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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Discussion of Next-Generation Accountability and Assistance System

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Jeffrey C. Riley, Commissioner
Date:
May 9, 2018

At the December 2017 and January 2018 meetings of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board), the Board discussed the overall design of our state's new district and school accountability system and the proposed weighting of indicators within the accountability system. At the March 2018 meeting, the Board voted to solicit public comment on proposed regulations for the new accountability and assistance system. We will continue the discussion at the May 14 special meeting, where we will present an overview of the accountability system and focus on the types of assistance that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) will provide to districts and schools that are identified as in need of support. The special meeting is an opportunity to review and discuss the system in detail. No votes will be taken. At the June 26 Board meeting, I will ask the Board to approve the accountability and assistance system along with the final regulations.

Background

State and federal laws require the Department to implement a system of district and school accountability. In recent Board meetings, we have discussed the framework for the new accountability system, as approved in the Massachusetts state plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The new system allows the Department to identify schools that require assistance or intervention and those that are demonstrating success, by including additional accountability indicators, focusing on the performance of each school as a whole and of its lowest performing students, and categorizing schools based on the type of support the Department would provide to them.

Accountability System Design

The framework for our new accountability system allows the Department to identify schools that require assistance or intervention, as well as schools that are demonstrating success. It maintains a single statewide accountability system that meets both state and federal requirements. Highlights of the new system include:

  • The inclusion of additional accountability indicators, which will provide information about school performance and student opportunities beyond test scores;
  • A focus on raising the performance of each school's lowest performing students in addition to the performance of the school as a whole; and
  • The discontinuation of accountability and assistance levels (Levels 1 to 5), which will be replaced with accountability categories that better define the progress that schools are making and the type of support or assistance they may receive from the Department.

Statewide System of Support

The Department's Statewide System of Support (SSoS) is the vehicle through which the Department works to meet its Strategic Goal #3: "Massachusetts will turn around the lowest performing schools and districts by supporting schools in their implementation of improvement strategies with a variety of proven and context-specific interventions." (The Department's Strategic Plan Goal #3, May 2015) Through the SSoS, the Department deploys assistance teams made up of Department employees to Level 3 and 4 districts to work in partnership with local educators helping them transform their schools and districts into higher performing systems. In addition, under the Commissioner's direction, the SSoS manages the Department's direct oversight of schools and districts identified as Level 5 or chronically underperforming.

The Statewide System of Support is currently composed of Department offices that provide assistance, research, and resources to turnaround schools and districts. Three of these offices provide direct technical assistance to Level 3, 4 and 5 districts and schools.

  • The Office of District and School Turnaround (ODST) consists of liaisons that provide direct support to eight of the state's largest and highest-poverty Level 3 and 4 districts and their schools.
  • District and School Assistance Centers (DSACs) contract with teams of former school superintendents and principals, as well as data and content specialists, to deliver direct support to small and medium-sized Level 3 and 4 schools and districts in six geographic regions.
  • The Office of Strategic Transformation (OST) oversees the three districts and four schools under state receivership and, using a small team of educators and partners, works with the Commissioner and the receivers to implement the turnaround plans.

All assistance the SSoS provides rests on a strong foundation of evidence-based research derived from Massachusetts and other states' successful turnaround schools and districts. This research base provides models and strategies for the SSoS staff to guide schools and districts to make similar progress in their own practices and programs. Targeted supports include coaching and training for school and district educators on the research-based practices, and facilitating practices to ensure their effective and sustained implementation. The staff also facilitate strong data use and connect educators to other Department programs and resources to enhance local capacity.

Statewide System of Support Review and Restructuring Principles

In the winter of 2017, the SSoS leadership initiated a review to reflect on its capacity, operations, and the efficiency of the system to provide effective support to the targeted schools and districts. This review was driven by multiple factors that included: 1) reduced resources for staffing, particularly in ODST, 2) increased responsibilities for overseeing schools and districts in receivership, 3) inequitable distribution of targeted assistance staff supporting the highest need schools, 4) the anticipation of new federal and state accountability structures, and 5) a renewed commitment to ensure consistent quality of assistance across the state's multiple delivery systems. This range of challenges pointed to the need to update the system to make better use of available resources to address the agency's turnaround goals.

To inform our response, the SSoS leadership gathered data and input from stakeholders. We analyzed information from focus groups and surveys of district and school leaders, recommendations from consultants based on their external reviews, the SSoS assistance delivery staff, and other Department executive leadership, as well as accountability and performance data. Our goal was to identify what has worked well about our assistance model, and what can be improved.

Based on this review, the SSoS leadership team agreed on a set of design principles to guide the system's restructuring. Chief among these is that the restructured SSoS will build on current successful practices and rely on knowledgeable staff to maintain positive relationships and results. Further, given the reduction in overall resources and staffing capacity, the SSoS will continue to focus most of its direct-targeted assistance on schools in the 10th percentile and below to direct the greatest amount of resources to the schools in greatest need. Turnaround assistance will continue to be offered directly to these highest need schools and, as well, to their districts to help sustain and expand effective improvement strategies beyond just the targeted schools. The Statewide System of Support will strengthen its system-wide data collection to inform and enhance the implementation of best practices in turnaround assistance methods and practices.

New Structure for the Statewide System of Support

Building from these design principles, the SSoS will have the following features starting July 2018:

  • Reconfigured Regional Assistance Delivery: The Office of District and School Turnaround liaisons and DSAC staff will be combined to afford districts and schools in the 10th percentile and below greater access to larger and more varied teams of DESE assistance staff. The "Coastal Region" and the "West/Central Region" will provide assistance to the schools and districts formerly served through ODST and the DSACs in the eastern and western parts of the state. Schools and districts in Level 5 will continue to be supported by the Office of Strategic Transformation (OST), operating as its own region.
  • Dedicated Assistance Leads: Each district with schools in the 10th percentile and below will be assigned an Assistance Lead with a small caseload of one to three districts. The Assistance Leads are Department employees that will deliver and manage the supports for the district and its highest need schools. Assistance Leads will draw on additional talent from members of the SSoS team and consultant partners when needed.
  • Regional Leadership: Co-Directors of Regional Assistance will form two-person leadership teams for the West/Central and Coastal Regions. They will work to ensure that the annual assistance plans agreed on by districts and their Assistance Leads are adequately and equitably staffed and resourced.
  • Continuing Focus on Successful Turnaround Practices: The Statewide System of Support will continue to offer evidence-based turnaround supports using modeling, training, coaching, resources, reviews, and data that districts and schools value in their turnaround efforts. The new regional configurations will foster stronger alignment of assistance strategies and a broader range of expertise to match with local needs and context.
  • Continuing Reflection and Adaptation: The Department will examine assistance strategies this year across the SSoS to continue to refine the system based on capacity, research, and the evolving needs of schools and districts.

Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston, Associate Commissioner Ventura Rodriguez, and Associate Commissioner Rob Curtin will be at the special meeting on May 14 to review the new accountability and assistance system design and respond to your questions.

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MA Next-Generation Accountability System Presentation


Last Updated: May 10, 2018
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