Novick Reports: May Board of Education

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education held their May meeting on Monday, May 22 and on Tuesday, May 23. The agenda is posted online here.

The Tuesday morning meeting was held, as is the Board's practice, at the school of their student representative; Nathan Moore, this year's student representative, attends Scituate High School. The Board was welcomed by Superintendent John McCarthy and Principal Robert Wargo.

Chair Sagan noted the absence of member Katherine Craven who recently had a baby girl.

At their Monday evening meeting, the Board had heard an update from the three receivers of (respectively) Lawrence, Holyoke, and Southbridge. Vice Chair Morton commented in opening Tuesday of the "unique challenges that exist in each of the districts." Member Noyce mentioned the focus on secondary schools, noting that nationally, secondary schools have been more difficult to turnaround than elementary schools. Peyser added that the secondary schools were "leading the way." Chair Sagan said that in his earlier conversations with the receivers, they had felt that state intervention had come after too long a time; Member Noyce noted that in the previous night's discussion, the conclusion had seemed to be that visits were not sufficient for the state to have a clear idea of the difficulties at the local level. 

Member Mary Ann Stewart announced to the Board and the public that she had spoken to the Ethics Commission regarding her run for the 4th Middlesex Senate seat, and she "will continue to carry out my responsibilities with careful attention to the state ethics and campaign rules - and, as always, with a focus on the students and families we serve."

Member Moriarty discussed his recent attendance at a gathering of state school board members in Houston on the Every Student Succeeds Act, commenting that while many states were not prepared for ESSA, in Massachusetts, the parts of the plan "were activities we were doing, anyway."

Sitting in for Commissioner Chester, Deputy Commissioner Jeffrey Wulfson reviewed the Department's past month: the announcement of the National and State Teachers of the Year; the ongoing work of an inter-agency task force directed by the Office of the Child Advocate on private schools of special education; the second civics engagement conference. He noted that the proposed revision to regulations on licensure had led to some perception that it was intended to limit teachers' First Amendment rights, which was not the intent. He said that the charter school waitlist had recently been released; Boston numbers are up, due, it is assumed, to the single application for multiple schools, while numbers statewide are slightly down, as students who had been carried over roll off. Regarding the recent attention to Mystic Valley Charter School's dress code, he noted the Department's joint work with the Attorney General's office, and said the Department is committed to "bring about permanent changes in the dress code going forward."

Secretary Peyser spoke of his recent visit to Springfield schools in their Empowerment Zone.

The Board took testimony from the public on early college, including testimony from the Gateway to College program. The Lawyers' Committee on Civil Rights also delivered a letter to the Board on the recent issues at Mystic Valley Charter School, calling for a revision of the dress code, a reversal of all disciplinary consequences to students stemming from it, and bias training at the school.

The Board received an update on the MCAS exam currently being conducted, and the process through which the Department will go in setting scores for the result levels. Thus far, the state is seeing participation levels of 98-99% on testing, with minimal district-level issues on computer-based testing. Note as well the memo sent out to districts clarifying testing and accountability. The Board is putting together panels of educators who will work together in groups of two grade levels (third and fourth, fifth and sixth, seventh and eighth) and by subject. They will work through a process of determining which answers rate which scores, and how those scores together will set by level. The Board discussed the need for consistency across grades, and the assurance scores were intended to give to parents and guardians of their children's preparation for the next grade and eventually college and career. They stressed the need for clear communication on the process of setting scores with families not only ahead of the release of scores, but also at the release of scores.

The Board also received an update on the early college work, which focuses on five principles: prioritizing access for underrepresented students; creating guided academic pathways; enhancing student support; connecting to career; and creating partnerships among institutions. The plan is for there to be an preliminary designation for those who have plans to include these, with final designation demonstrating implementation of all five principles.

The Board heard from Nathan Moore on the work of the State Student Advisory Council. There was concern expressed by students over their schools being judged entirely or in large part on MCAS scores. They also had discussions regarding mental health needs, with some schools doing work to meet those needs for students.

The Board heard an update on the FY18 budget, specifically on the release of the Senate budget, presently being deliberated (see the MASC Legislative Bulletin for more detail on the Senate budget). Deputy Commissioner reiterated his concern expressed to both superintendents and business managers last week: that districts should make contingency plans for their FY18 budgets, due to the uncertainty surrounding state revenues and the possibility that the budget conference committee will need to make budget cuts. Wulfson specifically suggested to MASBO members that school committee members be made familiar with their state aid, and the degree to which it is foundation aid, rather than hold harmless and minimum per pupil aid.

The Board reviewed the suggested dates of next year's meetings (they will vote on this in June) and voted in favor of remote participation.