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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Progress Report on the Department's Level 4 District Accountability and Assistance Work

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:
September 10, 2010

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The purpose of this memo is to provide the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) with background on the Department's accountability and assistance work with "underperforming" districts, so that the Board has the information it needs to carry out its responsibilities under the regulations on Accountability and Assistance that the Board adopted in April 2010. It is the Board's responsibility, following a recommendation from the Commissioner, to determine whether or not to place a district at Level 5 of the five-level accountability system. I will be presenting recommendations for the level designations for each of five districts to the Board by spring 2011. Our discussion this month gives Board members an opportunity to pose questions and offer suggestions well in advance of receiving my recommendations. I will be bringing recommendations for each of the four districts currently identified as "Level 4" districts: Gill-Montague, Holyoke, Randolph and Southbridge. In addition, I will make a recommendation concerning Fall River, a district currently working to meet the requirements of a mutually-agreed upon Recovery Plan. The Fall River work is detailed in a separate memo.

Legislative and Regulatory Context

In August 2008 a state law was enacted giving the Department responsibility for district accountability reviews formerly overseen by the Educational Management Audit Council (EMAC) and the Office of Education Quality and Accountability (EQA), which no longer exist. In fall 2008, the Department reorganized to carry out the requirements of the new law, replacing the Center for Accountability and Targeted Assistance with two centers: the Center for Targeted Assistance under Associate Commissioner Lynda Foisy, and the Center for District and School Accountability, under Director Eva Mitchell. Deputy Commissioner Karla Baehr oversees both Centers.

The new state law also required the Board to establish an Advisory Council on School and District Accountability and Assistance (AAAC). That Council began meeting in late fall 2008 to advise the Commissioner on the development of a new framework for district and school accountability and assistance. In January 2010 the Governor signed An Act Relative to the Achievement Gap which revised the state statutes on underperforming schools and districts. In April 2010, the Board adopted comprehensive new regulations for underperforming schools and districts consistent with the new law and the Framework for Accountability and Assistance that had been developed in consultation with the AAAC.

"Underperforming" Districts

Prior to 2008, the Board had designated five school districts as "underperforming" pursuant to the statute and regulations then in effect: Winchendon (2003), Holyoke (2003), Southbridge (2004), Gill-Montague Regional School District (2006), and Randolph Public Schools (2007). Under the Department's guidance, each district developed a turnaround plan designed to improve its systems and student achievement. The Board approved the turnaround plans and has received annual updates on progress.

In 2008, upon recommendation of the Commissioner, the Board removed Winchendon from its status as an underperforming district based on the progress it had achieved in improving systems and student achievement.

"Level 4" Districts

The regulations adopted in April 2010 placed the previously designated underperforming districts into "Level 4" of the new Framework for Accountability and Assistance. The regulations clarified the process for a district in Level 4 to be monitored, periodically reviewed and considered for removal from Level 4, either to Level 3 if systems and practices were substantially improved, or to Level 5 if the district required more intense intervention to improve its systems and student achievement.

To assess each district's progress in implementing its turnaround plan to strengthen district practices and improve student achievement, the Department (through the Center for District Accountability) is conducting a comprehensive district review in each Level 4 district in 2010.

Holyoke Public Schools

History
The EQA conducted its first review of the operations of the Holyoke Public Schools in January 2003, which led the Educational Management Audit Council (EMAC) in May 2003 to recommend the district to the Board for a declaration of underperformance. In November 2003, the Board declared the Holyoke School District underperforming.

Following the Board's declaration of underperformance, the EQA conducted a fact-finding review in January 2004 to serve as a benchmark for the district's improvement and to inform improvement planning. Holyoke used the findings from this review in creating its turnaround plan. The Board approved Holyoke's turnaround plan in September 2004. In May 2007, an eight-member EQA team conducted a four-day site visit and review of student achievement data and documents. Its Turnaround Plan Benchmarking Report described the progress of the Holyoke Public Schools from the time of the fact-finding review in January 2004 through spring 2007.

Monitoring and Review
The Department's Center for Targeted Assistance monitors the district's implementation of its turnaround plan through visits to the district by a specialist and review of the district's periodic progress reports.

The Department's Center for District and School Accountability is conducting a Level 4 district review in Holyoke Public Schools during the week of October 25, 2010.

Assistance
In May 2005, the Department contracted with America's Choice, Inc. as the lead partner to the Holyoke Public Schools in support of their turnaround plan implementation. Over time, this organization adapted their school reform model to focus on building the district's capacity to improve and oversee the quality of education being delivered in all its schools. This engagement has been phased out; in the current school year (2010-2011), district leaders assume full responsibility for engaging the curricular and instructional improvements that have been strengthened through this support. The Department provided Holyoke district and school leaders with the opportunity to participate as a stand-alone cohort in the National Institute for School Leadership (NISL) training over a two-year period. In addition, the Department's Urban District Assistance unit has annually provided the district with grant funds to support specific improvement initiatives set out in the Turnaround Plan. A Department liaison is assigned to the district and provides support to district leaders by facilitating the provision of other technical assistance efforts offered by the Department.

In June 2008 and again in July 2009, the Department contracted with an outside evaluator, the Meristem Group, to conduct evaluations of progress made by the Holyoke Public Schools as a result of the Department's interventions. These reports were presented to the Board at a special meeting held on October 20, 2009.

In November 2009, the Department supported the Holyoke School Committee's superintendent search by assigning a Department representative to the search committee. The Department's liaison participated in all meetings and interviews, providing guidance and advice throughout the process. The newly-appointed superintendent is participating in the three-year New Superintendents' Induction Program launched in August by the Department in collaboration with the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents (M.A.S.S.).

Results to date
Stronger infrastructure has not yet translated to stronger MCAS performance. Holyoke's performance in the aggregate and subgroups has continued to be low and has shown little improvement compared to state results, since 2006 (the Turnaround Plan began in the 2004-2005 school year). The district has had some growth in the 2010 school year, most notably in for math and for low-income, LEP and Hispanic students, but growth is approximately the state average and the current level of low performance requires much greater growth for Holyoke to make the necessary progress in student achievement. (see the Appendix for details).

Southbridge Public Schools

History
The Office of Educational Quality and Accountability (EQA) reviewed the operations of the Southbridge Public Schools in February 2003 and May 2004. In September 2004, the Board declared the Southbridge Public Schools to be an underperforming school district. The Commissioner assigned a District Leadership Evaluation review team which spent time in Southbridge to gain an understanding of the district's capacity to make improvements and change the direction of its education system. The Department conducted a fact-finding review in October 2004 to serve as a benchmark for the district's improvement and to inform improvement planning and issued a Leadership Report to evaluate the district's capacity to implement the changes, identify priorities for action, and determine specific technical assistance to provide to the district.

The Southbridge Public Schools used the findings from the Department's Leadership Report to create its turnaround plan. The Board accepted Southbridge's plan in December 2005. The turnaround plan contained six initiatives to address the district's needs in the areas of: Leadership; Standards-based Curriculum; Local Fiscal Support; Communication and Outreach to Parents and Community; District and School Vision, Mission, and Goals; and Data-driven Action Plans.

The EQA revisited Southbridge in 2007 to determine the status of each of the action steps. The 2007 Turnaround Plan Benchmarking Report: Southbridge Public Schools indicated that in most cases the action steps for the six initiatives had been completed.

Monitoring and Review
The Department's Center for Targeted Assistance monitors the district's implementation of its turnaround plan through visits to the district by a specialist and review of the district's periodic progress reports.

The Department's Center for District and School Accountability conducted a Level 4 district review in Southbridge Public Schools during the week of February 1, 2010. The Center for Accountability will present the Southbridge review report (posted at R-V District Review Reports) at the October meeting of the Board.

Assistance
In February 2005, the superintendent of the Southbridge Public Schools resigned; the Department recruited and appointed an interim superintendent to provide on-going leadership over the next year. With the hiring of a new superintendent in August 2005, the Department assigned a team of two highly experienced former superintendents to support the district's turnaround work and oversee progress over the next year. In 2006-2007, the Department provided Southbridge district and school leaders with the opportunity to participate in NISL training. Grant funds have been made available to the district each year to support specific initiatives set out in the turnaround plan.

In the spring of 2010, the Department supported the Southbridge School Committee's superintendent search by assigning a Department representative to the search committee. The Department's liaison participated in all meetings and interviews, providing guidance and advice throughout the process. The newly-appointed superintendent is participating in the three-year New Superintendents' Induction Program.

Results to date
Improvements in district and school practices are translating into some improvement in student performance on MCAS. Since the implementation of Southbridge's Turnaround Plan in the 2005-2006 school year, the district has closed the performance gap for the aggregate and low-income students slightly in ELA, but not in math. Performance gaps have widened somewhat for SPED and Hispanic students. (see the Appendix for details).

Gill-Montague Regional School District

History
The Office of Educational Quality and Accountability (EQA) reviewed the operations of the Gill-Montague Regional School District in December 2005. In June 2007, the Board declared the district as underperforming. In October 2007, a three-member team of independent evaluators examined the district's leadership capacity and governance practices, assessing the strengths of the superintendent, the school committee, key central office staff, and building-level leaders. Their District Leadership Evaluation report was provided to Gill-Montague Regional School District in November 2007. The turnaround plan was developed by district leaders and accepted by the Board in April 2008. It focused on four key areas: reorganizing schools, reorganizing personnel at the district office, developing a fiscally-sound budget, and improving educational resources and services at all levels.

Monitoring and Review
The Department's Center for Targeted Assistance monitors the district's implementation of its turnaround plan through visits to the district by a specialist and review of the district's periodic progress reports.

The Department's Center for District and School Accountability is conducting a Level 4 district review in the Gill-Montague Regional Public Schools during the week of September 27, 2010.

Assistance
The Department's Center for Targeted Assistance annually provides grant funding to the Gill-Montague Regional Public Schools to support specific improvement initiatives set out in the district's turnaround plan. In 2008-2009, the Department provided Gill-Montague district and school leaders with the opportunity to participate in NISL training

Results to date
Gill-Montague has not yet made progress in closing the gap between its performance and that of the state since the April 2008 acceptance of its Turnaround Plan, but its low-income students, which historically performed on par with the state average, had greater rates of ELA proficiency compared to the state average in 2010. (see Appendix for details).

Randolph Public Schools

History
The EQA reviewed the Randolph Public Schools in 2004 and 2006, and the Educational Management Audit Council recommended to the Commissioner and the Board that the district be declared underperforming. The Board declared Randolph underperforming in November 2007. The Department conducted a fact-finding review the next month and issued a Leadership Report. The district used the findings from the Department's Leadership Report to create its turnaround plan which was accepted by the Board in June 2008. The turnaround plan contained initiatives to address the district's goals in three areas: (1) Develop, implement and support standards-based curricula and instruction in all content areas, with particular attention to teaching and learning in mathematics; (2) Improve performance for all special education students; and (3) Raise the community's confidence and trust in the quality of education provided to all students through the deliberate design and implementation of opportunities that will create new conditions for positive collaboration.

Monitoring and Review
The Department has assisted and monitored progress in Randolph through a four-person team chaired by Dr. Joan Connolly, retired superintendent of schools from Malden.

The Department's Center for District and School Accountability is conducting a Level 4 district review in the Randolph Public Schools during the week of October 25, 2010.

Assistance
In March 2008, the Commissioner appointed a four-member District Support Team with expertise in district leadership, educational management practices and building collaboration. This team supported the district's efforts to define priority actions and assisted with the development of community consensus-building in order to create the conditions for positive change and collaboration in the Randolph Public Schools and in the Randolph community. Since that time, District Support Team members have continued to interact with various constituencies, including the superintendent and his leadership team, the Randolph School Committee, the Randolph Town Council and other municipal leaders in order to build support for the public schools.

In the spring of 2010, the Department supported the Randolph School Committee's superintendent search by assigning a Department representative to the search committee. The Department's liaison participated in all meetings and interviews, providing guidance and advice throughout the process. The newly-appointed superintendent is participating in the three-year New Superintendents' Induction Program.

Results to date
Randolph's growth in mathematics is notable for low-income, African-American, and Hispanic students, with rates of proficiency that have reached the level of the state for these subgroups. (see Appendix for details).

Looking Ahead

All four of these districts were identified as underperforming prior to the 2008 reorganization of our accountability and targeted assistance functions. With our new structure in place and with transitions in leadership in three of the four districts, the Department is now assigning a part-time accountability monitor to each district through the Center for District and School Accountability, and through our Center for Targeted Assistance we are assigning a part-time assistance liaison to each district with access to all of the resources available through the District and School Assistance Centers (DSAC). We have outlined the responsibilities of each, and have adopted protocols to ensure effective communication. At the same time, we are strengthening the requirements for district turnaround efforts and monitoring in several ways. For example, to eliminate the redundancy caused by having separate district improvement plans and district turnaround plans, we will work with the districts to revise or create a district improvement plan that incorporates the key recommendations from the district reviews and forms the basis for accountability monitoring. The Department's technical assistance provider, with assistance from the DSAC's regional director and the chair of the district review team, will support district leadership to turn the recommendations into strategies, action steps, benchmarks and timelines. In addition, the Department's accountability monitor will prepare more frequent reports of progress against benchmarks for me, and senior staff from the Department will present the reports publicly to the School Committee.

The steps outlined above should enhance our efforts to support the districts identified as underperforming so that they accelerate their progress in improving student achievement. I will keep the Board posted on any significant new developments.



Last Updated: September 16, 2010
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