Public Policy Updates: October 2018 Board of Education Meeting

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education held their regular meeting on Tuesday, October 30 in Malden. The agenda can be found here. Vice-Chair James Morton was traveling and was not present; Member Katherine Craven participated remotely.
After Chair Paul Sagan called the meeting to order, Commissioner Jeffrey Riley opened his remarks by commenting, "I was under the impression that I could cancel the Board meeting if the Red Sox won; I was disappointed to find that this was not the case."


Riley remarked on the recent announcement of the Milken Educator award to Benjamin Banneker Charter School librarian Jennifer Gordon. Riley notes Department work towards updating the foundation budget, saying they're "very interested that the formula looked at in a serious way." He recently spent a day teaching in North Adams, getting some additional insight into the challenges educators in western Massachusetts are facing, lack of broadband access. Both he and Secretary Jim Peyser noted last week's STEM activities, as described by the first panel. Peyser also brought to the Board's attention the recent passage and signing of a bill which requires that an additional member specializing in dyslexia be added to the early literacy panel and that the panel develop language on screening for potential neurological issues for developing readers. Chair Sagan, before moving on, also noted the weekend killings in Pittsburgh, "an act of hatred directed towards another member of our community."

The panel on STEM week featured educators from Everett, Randolph, and Boston. Everett's week featured work in the schools as well as a lab in the Novartis Community Lab for students. Randolph's middle school students spoke of the work they had done through the Project Lead the Way curriculum, which gave them a real-life problem to solve. In this case, the students were charged, with limited time and money, to develop a boot for those with cerebral palsy. Boston's Perry School used i2 Learning for their STEM week, which gave them materials and gave "access and agency" to students. The Perry School speaks of "sweaty brains" when speaking of students "who are productively struggling." 

The Board then moved to consider their annual letter regarding the FY20 budget proposal, which is forwarded to the Governor through the Secretary. The budget subcommittee recently had a presentation from Holyoke (under Board oversight due to the receivership) regarding the undercalcluation of the foundation budget, which clearly made an impression with them on the importance of this issue; member Michael Moriarty referred to Holyoke as "a canary in the coal mine." Per the Department's Chief Financial Officer Bill Bell, the Governor has requested policy options as it relates to the foundation budget for consideration in next year's House 1 budget proposal. A number of different groups including the Department, the Group Insurance Commission, and the Department of Revenue are currently working on this matter. Several members stressed the importance of movement on this issue; Secretary Peyser, while agreeing that the foundation budget was importance, noted that other lines of revenue through grants allow the state means of "exerting leverage" to "extract reform." Other items mentioned of concern included breakfast in the classroom, charter school reimbursement, implementation of the LOOK bill, and professional development for the additional civics works. 

The Board then turned to consideration of the spring's MCAS scores and the first year of the updated accountability system. The grade 3-8 MCAS scores are the second year of the MCAS 2.0 scores; as such, it was noted that some trends can be remarked upon. Per Associate Commissioner Michol Stapel, there is "cautious optimism" on grades 3-6 ELA, as more than half of students are now meeting expectations or above; grades 7 and 8 saw an increased spread in performance, with more students not meeting expectations or exceeding them. Mathmatics also sees that spreading in seventh and eighth grade. A dip in fifth grade science scores may perhaps be the result of the not having yet shifted to new practices, per MCAS Chief Analyst Bob Lee. Tenth grade MCAS continues very high in its final year. 

 Turning to accountability, Associate Commissioner Rob Curtin opened by noting it is a baseline year; he said, "I have urged everyone not to try to compare any of the results of this accountability system with the previous." The state did not name any new underperforming or chronically underperforming schools, and four previously underperforming schools were released from that status. The "highest level takeaway" on how the new accountability system has worked in its first year is that 68% of schools were shown to be improving. As it is the intent under the new system to be "very factual in naming things," 74% of schools are not requiring assistance or intervention this year. The Department intends to do more work on the 12% of schools for which there is insufficient data (either due to being too new, too small, or not having tested grades); the question of relevant data for schools that are not tested is being explored. 

Of the 131 schools that have been classified in the lowest 10%, five schools are there solely because their graduation rate is below 66.7%; 27 schools are there solely because of subgroup performance (as noted by member McKenna, those schools' overall performance could be at any other level); and 64 schools are there solely because of low testing participation, which was "overwhelmingly" for not meeting subgroup participation, although this was mitigated by it being measured over two years. The remaining schools are in the lowest 10% for more than one reason.

There is a great deal of data available on the school and district profiles as a result of the increased number of variables being considered, something which bears on the description of "partially meeting targets" when there are significantly more targets to meet. If a school or a district has a percentage of 50% or higher, it means that they are improving; 68% of schools and 67% of districts can be so described. 

Two coming Board updates on this subject are a survey to stakeholders which is currently in the field, and a decision that will need to be made on how to incorporate the tenth graders taking the new MCAS, which may have implications both with the U.S. Department of Education and with the laws regarding accountability. Additionally, the Commissioner continues in his listening tour, and at this time has heard a great deal on the amount of time given over to testing; this is something he'd like to continue work on. Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnson also noted the various kinds of support to districts who are classified as needing intervention.

The Board then was updated on implementation of the regulations on the LOOK bill; there is a structure that has been set up for districts wishing to implement new programs for English learners. There is training, ongoing technical assistance, quick reference guides and forms available. The state is also creating a bilingual endorsement that will be required of teachers in bilingual programs who are not grandfathered (having taught three years in such a program) or already having transitional bilingual certifications or endorsements. There are also now regulations regarding English Learner Parent Advisory Councils and the Seal of Biliteracy.

Finally, upon the request of member Mary Ann Stewart, the Commissioner forwarded to the Board a memo regarding safe schools for LGBTQ students in light of the question on the ballot regarding public accommodation. The Board was reminded that the question does not pertain to laws under their purview, which would not change if Question 3 fails (if "no" wins). Several Board members noted that schools do take students other places for sports and field trips, where students would face discrimination. Stewart said that it is appalling that any civil rights are on the ballot; McKenna said, "We want to protect our children, all children from discrimination." Student member Maya Matthews said it is important for students to know that they are protected in schools, regardless of the outcome of the ballot question. Sagan said, "We consider it non-negotiable."

The Board next meets on November 20.