Novick Reports: May Meeting of the Board of Education

This morning, the Board of Education had their usual May meeting in Everett.

While only the Commissioner spoke during the opening comment period, there were a few things that I’d call to your attention. The Commissioner mentioned the work around the teacher certification system, calling attention to this article from WBUR this morning (which, as it is based off of Secretary Peyser’s remarks a few weeks ago, heads the state in a very different direction on this). He gave an update on the state’s work on gathering feedback, as they are charged to, around the state’s new plans under the federal ESEA renewal (ESSA). Thus far for most, that largely involves what is discussed here, largely the survey. Finally, he announced that next month he will be announcing a cohort of schools with high suspension rates overall (or rates out of line within their demographics) for a working group to lower those suspension and expulsion rates.

The main presentation was on the Springfield Empowerment Zone. For those not familiar, this is a hybrid of a state receivership situation, involving the state, the school district, the city, and several partners, including charter school providers. Springfield has not been declared Level 5; this focuses specifically on nine middle schools, all of which were Level 4. It was clear from the presentation that Commissioner Chester thinks very positively of this development, and Secretary Peyser was pursuing questions around long-term plans and possible expansion.

The other big topic covered today was an update on the testing. Currently, 70% of districts are taking the PARCC; 30% are taking the MCAS. The state reports minimal issues with the online testing this year (‘though they note that there are many fewer districts doing the testing online this year), and they report no increase in test refusal. Much else was largely a summary from Chair Sagan of yesterday’s assessment subcommittee meeting. At this time, there have been two bids received, one from Measured Progress and one from American Institutes for Research. Deputy Commissioner Wulfson noted that both branches of the legislature level-funded the assessment line item; he remarked that the funding “is not going to be sufficient to do everything we want it to in a high quality way.” There was an exchange regarding the intellectual property question (following the online release of some of the questions and the resulting takedown notices from PARCC); the answer appears to be “it depends,” as some of the information was developed under the federal funding from Race to the Top, while some was developed under contract directly with the states (and what is under whose intellectual property at this time depends). Going forward, this will be part of the state’s contract with PARCC.

The Board received updates on Holyoke and Southbridge.

There was a presentation of some student survey data from the state student advisory council (which unfortunately did not have the backup available), which is to be developed further. The Board had a fairly brief update on the state budget (the Senate is deliberating now). Finally, they announced the dates for next year’s meetings.

As always, questions welcome and errors are mine.

Tracy O’Connell Novick
MASC Field Director 508-579-5472