Novick Reports: February Board of Education

The Board of Education met Monday, February 27 and Tuesday, February 28. You can find the agenda here.

While I was not there on Monday night for the testimony, discussion, and votes on charter schools, it was fairly well covered by the press. The Board voted to approve the Plymouth charter (8-0-1), Old Sturbridge Village charter (5-4), and the Westfield charter (5-3-1), despite concerns around its Gulen ties. It approved all expansion plans except the plans for the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter, around which there was significant testimony around their lack of serving all students.

In his opening comments, Commissioner Chester reviewed with the Board his appointment of Superintendent Chang as receiver of the Dever School, as Blueprint's contract will not be renewed. Chang will report directly to Chester as receiver; the school has not been returned to Boston School Committee oversight. He reminded the Board that the ESSA state plan is in draft form on the website, and public comment on it is open (summary here). The Board will discuss and vote on it at their March meeting prior to submission on April 3. Also, the federal U.S. DoE Office of Civil Rights is investigating both Braintree and Lawrence around equity of access, including translation.

Public comment was on educator licensure (a call for an IT specific licenses and appreciation for the autism endorsement); an administrative panel in favor of the revision of educator evaluation; and concern from Revere and Chelsea regarding the switch to economically disadvantaged count and the impact of that on the foundation budget of some districts.

After a brief presentation, the Board voted unanimously in favor of renewing the TEC Academy virtual school's certificate. DESE staff did note that they intend to raise as an issue at some point the level of tuition virtual schools received, which now is $6625 charged against the sending district. 

The big news of the day (see DESE's release here) is the graduation and dropout rates. As I hope you've heard, the Massachusetts four year graduation rate is up for the tenth consecutive year, now standing at 87.5%. The five year rate is also up, now at 89.5% of students graduating within five years. Rates among subgroups are also up, and gaps among those groups are closing. There were also impressive gains among a number of districts that had the most ground to make up on this. Note that district results are now posted on the DESE website. 

The next discussion was around MCAS achievement levels (that is, the language of the levels, not the numbers). This was scheduled for a vote today, but the language explaining the descriptors remain under discussion; the vote will take place next month. The descriptors at this point are: 

  • Exceeding expectations
  • Meeting expectations
  • Partially meeting expectations
  • Not meeting expectations

The two accountability and assessment amendments proposed were, respectively, sent out to public comment and approved. The first would reset accountability levels next year for grade 3-8 schools based on the new test, save schools that are at Levels 4 and 5 (who could still rise) and schools with a participation rate on testing below 90% of students would be set to Level 3. That is out for public comment (no link as yet). The second, holding a school's turnaround plan in place until the Commissioner approves a formal exit plan (which must be done within two months), was approved.

There was an extensive discussion on the proposed changes to educator licensure (see the list of backups from this link). Per the presentation, the intent is the streamline, close loopholes, and reduce unnecessary burdens. The overhauls appear to be fairly extensive (and were not summarized in full during the meeting). In particular, Margaret McKenna raised the concern over teachers graduating with a BA, taking a test, and being able to teach for five years without further training; a change to that would require a statutory change. Those proposed changes were sent out for public comment.

Proposed regulation changes on recovery high schools were passed. Largely, this clarifies the relationship they have with their sending districts, particularly for students with special education needs.

There was an FY18 and Chapter 70 (specifically the economically disadvantaged calculation) update. DESE has now posted their report on the ED calculation, which was to include proposed paths forward. This was informational. 

Finally, and after discussion, the Board approved the change to the teacher evaluation system, folding the student impact rating into standard two (for teachers) and standard one (for administrators).