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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Amendment to Competency Determination Requirement in History and Social Science, 603 CMR 30.04(3)

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:
May 13, 2011

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Purpose

On March 22, 2011, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to solicit public comment on a proposed amendment to the Competency Determination Regulations regarding the effective date for students to earn the Competency Determination in history and social science. This memorandum provides background on the issue, a summary of the public comment we received, initiatives we have underway to promote and support teaching and learning in history and social science, and my recommendation that the Board vote to adopt the proposed amendment.

Background

State law (Mass. Gen. Laws Chapter 69, Section 1D) requires students to earn a Competency Determination (CD) in order to be eligible for high school graduation. The Board has defined the academic standards for the CD in the Competency Determination Regulations, 603 CMR 30.

The requirement for students to earn a CD in history and social science (specifically in U.S. history) were scheduled to begin with the class of 2012. In response to budget constraints, the Board voted in February 2009 to suspend testing in history and social science in grades 5, 7, and high school, and waived the CD requirement in U.S. history for students in the classes of 2012 and 2013. In the fall of 2010, the Board voted to include in its FY 2012 budget request additional funding to resume history and social science testing and to increase academic supports for students. These funding requests have not been included in the FY2012 budget proposed by the Governor nor the budget adopted by the House. Consequently, we are likely to enter FY 2012 without the resources the Department and schools need to implement the MCAS history and social science testing program in the next school year. Given the continued uncertainty of such funding in the future, the proposed amendment seeks to align Department policy with existing state budget realities.

Public Comment

The Department received three comments on the proposed amendment. Two acknowledged the budget constraints that prompted the proposed amendment and all three requested that the Board establish a date certain for implementing the CD requirement for U.S. history. All express concern that without a firm timetable for instituting statewide assessment and the CD requirement in history, schools may not give priority to instruction in this important subject. Attachment 1 summarizes the three comments and includes the text of the comments.

Recommended Action

I have concluded that the timeframe in the proposed amendment for implementing the CD requirement in history and social science represents a responsible policy in light of continued budget uncertainty. I agree with the view expressed in the comments that high quality teaching and learning in history and social science are essential to K-12 education. As highlighted in the final section of this memorandum, I have committed the Department to pursue several initiatives to support this vital discipline.

The proposed amendment would replace the current regulation, 603 CMR 30.03(4), which reads as follows:

(4) Students starting with the graduating class of 2012, in addition to meeting the requirements contained in 603 CMR 30.02(2) and (3), shall meet or exceed the Needs Improvement scaled score of 220 on the History and Social Science high school MCAS test.

The proposed new regulation would read as follows:

(4) Starting in the third consecutive year that the History and Social Science high school assessment is administered, in addition to meeting the requirements contained in 603 CMR 30.02(2) and (3), students shall meet or exceed the passing standard on the History and Social Science high school assessment.

By voting to adopt this amendment to the regulations, the Board will accomplish three important objectives.

  • First, since we do not yet know when funding for this assessment will be appropriated, the amendment pegs implementation of the CD requirement to the time when it is in its third consecutive year of administration, whenever that may be.
  • Second, once testing in this area begins, the amendment calls for two years of testing in which there are no state consequences for students. As such, the schedule provides fair notice about performance expectations, enabling students and educators to prepare for the time when students must pass the assessment as a condition for graduating. We followed a similar schedule when we introduced tests in English language arts, mathematics, and science and technology/engineering. Implementation of the requirement should also be contingent on the appropriation of additional academic support funds targeted for students who fail or are at risk of failing to meet the CD standard in history and social science.
  • Finally, by referring to the high school assessment (rather than test) in history and social science, the amendment anticipates the next generation of MCAS, which may include performance-based, curriculum-embedded components.

Initiatives to Promote Teaching and Learning of History and Social Science

I remain deeply committed to the teaching and learning of history and social science as part of a well-rounded curriculum, and understand the role that state assessment can play in promoting this important work. Effective history and social science instruction is critical for students to understand our cultural heritage and participate effectively in a democratic society. The 2011 English Language Arts standards adopted by the Board reinforce the importance of students' ability to read and comprehend both literary and informational text in history and social science.

The Department is implementing several initiatives that promote and support teaching and learning in history and social science. We are using resources from our Race to the Top grant to engage history and social science educators in developing, piloting, and deploying the following tools and resources:

  • Model curricula based on the current history and social science curriculum framework;
  • Suggested resources and tools for implementing the curriculum;
  • Curriculum-embedded performance tasks designed to both instruct and assess student proficiency; and
  • Tools to assist educators in developing local assessments in history and social science.

I believe these efforts will support schools and districts in strengthening teaching and learning in history and social science, while we seek additional funding for statewide assessment and academic support services. I recommend that the Board vote to amend the Competency Determination Regulations at the May 24 meeting and look forward to discussing with you our continuing work in this area.

Enclosures:

Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Public comment on proposed amendment
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Regulation with proposed amendment highlighted
 
Motion to adopt amendment


Last Updated: May 19, 2011
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