Novick Reports: April Board of Education

On April 18, 2017, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary met in Malden for their monthly meeting. You can find the meeting agenda here. The video of the meeting is posted here.

The meeting opened with comments from Chair Paul Sagan and Commissioner Mitchell Chester. Chair Sagan began by announcing that member Roland Fryer has resigned. (Members of the Board of Education are appointed by the Governor.) Sagan also opened a discussion regarding remote participation by Board members, something to which the Board will be returning.

Chester mentioned the recent Nipmuck High public forum he attended, of the upcoming civics literacy conference in May, and of an expected report from the Office of the Child Advocate regarding private special education services. He informed the Board that the Department had, as planned, submitted the state's ESSA plan to the federal government on April 3, that they had already taken some questions regarding it on long term goals and on measurements of interim progress, and that they expected a peer review in mid to late May. He spoke of the ongoing MCAS testing, and he updated the Board about negotiations with Rhode Island around their possible adoption of our state test (which they would call RICAS).

Public comments were made regarding civics education by a civics teacher who spoke from examples from his own practice, in particular of having students engaged meaningfully with administrators on school policy as legislators, and of the groundwork this lays for active citizenship. A panel spoke of the need for the development of educators of gifted students and the need for measurement of students beyond grade level, noting that one of the top resources in the country is at UConn, but Massachusetts alone among all states in measuring no dimension of giftedness.

The Board heard a report on civic engagement plan (note that the link is to a Word doc). The three prongs moving forward (to quote here from the report) are:

  1. Develop a communications strategy about the importance of civic learning and engagement in students' success
  2. Increase visibility of civic learning and engagement offerings and highlight best practices using data
  3. Strengthen the teaching and learning of civics

There also was some engagement in the six working strategies from this "The Civic Mission of Schools" report. In particular, students need to discuss current, even--especially--controversial issues in the classroom. There also was agreement with earlier testimony on the need for active and meaningful engagement for all students in actual school governance not just "designing the prom." The example of Berlin-Boylston's global studies curriculum, developed by the district and running through the grades was discussed. Superintendent Ekstrom said, "it's about being citizens". This also involved a discussion of the timeline on redrafting the history and social studies standards, scheduled to be out for public comment next year. Secretary Peyser expressed concern about that becoming a long, drawn-out process, with member McKenna commenting that such reviews grow heated. Secretary Peyser also related this to the planned history state assessment (referring to it as a "test"), asking if it would be possible to be field-testing questions next year, concerned there would be "a loss of urgency." The answer (in sum) was no, with one panelist later responding, "in terms of assessment, I don't think there was any appetite on the task force for another test." Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson later responded that the state would be looking at best practices in such assessments as part of the Department's FY19 budget planning process. Several members of the Board emphasized active civic engagement being the focus.

The Board heard an update on Level 5 schools, most specifically UP Holland in Boston, where they're focusing on deepening student understanding, working with students on managing their emotions, and increasing partnerships with parents and families. Asked for larger lessons from the Level 5 schools, Senior Associate Commissioner Johnston spoke of the focus on student improvement.

Finally, the Board was asked to vote on an amendment to regulations to allow for a year in which school and district accountability levels would not be impacted by test scores. This grew out of concerns over the multiplicity of test histories districts now have, given the past several years. The amendment passed unanimously, but not before an extensive, and later returned to, discussion not of this year, but of next year. In particular, the Commissioner proposes to have this year's MCAS scores be averaged in with next year's scores when setting the accountability levels after that round of testing. The Board vocally (and nearly unanimously) rejected this interpretation of their direction, which repeatedly has been that this year's scores will not harm a district (or school)'s level. After a recess, Secretary Peyser express concern that not incorporating scores from this year in some way with incentivize districts to score artificially low this year, so as to have room to move up in future years. This was not disputed, but the matter will be taken up again later once the Board has to set future years' leveling systems.

Finally, the Board received an update on the FY18 House Ways and Means budget.

The Board meets next on May 22; as is its practice at its May meeting, it will meet at the home school of their student representative, which this year is Nathan Moore, who attends Scituate High School.