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Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Flexibility Waiver Extension

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
April 18, 2014.


The U.S. Department of Education is offering states that have an Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) flexibility waiver the opportunity to apply for a one-year extension of their waiver. At the special meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Monday evening, April 28, 2014, I will review basic components of our state's accountability and assistance system, as approved under the ESEA flexibility waiver Massachusetts received in February 2012, and discuss several enhancements I plan to propose when requesting a one-year extension of our waiver. At the regular meeting of the Board on April 29th, I will ask you to vote to endorse my proposed one-year waiver extension request.


The ESEA flexibility waiver Massachusetts received in February 2012 has provided us the opportunity to implement a unitary accountability system that maintains our state's high standards and expectations and meets both federal and state requirements. Prior to receiving this flexibility, the Commonwealth's schools and districts were assessed based on both the state's five-level framework for accountability and assistance and the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The central NCLB metric - Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP - was a measure that had lost its credibility and impact as approximately 80 percent of Massachusetts's schools and 90 percent of districts were judged as inadequate under AYP. The 2012-13 school year marked the first year of our implementation of a unitary, five-level system for classifying districts and schools.

Massachusetts's accountability system measures each school's and district's progress toward the goal of reducing proficiency gaps by half between the 2010-11 and 2016-17 school years. We use the Progress and Performance Index (PPI) and school percentiles to classify schools into one of five accountability and assistance levels. Schools making sufficient progress toward narrowing proficiency gaps are classified into Level 1, while the state's lowest performing schools are classified into Levels 4 and 5. In general, districts are classified into a level based on the level of their lowest performing school.

Waiver extension

Our ESEA flexibility waiver was originally approved through the end of the current 2013-14 school year. This past fall the U.S. Department of Education (ED) outlined a process for states to request a one-year waiver extension, through the end of the 2014-15 school year. Our staff worked collectively with various stakeholders this winter to review implementation of our accountability and assistance system under the waiver and identify potential areas for improvement in the design of the system. This process confirmed broad stakeholder support for the fundamental components of our system, and identified several aspects of the system that might be improved.

Specifically, the enhancements I plan to propose to ED later this spring are:

  • Provide additional credit to high schools that re-engage students who have dropped out of school, by awarding 25 points of extra credit in the PPI calculation if the school re-engaged two or more dropouts in the previous school year. This would represent a new indicator in the PPI.
  • Increase the threshold for identification of a school with a persistently low graduation rate from 60 percent to 67 percent for the most recent four-year graduation rate and 70 percent for the three prior five-year rates. We plan to notify districts of the impending change in 2014 and implement the change for the 2015 accountability cycle.
  • Place districts that have very low statewide test participation rates in Level 3. Under our current system, schools that test fewer than 90 percent of their students are automatically placed in Level 3, but district participation rates have no accountability consequence. In rare instances, a district's MCAS participation rate may be lower than the average of its schools. We plan to notify districts of the impending change in 2014 and implement the change for the 2015 accountability cycle.
  • Better align our methodology for identifying Commendation Schools with that of the federal Blue Ribbon Schools recognition program.
  • Increase the weight of growth as compared to achievement in the calculation of school percentiles, which drives placement into Levels 3 and 4. My proposal calls for achievement to count for 70 percent and growth for 30 percent of the percentile calculation for elementary and middle schools. For high schools, I propose to weight achievement at 50 percent, growth at 30 percent, and college and career readiness measures (currently, graduation and dropout rates) at 20 percent. In 2012 and 2013, achievement and growth were weighted 4 to 1, or 80 percent to 20 percent, in school percentile calculations.
  • Require districts that are not on track with the implementation of the new educator evaluation framework to utilize Title IIA funds to support this critical initiative.

Alignment with charter school regulations

As we discussed at last month's Board meeting, the amended regulations for Charter Schools that the Board approved in March 2014, 603 CMR 1.00, provide for alignment with the metrics we use for our state accountability system, to the extent permitted by law. As one example, the regulations align the weighting of indicators used to calculate school and district levels for the state's accountability system with the weighting used in calculations to identify the lowest performing 10 percent of districts that are subject to charter school tuition charges, and will now allow us to use growth for the first time when calculating the lowest performing 10 percent of districts.

I look forward to our discussion at the April Board meetings.

Last Updated: April 23, 2014
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