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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

School and District Accountability and Assistance

To:Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:December 4, 2009


This memo provides an update on the Department's work on Accountability and Assistance since September. While it requires no action by the Board at the December meeting, I am asking for Board comment on two issues:

  1. Conceptual modifications I am considering in the regulations that will govern our accountability work (Attachment A); and,
  2. The process I am proposing for identifying Level 4 schools in early 2010 (Attachment B).

A draft of the proposed regulations is being reviewed by the Advisory Council on Accountability and Assistance (AAAC) on Wednesday, December 9th. We will incorporate its feedback and send to the Board the analysis of all comments and the proposed regulations on Thursday, December 10th.

The rest of the memo is for information purposes and designed to keep the Board apprised of the progress being made in the critical arena of accountability and assistance.

Regulations: Legislative Context

In September the Board voted to solicit public comment on proposed regulations on accountability and assistance based on current statute with the understanding that I would return in December with an analysis of the comments received and recommend that the Board adopt final regulations. In the interim, the Joint Committee on Education reported out a bill on accountability, the Senate adopted amendments, and the House will be considering the amendments in early January. Legislative leaders have expressed their intent to complete action prior to the January 19, 2010 deadline for Massachusetts' submission of its application under the federal Race to the Top competitive grant opportunity.

The legislation under consideration is consistent with the framework the Board has discussed over the past eighteen months. (See Attachment C for the latest version of the graphic). That said, the legislation proposes to replace the two current laws governing school and district accountability with new statute that frames Board, Commissioner and district responsibilities somewhat differently than the current laws do. To adopt regulations now that are based on current law when new statutes are likely imminent will confuse the field. As a result, I am not seeking Board adoption of new regulations at the December meeting.

Instead, I will provide information and seek comment from the Board on topics that will help me respond quickly to any new legislation that is enacted with regulations that are consistent with both the specifics of the statute and the Board's discretion. I will provide the analysis my staff has completed of public comments received during the public comment period on the draft regulations, and highlight changes we propose to incorporate into the new regulations that will be drafted to implement new statutory language. Of special note, I will seek Board guidance on the process and criteria to be used to identify schools in need of intervention at Levels 4 and 5 of the Accountability Framework. This is of particular importance because Senate 2216 calls for the Legislature to comment on proposed regulations on this topic:

The board shall adopt regulations establishing standards for the commissioner to make such designations on the basis of data collected pursuant to section 1I or a school or district review performed under section 55A of chapter 15. Upon the release of the proposed regulations, the board shall file a copy thereof with the clerks of the house of representatives and the senate who shall refer the regulations to the joint committee on education. Within 30 days of the filing, the committee may hold a public hearing on the regulations, shall issue a report and file a copy thereof with the board. The board, pursuant to applicable law, may adopt final regulations making the revisions in the proposed regulations as it deems appropriate after consideration of the report and shall forthwith file a copy of the regulations with the chairpersons of the joint committee on education and, not earlier than 30 days of the filing, the board shall file the final regulations with the state secretary.

Regulations: Public Comment and Response

Analysis of Public Comment to Date

DESE staff have compiled and analyzed all comments received on the draft regulations during the review period. They also compiled recommendations for changes made by DESE staff and others. The comments, responses, and my recommendations for revisions to the draft regulations will be sent to the Board on December 10th as Attachment A for this memo. I will be seeking Board comment on the major refinements I am proposing. These changes from the draft regulations you reviewed in September are in these areas: definitions of terms; language in the conditions for school effectiveness; requirements for the intervention planning process, and parameters for the low-performing mathematics programs.

Next Steps

As I indicated above, I am not requesting action by the Board, only discussion so that I can know the Board's preferences as we move forward to draft regulations consistent with the legislation that we expect to be enacted in January. If no new legislation is adopted then I will bring the current regulations to the Board in January because, no matter what, we need to move forward with implementation f the new accountability and assistance framework the Board and Department have been working on for the past eighteen months.

Level 4 and 5 School Identification and Intervention

Under the Accountability and Assistance Framework the Board has been reviewing over the past months, schools are to be identified for Level 4 designation based on a combination of absolute student achievement and improvement trends over time with consideration also given to the school's median student growth percentile. The schools - and their districts - are then placed at Level 4 under the theory of action that a district is responsible for ensuring that all of its schools are successful. The proposed state legislation and new federal regulations establish a new context for both identification and intervention.

Level 4 and 5: New state legislative and federal regulatory context

Senate 2216 calls for Level 4 and 5 schools to be selected from among the lowest performing 20% of the schools in the Commonwealth. In addition, the legislation limits the number of schools that can be placed at Level 4 and 5 to not more than 5% of schools (92 schools). Finally, the legislation sets limits on the number of districts that can be placed at Level 5 to 2% (6 districts).

Since outlining our plan for identifying Level 4 schools at the September Board meeting, we have also reviewed carefully the draft guidelines for the Title I School Improvement Section G ("G") grants. We had expected the "G" funds to be the primary source of funding for districts intervening in their Level 4 schools. The "G" grants are being funded at an unprecedented level: $20 million annually for the foreseeable future, supplemented by $50 million in Stimulus funding for 2010 and 2011. Grant awards to districts for each of their eligible schools can range from $50,000 to $1,000,000+ annually for up to three years.

We now know that "G" grants must be distributed to districts through a competitive grant process with no guarantee of a set established amount of money such as the $250,000 per year average we had anticipated. In addition, DESE must give priority to the 5% lowest performing Title I schools and secondary schools with comparable low performance that are eligible for, but not currently receiving, Title I funds.

Finally, the draft federal regulations require that "G" money be used only for specifically defined models of school intervention that the regulations describe as "only the most rigorous interventions". The four proposed models of intervention are:

  • Transformation: requiring four specific actions "critical to transforming the lowest achieving schools" - replacing the principal and developing teacher and school leader effectiveness, using comprehensive instructional reform strategies, extending learning time and creating community-oriented schools, providing operating flexibility and sustained support.
  • Turnaround: replacing the principal and at least 50% of the staff, adopting a new governance structure, and implementing a new or revised instructional program
  • Restart: closing the school and reopening it under the management of a charter school operator, charter management organization, or an educational management organization that has been selected through a rigorous review process
  • Closure: closing the school and enrolling the students who attended the school in other, high-achieving schools in the district

If a district has 9 or more schools identified for intervention under the terms of the grant, then it is not allowed to implement the same model of intervention in more than 50% of those schools. (See Attachment D for excerpts from the draft federal regulations about each form of school intervention.)

Level 4 and 5 schools: Placement at Level 4

Our proposal for identifying Level 4 schools seeks to:

  1. Account for the Board's past actions in identifying schools as "Commonwealth Pilot", "underperforming" or "chronically underperforming",
  2. Accommodate the requirements of the "G" grant money,
  3. Comply with the requirements anticipated in new state legislation, and
  4. Achieve the "reciprocal accountability" principle explicit in the new Accountability and Assistance Framework of not identifying more schools (or districts) for intervention than can reasonably be assisted to improve with available assistance.

To that end,

  1. We plan to identify the lowest performing 5% of the Commonwealth's 1,800 schools, by level (elementary, middle school, K-8, and high school), based on the percentage of students earning failing or warning scores on MCAS over the past four years, and, in the case of high schools, including data on graduation rates.

  2. Within that grouping we will identify the lowest performing 40 schools by level based on a combination of a) percentage earning failing and warning scores in ELA and mathematics over four years, b) four-year average composite proficiency index (CPI), c) change in composite proficiency index (CPI) in ELA and mathematics over four years, d) median student growth percentile in ELA and mathematics over two years (one year for high schools), and e) for high schools, graduation rate over four years.

  3. We will exclude alternative schools from inclusion in this list of proposed Level 4 schools; they will, however, remain on the list of lowest performing 5% of schools and be eligible for "G" grant funding.*

  4. We are reviewing performance trends in all 40 of the schools still in existence that the Board identified between 2000 and 2006 as "Commonwealth Pilot" or "underperforming". Of these, we will identify:
    • Schools that are among the 40 schools identified as the lowest performing under #2 above;
    • Schools that have made significant progress and can be recognized as successfully "turned around";
    • Schools that have made sufficient progress to be designated as Level 3 schools;
    • Schools that have not made progress but have student performance that places them above the 20% cut-off being used in proposed legislation for inclusion in level 4 or 5;
    • Schools that are not among the 40 schools identified above, but have not made sufficient progress to warrant redesignation and should, therefore, be designated as Level 4 schools

We estimate that the above process will result in up to 60 schools being identified as "Level 4 schools", approximately 3.3% of all schools in the Commonwealth. (See Attachment B for a draft description of Level 4 Criteria). All will be eligible for federal school intervention funding under Title I Section G (if they are Title I-eligible schools), as will the schools identified at level 3 that fall within the federal guideline of lowest performing 5%.

*There are twelve (12) district-run secondary alternative schools. Almost without exception, student performance and graduation rates are extremely low. The Centers for Targeted Assistance and Secondary Programs are collaborating on a joint effort to help districts address the challenging issues these schools present. When students in secondary alternative programs are added to the students enrolled in alternative schools, the total number of students served approaches 6,000. It is time that the special challenges for staffing, curriculum, facilities and social supports begin to be addressed through an ESE-led coherent, comprehensive and statewide strategy. That work has begun with the award of ten (10) ARRA Title IID technology grants to support the development of technology-enhanced, hybrid on-line core academic courses designed specifically for under-served secondary students in alternative settings.

Proposed Designation of Commonwealth Priority Schools

Current regulations define Commonwealth Priority Schools as schools "identified for Corrective Action or Restructuring in English language arts and/or mathematics for students in the aggregate as a result of failing, for four or more years, to make AYP in the same subject(s)". Currently, there approximately 266 schools that would meet this criteria. We are proposing that DESE no longer use this term and schools formerly classified as "Commonwealth Priority Schools" be placed in the appropriate accountability Level (1, 2, 3, or 4) based on performance.

Level 4 and 5 Schools: Placement at Level 5

We reviewed the performance trends in the two schools still in existence* that the Board identified in 2005 as "chronically underperforming" (Kuss and Lord Middle Schools in Fall River). Because the Kuss made adequate yearly progress in the aggregate in 2009, we are recommending that it be designated at Level 4. The Lord did not achieve adequate yearly progress. As a result, we will be recommending that the Center for School and District Accountability conduct a school review to determine whether it should be placed at Level 5.

* The Peck Middle School in Holyoke has closed; the building now houses a new K-8 school.

Information: Support for Effective District Intervention at Levels 4 and 5

The Office of School Redesign is working with the Center for Targeted Assistance to develop a planning timetable and protocol that ensures district awareness of the competitive requirements for the new Title I "G" School Improvement Grants, and ensures that districts will be able to access a first installment of the funds for "early implementation" of their plans as early as May 2010. DESE is developing tools to assist districts in diagnosing needs and selecting interventions including: student and staff surveys, a self-assessment of the "Conditions for School Effectiveness" for district and school staff, and a "toolkit" for developing professional learning communities through district and school "data teams", "learning walks" and effective use of common planning time. The Center for Targeted Assistance has also issued a "request for responses" (RFR) built around the "Conditions for School Effectiveness" through which it expects to identify third party vendors capable of serving as effective partners for districts and schools seeking to make strong and sustained improvement. Eventually, the Center expects to identify from this initial group of approved vendors "preferred providers" whom it will solicit for work with Level 3, 4 and 5 districts and schools.

Information: Regional District and School Assistance Centers (DSAC)

As reported in September, the Center for Targeted Assistance is leading the development of six regional "District and School Assistance Centers" to help ensure that districts and schools at Levels 3, 2 and 1 have tools and assistance that can help them improve student achievement. A cross-agency effort using primarily Title I and other federal funds that can be sustained into the future, the regional district and school assistance centers will focus this year and next on services to districts at Level 3 of the Accountability Framework. That said, districts at Level 1 and 2 are eligible to take advantage of resources being introduced through the Centers, including the searchable database of teacher contracts, the findings of the 2009 district reviews on district practices associated with success for students with special needs, and self-assessment tools being developed for districts eager to anticipate district accountability reviews. (See Attachment E for the menu of services available this year through the DSACs).

Information: 2009-2010 District Reviews

Comprehensive Reviews of Level 3 Districts (9)

The Center for Accountability will conduct nine (9) comprehensive reviews of districts designated at Level 3 of the new Accountability and Assistance Framework.

At least one district is in each of the six regions served by the new regional District and School Assistance Centers. Distributing the reviews regionally will lay the foundation for regional networks of Level 3 districts that will be able to tap new resources for self-assessment.

Comprehensive Review of Level 4 District (1)

The Center for Accountability will conduct a comprehensive review of one (1) Level 4 district, Southbridge, to determine its capacity to sustain the improvements evident recently in student performance.

Best Practices District Reviews for English Language Learners (11)

The Office of School Improvement Grant Planning has identified twenty-nine (29) Title I schools in thirteen (13) districts where performance of English Language Learners on statewide tests of English and MCAS results (proficiency and growth) appears to exceed expectations. DESE staff analyzed LEP student improvement using individual student growth percentiles and changes in Composite Performance Index (CPI) over the past two years (2008 and 2009).

The Center for Accountability is contacting each of the districts to invite them to participate in a comprehensive review of district practices to identify district practices associated with stronger performance for English language learners. Districts accepting the invitation to participate in the review are also eligible for Title I B Academic Achievement Grant funding because of the performance of their identified schools. They will be able to use the grant funding to deepen implementation of school-based promising practices and disseminate the practices to other schools within the district and beyond.

Information: Report from Advisory Council on Accountability and Assistance

The Advisory Council will have met three times this school year: September, October and December 9, 2009. At its December 9th meeting, the Council will review and discuss the information and proposals contained in this memo. Chair Joseph Esposito will present the Council's conclusions and recommendations in its semi-annual report.


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A.  Analysis of Public Comment on Draft Accountability and Assistance Regulations with proposed revised regulations, December 4, 2009
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B.  Draft Process for Identifying Level 4 Schools, December 4, 2009
C.  Accountability and Assistance Framework, December 4, 2009
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D.  Draft Regulations for federal Title I G School Improvement Grant Program, Federal Register Vol. 74, No. 164, Wednesday, August 26, 2009/Notices
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E.  DSAC (District + School Assistance Center) Menu of Professional Development + Targeted Assistance Offerings 2009-2010, November 2009

Last Updated: December 10, 2009
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