Public Policy Updates: October Board of Education

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education met in Malden on October 23 and 24. The agenda of the meetings is here.

Monday evening's meeting focused on the results of last spring's MCAS test and the resulting school and district accountability levels. The presentation given on the MCAS results can be found here. Student achievement in the legacy high school MCAS remains similar to prior years, with 91% of students in ELA, 79% in mathmatics, and 74% in science achieving a score of proficient or above. Most of the discussion, however, focused on the new test taken by the younger students. Acting Commissioner Wulfson opened by commenting that the standards of the test in grades 3-8 were more rigorous than in previous years, and he and others reiterated that it was a single datapoint, which they regard as a good baseline. He warned of being "wary of jumping to too many conclusions" based on these test results. Much of the discussion focused on the gaps between different populations, particularly the results among ELL students and low income students. There is additional information for families and for educators on the Department's website. 

The presentation on accountability levels that followed reflected much of the information shared by MASC in our testing explainer. It is particularly important to recall that this is a reset year for schools that took the new test; the only level changes were for schools not hitting state-required participation levels. There was also specific information given about the testing results from the three districts in state receivership.

On Tuesday morning, the Board heard opening remarks from Acting Commissioner Wulfson, including preliminary information about state plans for accommodating of students who may be evacuating Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He also spoke briefly of review work happening currently on the social studies standards, and of an auditor's finding that educator evaluation was not an unfunded mandate. Public comment time included comments from parents of gifted students as well as extended remarks from gubernatorial candidate Jay Gonzalez, who confronted Secretary Peyser about his possible participation in the charter school ballot question last year. He urged transparency, commenting that both the people and the Board deserve better in their leadership.

The Board was next updated on the search for a new commissioner; Rosa-Lyn Morris, who has been hired to conduct the search, spoke to the Board. She distributed a draft job description and more specific position specification, which the Board had not seen. Vice-Chair Morton commented that he felt that everyone would see themselves reflected in the document. Member Fernandez requested a greater emphasis on the cultural, linguistic, and ethnic diversity of the state. Chair Sagan asked that all Board comments be sent in by the end of the week. The intention is for the position to be posted within a week or so, with applications due by mid-December. A screening committee will look at all applicants; they will forward finalists to the full Board, who will interview them in public session. 
The screening committee appointed by Chair Sagan is as follows: 

Voting members (current members of the Board)
Secretary Jim Peyser
James Morton
Margaret McKenna
Katherine Craven

Non-voting members
Vanessa Calderon-Rosado (former member of the Board, CEO of Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion)
Sydney Chaffee (National Teacher of the Year, Codman Academy Charter School)
Alex Cortez (Reimagine School Systems Fund--New Profit; Board of MATCH Charter and Innovate Public Schools)
Paul Dakin (retired superintendent, Revere Public Schools)
Marcia Faucher (adjunct professor, Roger Williams University; former New Bedford principal)
Robert Gittens (Executive Director, Cambridge Family and Children Services; former Boston School Committee member)
Sheila Harrity (superintendent, Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School; Vice Chair, Board of Higher Ed)
Matt Hills (Newton School Committeehe's also a managing director at LLM Capital)
Beverly Holmes (on Springfield Empowerment Zone board; former member of the Board of Ed)
Linda Noonan (of Mass Business Alliance for Education)
Mary Walachy (of the Davis Foundation; member of the Early Ed Board)

There also is now an email address at which one can submit input to the search:

There was then a brief recap of the prior evening's presentation at which Member Doherty commented that he hoped the Board will pause to consider mistakes of the past and not make those mistakes going forward; he said one mistake was "using test far too label schools as failing schools."

The Board then turned to the competency determination for the high school classes; that is, setting the graduation requirement for MCAS passage. Because the high schools will be transitioning to the new test next spring, and because it is anticipated that achievement will reflect that of the earlier grades, the Department has recommended--and the Board has nominally agreed--that the next two years of high school competency standards will be transitional, reflecting rates of passage more in keeping with current rates. That will allow this year's freshman class, the first to take the new exam, to do so without concern of the lower scores as they may have seen in their eighth grade scores they received this week. This year's eighth grade class will have the same allowance, allowing for this spring's test, as well as the tenth grade test as two experiences with the new exam. A further transition is then anticipated to the competency determination; Wulfson commented that this will be a signal to the class of 2023 and beyond that the Board does intend to raise the bar.

The Board then heard a budget update, including the news that the Governor has approved for transfer $4.1 million requested by the Department for testing; there was no report on where the money was found. For FY19, the Board anticipates another tight year, with another discussion of sharing resources and work with other departments. Wulfson spoke of his concern of the continuing limited resources, with too few people to do the work of many; "We may be able to hire a commissioner,' he said, "but our ability to hire additional staff is virtually non-existence at this point.'

Finally, the Board heard a report on the Office of Professional Practices Investigation, which concerns itself with actions that may result in licensure suspension or revocation. The Commissioner may suspend, revoke, or limit a license if the license holder:

  • lacks sound moral character
  • pleads guilty to or is convicted of a crime
  • commits gross misconduct or negligence
  • is dismissed from a school for just cause
  • misrepresents their history on an application
  • has another professional license that is revoked

Districts are required to report dismissal, non-renewal, or resignation for reasons that might impact the educator's license. The office has seen increased work due to the addition of background checks to the requirements before hiring. They stressed the importance of districts doing their own review of references of employees before hiring.