numbers of potential teachers filtered out by the MTEL, which some programs now require of their students in their third or fourth year, cutting off many potential educators. The dearth of resources outside of K-12 education for student mental health puts additional pressure on schools. Asked what single change he would make if he could, Piwowar wished he could have people work together, observing that the “war stories have been worse this year.” He added further that the state could help by flooding the discourse with positivity and optimism about schools.

The Board next took up the proposed changes in the competency determination, hearing first a report from John Papay of Brown University, who has been doing research on the multiple decades of data associated with MCAS the state now has. He has consistently found the following:

  • High school MCAS predict long-term success and appear to reflect academic skills, not simply socio-economic level or school characteristics
  • students scoring near cutoff don’t fare as well
  • retesting and passing does appear to improve long term educational attainments
  • MCAS predicts earnings among similar students with same education level and demographics
  • improvement from 8th to 10th grade scores have better long term outcomes

He also noted that, despite the competency determination, educational attainments have increased over time, and this is particularly true for low income students. Barely passing or failing the MCAS in 10th grade does not appear to have an impact on college attainment for low income students, but for higher income students, it does.

Several members inquired as to if there is a number at which the impact on college attainment is made; there is not an answer to that.
The proposed change to the competency determination, set in state regulation is as follows: for the classes of classes of 2026 to 2029 (that is, this year’s eighth graders to fourth graders): the ELA and math scores need to be at least 470 AND complete an educational proficiency plan OR scores need to be 486 AND science of 470. That is a change from the current determination of a scaled score of 240 on legacy (472 on ELA and 486 for math) a scaled score of 220 (455 for ELA and 469 for math) AND complete an educational proficiency plan plus science of at least 220.

Board members were most concerned about the ending date, which requires further Board action. There was some question as to if the standard was being set high enough. Rouhanifard and Hills in particular pushed for a higher standard that does not have an ending date; Hills said, “in a perfect world, I’d like to see the score at 500 in 2030.” Associate Commissioner Rob Curtin noted repeatedly that, given the unprecedented nature of the time and the response to the pandemic, that it is prudent to wait and gather data.
The Board voted to send this and the associated proposed changes to the Seal of Biliteracy out for public comment.

The Board next received information about two additional proposed regulation changes: one which would ensure vocational educators do not need to test twice on material that may already be required for trade certifications and the like; the second would continue the extension of the waiver on certification for long-term substitutes and for teachers teaching outside their certification area.
Both were sent out for public comment.

And Board adjourned.