Public Policy Updates: May 2018 Board of Education regular meeting

The regular May meeting was held, as is Board tradition, at the high school of their student member. In this case, Hannah Trimarchi is a senior at Marblehead High School, who was praised during the Marblehead welcome as "just the kind of student we're looking for." During opening remarks, Commissioner Riley passed along the condolences of the Board and the Department to Stoughton on the loss of their students. He also commented "while I have some issues" around the "Leading the Nation" campaign itself, that celebrating teachers and schools is incredibly important. Public comment largely focused on the history and social studies standards, discussed later in the meeting, with particular note of gaps in creating global citizens through in-depth study of regions and of race relations after the Civil Rights movement.

The meeting featured an extensive conversation about the revision of the history and social studies standards, which will be up for a Board vote at the June meeting. Public comment was wide ranging during the comment period, including many wanting to ensure that history of all places and of all peoples are included. There has been work with various experts in the fields to ensure that this is reflected in the standards. There is inclusion of primary sources and questions intended to trigger essential questions from students. There are also explicit connections made to socio-emotional learning and of media literacy.

At a supportive comment from Member James Morton on the need for inclusion of race relations since the Civil Rights era, Secretary Peyser said, "I'm not convinced." He wanted to be sure "we aren't drifting too far into current events." He said, "I'm a little concerned that things that are happening now should be embedded into the frameworks...I think we need to be careful about moving to the present time." (This portion of the meeting begins at approximately 33:16 here.)


A concern expressed by the public was that of districts waiting to see what the intended state assessment looks like before moving ahead. Funding of the history assessment, as yet to be developed, is currently part of the deliberation between House and Senate. Secretary James Peyser said that he is "impatient about getting back to an assessment strategy," but recognized the need for being careful. Member Michael Moriarty expressed his strong opposition to an "soft" sole assessment, saying, "I would never consider it adequate if it were merely some compilation of service shouldn't be a really soft, out-in-the-community sort of thing. Commissioner Jeff Riley said he is not locked in on any particular type of assessment, but is curious. Member Margaret McKenna noted past survey results of teachers opposed to a more traditional assessment with administrators being split, saying that essays, reflections, and presentations were seen as more reflexive of student work.

A refreshing change at this meeting was the presentation of Title I Distinguished School New Mission High of Boston; it is unusual to have administrators coming in with an opportunity to speak of all that is going well at their schools. New Mission High is intended to be "an exam school without the exam," said principal Naia Wilson; the school focuses on social justice and college for all. The school is expanding to middle school levels, as they have found that their "honors for all model" required earlier work with students. The school speaks to their majority-student-of-color population about structural racism which creates purpose in their students. All students present capstone projects to families twice a year on the critical essential questions in their courses.

This was followed by a presentation on The Dever School in Boston, which is under state receivership overseen by Boston Superintendent Tommy Chang. The school is focused on strong teaching, a well-rounded curriculum, strong supports for students from school and community, and alignment of people, time, and money. In particular, their work on partnerships with families--of many backgrounds, of many languages--was mentioned.

Commissioner Riley opened the presentation on computer scoring of writing portion of the ELA MCAS by noting the longstanding dissatisfaction by districts and by schools with how long it takes to get results. The writing portion is what keeps results from coming back sooner. Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson said that they are doing their best to keep an open mind. While computer scoring was available to Massachusetts from the PARCC Consortium, the state opted to instead pay more to have student writing hand scored. There have been, he said, huge advances over the past four or five years. The presentation then discussed the training of human scorers, during which much emphasis is placed on norming their scoring, such that scores don't vary across scorers. There were fairly enthusiastic responses from the members of the Board who spoke. Member Katherine Craven asked for dollar amounts; Wulfson responded that, while this was not what was driving the decision, the Department spends around $4 million a year on hand scoring. Member Amanda Fernandez asked about timelines, to which Wulfson noted the significant number of other assessment-related items underway. Chair Paul Sagan said "I spend a lot of time in this space in this [tech] industry," and he believed the state would get a cost savings, get results sooner, and "we might deliver better, cleaner, fairer results" if this switch was made. Riley closed by commenting that the Department is committed to exploring if this works or not.

Member Hannah Trimarchi presented on the work of the State Student Advisory Council over the year. She opened by describing the organization of the Council and how the members are elected. She then discussed several projects the regional and state councils have done this year: work on environmentlal sustainability that focused on lunchrooms; the creation of college and career readiness resources; the review of the state civics standards. The state councils also participated in both the Malden High walkout and the discussion afterward, not only around the issues that were the crux of the walkout, but also about the work of student organizing.

The Board closed with an update on the budget. Senior Associate Commissioner Bill Bell told the Board that the FY18 supplemental budget has cleared conference committee and is now awaiting the Governor's signature. It not only has the $12.5 million additional funding for the circuit breaker; it also has $2.5 million in funding for charter school reimbursement. Of the $15 million adopted earlier in the year in support of student evacuees from Hurricane Maria, the Department has already distributed $6.7 million in April; the remaining $8.3 million will be distributed later this fiscal year after the updated data capture of student enrollment. There is also a federal emergency impact aid package about which the Department has been in contact with schools. Bell noted that the Senate was currently in budget deliberations on a budget with strong support for local aid and for schools, with increased funding for charter school reimbursement included, as well as circuit breaker funding projected to be 71 or 72%. He also noted that while the Governor and House budgets both include funding for the history assessment, thus far, the Senate budget does not.

The Board next meets on Tuesday, June 26, with a meeting the prior evening if necessary.