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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Technical Amendment to Regulations for Accountability and Assistance for School Districts and Schools, 603 CMR 2.00

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:
February 17, 2017

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At the October 25, 2016 meeting, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to solicit public comment on proposed technical amendments to 603 CMR 2.00, Regulations for Accountability and Assistance for School Districts and Schools. I recommend that the Board take a final vote on the amendments to the regulations at the February 28, 2017 Board meeting.

Background: Proposed Amendments

Among other things, the Accountability and Assistance regulations describe the process for developing and implementing turnaround plans for schools that have been declared underperforming (placed in Level 4) and for schools and districts that have been declared chronically underperforming (placed in Level 5). As we discussed in October, the proposed technical amendments make clear that a turnaround plan remains in effect until the statutory process to develop a new, modified, or renewed turnaround plan is completed, or the school or district is no longer designated as underperforming or chronically underperforming.

Using Level 4 schools as an example: the Achievement Gap Act requires the commissioner to conduct a review of a Level 4 school "upon the expiration of the turnaround plan" to determine whether the school will exit Level 4, remain in Level 4, or be declared chronically underperforming (Level 5). G.L. c. 69, § 1J(l). If the commissioner determines that the school will remain in Level 4, the superintendent, with the approval of the commissioner, will either renew the turnaround plan, or create a new or modified turnaround plan, consistent with the statutory process (e.g., convening a local stakeholder group to make recommendations regarding the turnaround plan, submitting a preliminary turnaround plan to stakeholders for their review, and considering proposed modifications before providing a final turnaround plan). The proposed technical amendments make clear that during the period that a new or modified turnaround plan is under development, the prior turnaround plan remains in effect. This allows for a smooth transition, avoids the disruption that would occur if a turnaround plan expired before the planning process required by the statute has been completed and the successor plan has been put in place, and conforms to the Department's practice with Level 4 schools.

The technical amendments are also relevant in those instances where the commissioner makes a determination that a school will exit Level 4 or Level 5. The exit determination is based on many factors, including the school's MCAS scores during the last year under the turnaround plan. The MCAS data are not available until after the school year has ended, while Level 4 and 5 turnaround plans generally expire in June. Allowing the "expired" turnaround plan to remain in place during the period of deliberation is important because it allows the exit decision to be made carefully, based on all the requisite data.

Review and Public Comment

The Board's Accountability and Assistance Advisory Council (AAAC) reviewed and discussed the proposed amendments at its meetings on October 26, 2016 and January 20, 2017. The AAAC includes representatives from the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Massachusetts Association of School Committees, and the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, among others. The AAAC offered general support for the technical amendment, although the Massachusetts Teachers Association noted it was submitting specific concerns through the public comment process.

During the public comment period, the Department received one comment: a letter from the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) dated December 9, 2016 (attached). In general, the MTA's letter focuses on the collective bargaining rights of teachers, whereas the Achievement Gap Act focuses on the rights of the students in Level 4 schools and Level 5 schools and districts, who are the intended beneficiaries of the law and the turnaround plans. The MTA's specific comments, and our responses, fall into 5 categories.

  1. The Time Frame for Review of Turnaround Plans for Schools Exiting Level 4 or 5

    The MTA asserts that there is no rationale for extending the duration of a turnaround plan for a school that will be removed from Level 4 or Level 5 status. Specifically:

    The proposed regulations do not define a time frame for how long an expired turnaround plan may remain in effect other than reference to the 'statutory process' that applies when a school is first designated as underperforming or chronically underperforming. For any school that will be removed from underperforming or chronically underperforming status, there is no further 'statutory process' and, accordingly, there is no rationale for extending the duration of the turnaround plan for any period of time.

    MTA letter at p. 2. This assertion fails to take account the circumstances discussed above. The decision that a school is ready to exit from Level 4 or 5 status is based on a careful review of all the relevant data, including data from the final year of the turnaround plan. If the decision is made prematurely, it would fail to give credit to the school's faculty and leadership for their turnaround efforts in the most recent year and the default would likely be simply to extend the school's Level 4 or 5 status. In order to make the decision based on all the relevant data and maintain stability for the students and school community, it is necessary to extend the turnaround plan during the review period.

    The MTA also raises a concern about the length of time an "expired" turnaround plan will remain in place. To some extent, that period is defined by the statutory process for creating a new turnaround plan. See, e.g., G.L. c. 69, § 1J (b)-(g). The period the turnaround plan remains in place also includes time for the commissioner to make a determination regarding the school's status. We agree that it is appropriate to place reasonable boundaries on the timing of the commissioner's determination. Accordingly, I propose that the regulations be further amended to include that the commissioner will make the determination of whether a school will remain in Level 4 or 5 status "in a reasonable period of time, and in any event within 2 months following the release of MCAS test results. The Commissioner may extend this period of time for good cause."1

    While it is appropriate to include reasonable time limits for the decision-making process, it is also important to permit an extension of time for good cause. There have been several situations where my decision-making process about a school's status was extended. The Level 4 middle schools in Springfield provide a good example. As the Board will recall, I was concerned about the lack of progress those schools were making, and considered declaring them chronically underperforming (Level 5). Instead, the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership (SEZP), a groundbreaking voluntary partnership of Springfield Public Schools (SPS), the Department, and the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership board, was created. SEZP now manages these three underperforming SPS middle schools, along with four others.

  2. When Does the "Clock Start"?

    The MTA asserts that the time during which the statutory process for creating a new, modified, or renewed turnaround plan takes place "should count toward the renewed period of state control." MTA letter at pp. 2-3. This suggested change would mean that students would not have the benefit of a new turnaround plan for its full term. That result is not consistent with the Achievement Gap Act, and therefore I believe that changing the proposed regulations is unwarranted.

  3. Role for Local Stakeholder Group

    The MTA suggests that the regulation should allow the local stakeholder group to "restore" any "rights or benefits" that were altered as a result of changes to provisions in collective bargaining agreements, contracts, or policies. MTA letter at p. 3. This suggested revision to the regulations would provide the local stakeholder group with powers far beyond those granted by the statute, and I do not recommend any change.

  4. Additional Turnaround Plan Requirements

    The MTA also suggests that the proposed regulations should require any new, modified or renewed turnaround plan to address the "efficacy or inefficacy of the features of the preceding turnaround plan in producing school improvements" and "state the grounds and evidence for the continuation, revision, or elimination of the plan's features." MTA letter at p. 3. The MTA's request would place additional and unnecessary requirements on the Department that are not statutorily required. I do not recommend changing the proposed regulations.

  5. Application of Comments to G.L. c. 69, § 1K

    The MTA notes that its comments focus on turnaround plans arising under G.L. c. 69, § 1J (relating to underperforming and chronically underperforming schools), and indicates that any revisions of the regulations relating to G.L. c. 69, § 1K (relating to chronically underperforming districts) should address the same concerns. The reasons provided above for not adopting the MTA's proposed changes apply equally to turnaround plans for chronically underperforming districts. Therefore, I do not recommend changes beyond those included in the attached proposed regulations.

    In summary, the proposed amendments are consistent with our responsibilities under the statute, provide clarity about procedures, and maintain stability in educational programs for the students who are the intended beneficiaries of the turnaround plans. We have revised the proposed amendments to include reasonable boundaries on the timing of the commissioner's decision. I recommend that the Board approve the amended regulations, as presented. A red-lined copy of the proposed changes to the regulations is attached, along with a motion.

    Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston will be available at the Board meeting to answer your questions.

Enclosures:

Download Word Document
Proposed Technical Amendment to Regulations on Accountability and Assistance for School Districts and Schools, 603 CMR 2.00 - clean version
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Proposed Technical Amendment to Regulations on Accountability and Assistance for School Districts and Schools, 603 CMR 2.00 - strikethrough version (redlined version)
 
Public comment from Massachusetts Teachers Association
 
Motion

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Last Updated: February 27, 2017
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