Public Policy Updates: September Board of Education

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education took their September meeting on the road to Pittsfield, meeting at the new Taconic High School.

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The agenda is online here.

 In his opening remarks, Commissioner Riley noted last week's Joint Committee on Education release of the Student Opportunity Act (S.2348). He spoke of a recent visit regarding literacy to Somerville, and he noted the upcoming (October 1) transfer of Boston's METCO application process to online He mentioned the upcoming revisions to vocational education, which will be coming in two phases: later this fall, revisions of access to vocational programs and on strengthening program quality; later this year or early next year, revision of admission criteria, after continuing to engage with multiple stakeholders, with a particular concern for lack of access to English learners. Riley said the Department had received four charter school applications, none of which are being invited to the next round; he said, "we think we saw some good things in these applications, but they're not there yet." There are three requests for expansion. 

Secretary Peyser said the Governor has introduced a supplemental budget bill with $50M for school improvement funds; $15M for early college programming; $15M to upgrade school security; and $5M in competitive grant funds for STEM initiatives. He said this past year had "produced unexpected revenues."

The Pittsfield Public Schools next presented on Teach Pittsfield, their work on the Teacher Diversification grant, in which they brought 12 interns to Pittsfield from Mass College of the Liberal Arts and from historically Black colleges and universities for a week to gain perspective on what it was like to teach, to teach in Pittsfield, and to live in the Berkshires. Citing the strong evidence of the importance of students, particularly students of color, having teachers of color, Pittsfield created this program to work on recruitment. The students involved spoke of the importance of student loan forgiveness, of the need for moving experiences, of bonuses tied to majors. The district has reflected on what they may do differently in the future--changing what week the program takes place, tying into Albany and Boston as part of the week, working on onboarding and orientation. Pittsfield Superintendent Jake McCandless said the district views, and he hopes the Department views, this as both a short term issue and a long term commitment.

The Board elected James Morton as vice-chair for the year. 

The Berkshire County Education Task Force presented next on their work; they were created under the auspices of MASC, as an all-volunteer committee to making recommendations to enable the sustainance of quality education across Berkshire County. The 32 cities and towns of Berkshire County have swiftly falling enrollment projections; the more than 900 square miles of the county are projected to have less than 13,000 students by 2028. After analyzing five potential scenarios-- make no change; establish 3 regional "modified supervisory union"; establish 1 regional "modified supervisory union"; establish 3 regional districts; establish a single countywide district--across 34 criteria on the long-term best solution for students, the single countywide district was found by the task force to be the best option. At this time, the task force has found that they need a backbone supporting content expertise and subregional incentives. The Berkshires "must not be allowed to become an educational backwater." 

 The Board next took up Commissioner Riley's proposed goals for the 2019-20 school year: 
1. Kaleidoscope Collective for Learning
2. Evidence-based practices (which he includes): diversifying the educator workforce; early literacy; curriculum ratings by teachers (CURATE); acceleration academies; early college
3. "action-oriented research for educational equity" by pursuing the US DoE Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) grant to support data alignment across agencies
4. DESE effectiveness as a partner to schools which will involve "an operational audit of the agency to assess strengths and weaknesses"
5. IEP improvement
6. Collaboration across school and district models
7. Low performing districts: identify districts with high concentrations of schools in the bottom 10 percent of the state's accountability system; "we will selectively conduct district reviews to assess the strengths and challenges of these districts and recommend supports and interventions as needed"

Member Hills asked for some clarification of what of this was the Commissioner's goals versus the Departmental goals; after a bit of discussion, the response was that this is how the Commissioner's goals are generally presented. Member Mary Ann Stewart asked about the Department's strategic plan, which she noted is expiring; the Commissioner said it would be taken up at the retreat. 

The Board next received a report on the 2019 MCAS scores and accountability results. The Department's press release is here; school and district profiles have also been updated. There were overall gains across grades 3-8 MCAS in both ELA and math between 2017 and 2019. Particular highlights: the grade 3 ELA, with essay scores rising by almost a full point an essay; grade 6 math, with more than half of students scoring meeting expectations or higher, and open response scores up 7%; and the transition to full computer-based testing nearly complete. The tenth graders are effectively held harmless, with a legacy standards, per the Board's vote. As one of the Board's directives to the Department was to make MCAS a reflection of college and career readiness, the Department tracked students who took the MCAS in 2010 and followed them through 2018: if they were going to college (and where) and then if they were graduating; students with a 240 (proficient) were graduating from college at a 20% rate.

In setting a new standard, the intent is to set it at a better than 50% chance of actually completing college. Over the summer, 75 teachers with an average of 18 years experience met in four panels: ELA grade 10; math grade 10; science grade 5; science grade 8. They worked in grade and subject groups to make judgments of new cut score recommendations, and, in 10th grade, they verified the interim standard, as well. The proficiency gaps among groups remains significant, and students with similar achievement levels in elementary school fall behind as they head into middle school. 
Regarding accountability, this year adds a second year of data to the system, with 2018 weighted at 40% and 2019 weighted at 60%. Under the system, 71% of Massachusetts schools were shown to be improving or better, and the state has designated 67 schools as "Schools of Recognition" for high growth, high achievement, or progress towards accountability targets. Two schools, the Channing in Boston and Duggan Middle in Springfield, exited underperforming status. 
In terms of schools: 

  • 21% of schools met or exceeded their targets
  • 44% made substantial progress towards their targets
  • 20% made moderate progress towards their targets
  • 1% made limited or no progress towards their targets
  • 12% of schools are in focused or targeted support
  • 2% are in broad or comprehensive support (these are underperforming and chronically underperforming schools)

In terms of districts:

  • 16% of districts are meeting or exceeding their targets
  • 55% are making substantial progress towards their targets
  • 22% are making moderate progress towards their targets
  • 1% made limited or no progress towards targets
  • 5% of districts are in focused or targeted support (for a graduation rate below 67%, low subgroup performance, a data reporting issue, or a participation issue, even after Board revision)
  • 1% of districts are in state receivership

There are no new underperforming or chronically underperforming designations at this time; the Commissioner noted they can be declared at any point in the year. Earlier in the meeting, the Commissioner had noted that of the schools in Boston, 42 require intervention and 32 are among the lowest 10% in the state. Member Hills asked if this meant that Boston was particularly of concern. While the numbers of schools and students naturally are high due to the size of the district, the Commissioner did note his concern, and cited his last goal, in which the regularly-timed review of Boston this year will give insight into the high proportion of schools falling into these categories. 

At the request of the Commissioner, the Board voted to send to public comment a proposal to hold the competency determinations of the legacy MCAS for the class of 2023. While there were some concerned raised by members West and Hills as to the pushing off for another year of the movement of the standard, the vote was in favor. 

The Board closed with a brief update on the budget process, in which CEO Bell noted that the finance department lives in more than one fiscal year: that while they are planning for FY21, they are working to deploy the $5.9B of state aid that comes through the Department. There was a brief discussion of the revenue that would be necessary if the Student Opportunity Act passes; Secretary Peyser noted that inflationary increases would make the amount closer to $2B, while Bell said,  "Suffice to say that if the bill becomes law, there will be a clear funding commitment."

The Board moved to executive session for four matters of litigation, and adjourned from there. 
The Board next meets on October 29.