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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Level 4 District Accountability and Assistance Update

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



At the March 22, 2011 meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, we presented materials describing a new approach to intervening in Level 4 "underperforming" school districts. The purpose of this memo is to outline key features of the new Level 4 district requirements and provide an update on the Department's progress in implementing the system.

District Accountability Reviews

In April 2010, the Board adopted Regulations on School and District Accountability and Assistance (603 CMR 2.0) directing the Department to implement a new accountability and assistance system to intervene in districts and schools. The regulations placed the previously designated underperforming districts (Gill-Montague, Holyoke, Randolph, and Southbridge) 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 strategies to strengthen district practices and improve student achievement, the Department (through the Center for District Accountability) recently completed a comprehensive district review of each Level 4 district. Concurrently, the Department has been developing a process for monitoring and supporting Level 4 districts that takes into account the lessons learned over the last decade of underperforming district intervention. In analyzing the successes and challenges of state-to-district intervention both in Massachusetts and nationally, we have developed a new approach based on the following key principles:

  1. Students cannot wait for incremental improvement in their educational conditions. Given the trends of low performance in a Level 4 district and the lack of district systems to sufficiently respond, accelerated and rapid improvement is necessary for all students to graduate adequately prepared for college and careers.

  2. The process of accelerated district improvement requires a laser-like focus on implementation and dedicated project management support. Existing district capacity is insufficient to implement and monitor dramatic transformation of district practice given current resources and systems. The Department must support the effort of Level 4 districts to manage the process of accelerated improvement planning, implementation, and monitoring.

  3. Monitoring progress in Level 4 districts must be based on outcomes. While monitoring district implementation of key actions is necessary to ensure that progress is underway, the Department and districts must also use the impacts of those actions as a way to assess progress.

  4. Collaboration between and among stakeholders is essential for sustainable accelerated improvement. The district must ensure that school leaders, teachers, parents, and community partners are active partners in the implementation of the District Plan.

The Department's Center for Targeted Assistance and Center for School and District Accountability have been using these principles to generate a new set of requirements for Level 4 Districts (Attachment A). These requirements were presented to the Board in March 2011 and the Department has begun implementation of the new system.

Level 4 District Plans

Each Level 4 District has until June 30, 2011 to submit a new District Plan to the Commissioner that commits to a narrow set of focused strategies with clear and measurable benchmarks. The selection of strategies proposed in the District Plan must respond directly to the findings and recommendations produced in each district's recently-completed District Review. For each selected strategy, the district will identify process and outcome benchmarks. Once the Commissioner approves the plan, the district is required to draft a Monthly Highlight Report to describe progress and challenges associated with implementation of the District Plan.

Level 4 Plan Managers

In order to support the development and implementation of a District Plan, the Department will provide funding for a portion of a staff position to serve as Level 4 Plan Manager. The Plan Manager will report to the superintendent and support the planning, implementation, and monitoring of tasks and resources to meet the deadlines specified in the District Plan. Specifically, the Level 4 Plan Manager is responsible for:

  • convening and facilitating district staff to ensure production of the district's Level 4 District Plan;
  • managing the implementation of the Level 4 District Plan to ensure that deadlines are met; and
  • ensuring that monthly Plan Highlight Reports are produced.

Currently, the Department has interviewed several candidates to serve in the Plan Manager role and made introductions of the top candidates to each of the Level 4 district superintendents. (See Attachment B for the Plan Manager job description).

The Department will support each of the Plan Managers with ongoing technical assistance and networking activities.

Level 4 District Monitoring

The Center for School and District Accountability has developed a Level 4 district monitoring process that engages districts on a monthly basis to assess progress in District Plan implementation. Monitoring of the Level 4 District Plan implementation will begin after the Commissioner has approved a district's plan. Monitoring visits will be carried out on a monthly basis to discuss progress (successes and challenges), and review the quality of implementation and will commence one week after the Monthly Highlight Report is produced. The Department, through the Division for Accountability, Partnership, and Assistance, will create a Quarterly Progress Report and submit it to the school committee. A Semi-Annual Report will be created and shared with the school committee, the Commissioner, and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Both the Quarterly Progress Report and the Semi-Annual Report will be based on the information received in the Highlight Reports and through interviews with district staff (Attachment C provides a more detailed description of the Level 4 District Monitoring process).

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Attachment B: Plan Manager Description
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Attachment C: Level 4 District Plan Monitoring

Last Updated: May 18, 2011
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