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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Update on New Bedford Public Schools

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
June 17, 2011


I am providing the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education with an update about the New Bedford Public Schools, one of our 12 Level 4 districts. New Bedford has one Level 4 school, the John Avery Parker Elementary School.

This memo presents the findings of a district accountability review that the Department conducted in New Bedford this school year and describes the Department's next steps in working with the New Bedford Public Schools to improve systemic performance. Deputy Commissioner Karla Baehr, Associate Commissioner Lynda Foisy, and District and School Accountability Director Eva Mitchell presented the district review report recommendations and the Department's next steps at the June 13th meeting of the New Bedford School Committee.


Mass. Gen. Laws Chapter 15, Section 55A, directs the Department to "review and report on the efforts of schools, charter schools and school districts, including regional school districts, to improve the academic achievement of their students." A team of six independent reviewers conducted a District Accountability Review of the New Bedford public school district as one of a series of accountability reviews overseen by the Department's Center for District and School Accountability.

The team sought to understand the reasons for New Bedford's low proficiency rates, student growth percentiles, and graduation rates. The data cause great concern:

  • Fewer than half the students in New Bedford's schools are proficient in English Language Arts (ELA) or math, and growth scores show students are not making the progress needed from year to year.
  • Among all the large urban districts, New Bedford had the second lowest growth for ELA and for math and is the only district with declining growth for both subjects over three years.
  • New Bedford's high school students make the least progress from year to year compared to any other district in Massachusetts.

More specifically, New Bedford has the:

  • second lowest student growth (SGP) in ELA and math (39.0 and 40.0) among large urban districts, and its SGPs have declined over the past two years;
  • lowest SGP for Grade 10 in ELA and second lowest for math (both 24.0) among all districts;
  • second lowest Grade 10 ELA proficiency rate (46%) among all multiple-school districts;
  • fourth lowest Grade 10 math and science proficiency rates (42% and 28%) among all multiple-school districts;
  • fifth lowest graduation rate (53.5%) among all multiple-school districts;
  • fourth lowest overall ELA proficiency (44%) of all multiple-school districts; and
  • ninth lowest overall math proficiency (39%) of all multiple-school districts.

Review Process, Findings, and Recommendations

The site visit to the New Bedford Public Schools was conducted from November 15-18, 2010. The review team followed the standard District Review Protocol. Before the site visit, the team spent two days reviewing 35 documents and data analyses. During the four-day site visit, the team conducted approximately 60 hours of interviews and focus groups of over 80 stakeholders. Interviewees included school committee members, city financial personnel, teacher union leadership, district leadership, 18 principals, other school leaders, and 42 teachers. The team also reviewed additional documents provided by the district, all principal personnel files, and a random sample of teacher evaluations. Fourteen schools were visited, and 48 classroom observations were conducted. At the end of the site visit, the review team shared the emerging themes with district and school leaders. Then the review team drafted and reviewed with each other and staff from the Department's Center for District and School Accountability the written findings and recommendations, which were fact-checked before the final report was published.

The team found serious issues related to each of the six district standards assessed in accountability reviews, described in detail in the 19 report findings. Overall, the review found that the district had an insufficient system of support for schools to consistently deliver standards-based instruction, monitor student progress, make needed changes to programs and services, support teachers and principals in improving their practices, and maximize human and financial resources to meet student needs. The report findings led to 14 recommendations. Three recommendations were for improvement in the area of Leadership and Governance, three for Curriculum and Instruction, one for Assessment, two for Human Resources and Professional Development, two for Student Support, and three for Financial and Asset Management. A summary of the findings and recommendations can be found in Attachment #1: New Bedford Summary of Findings and Recommendations. The complete report can be found in Attachment #2: New Bedford District Review Report.

Next Steps

Besides New Bedford's student performance trends and the findings in the District Review, I am also concerned that the district has not been successful in its applications for several competitive grants this year, including a federal Redesign Grant for its Level 4 school. Further, until this month, New Bedford was the only district that had been unable to develop an approvable Level 4 School Turnaround Plan. To help the district, the Center for Targeted Assistance contracted with an outside provider to work with the district to develop an approvable Turnaround Plan for the Parker School. That partnership has resulted in the development of a school Turnaround Plan that I was able to approve this week, conditioned on continued refinement of the plan.

The district review demonstrates the critical need for a strong district-wide turnaround plan and support for its effective implementation. Mayor and School Committee Chair Scott Lang and Superintendent Mary Lou Francis have expressed a desire to partner with the Department in this work and have asked that the Department involve the same provider who assisted them in developing the Turnaround Plan for the Parker School, Cambridge Associates. Department staff concur and are making arrangements for Cambridge Associates to devote 90 to 100 days over the course of the next twelve months to New Bedford, first assisting in the development of a district improvement plan that will be submitted to me by August 31, 2011, and then assisting district staff to develop and implement systems to ensure its effective implementation. As has been the case in the other Level 4 districts that have or are beginning to develop these focused District Plans (Gill-Montague, Holyoke, Randolph, Southbridge, and Fall River), the Department's Center for District and School Accountability will conduct quarterly progress monitoring to assess progress, early evidence of change, and short and long term impacts. The monitor will report findings to me and, publicly, to the leaders and citizens of New Bedford.

I will provide the Board with regular progress reports on New Bedford as well as each of the other Level 4 districts. Deputy Commissioner Karla Baehr, Senior Associate Commissioner Lynda Foisy and Eva Mitchell, Director of our Center for District and School Accountability, will be present at our June 28th meeting to respond to Board members' questions.


Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Attachment #1: New Bedford Summary of Findings and Recommendations
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Attachment #2: New Bedford District Review Report

Last Updated: June 24, 2011
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