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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Testimony in opposition to H340, H451, and S294

To:
Chairs and Members of the Joint Committee on Education
From:
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:
June 11, 2015

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Please accept my testimony in strong opposition to H340: An Act relative to a moratorium on high stakes testing and PARCC; H451: An Act relative to pausing PARCC; and S294: An Act providing time to develop better measures of and assistance for student learning. I urge the Committee to consider the impacts of a moratorium on assessments in Massachusetts, including financial consequences, while deliberating the outcome of these bills.

Assessments provide parents and the public with a common basis to evaluate whether students are meeting statewide learning goals, and they help educators and school leaders identify patterns of weakness and strength in curriculum and instruction. To ensure that a high school diploma represents a baseline achievement standard, students must meet the grade 10 standards in English language arts and math and in one high school science test to be eligible to earn a high school diploma. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has already determined that the MCAS tests will continue to be used for this purpose at least through the class of 2019. For schools and districts, the test results are used as one of several factors to identify underperforming schools that would benefit from more intensive state assistance and support.

Depriving our students, parents, teachers and districts of meaningful assessment, and thus accountability for results, is ill advised from a policy standpoint. Massachusetts is a national leader in K-12 education because of decisions made starting in 1993: to set high standards that can and will be measured, to provide resources to strengthen teaching and learning and help all students meet the high standards, and to hold ourselves and the system accountable for results. Providing each and every student with access to an excellent education was the goal then and remains the goal now. Abandoning accountability for performance would turn our backs on 20 years of education reform in the Commonwealth and call into question our commitment to thousands of students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds for whom a strong K-12 education system is a lifeline.

Further, the Supreme Judicial Court's 1993 McDuffy decision made it clear that the fundamental constitutional duty to educate all children to a high standard rests with the Commonwealth's legislative and executive officials. The data provided by the annual state assessments is critical to that work. We cannot and should not halt our school improvement efforts or shirk our constitutional duty, and we need not do so just because we are developing what we hope will be a better assessment instrument.

A final reason for my opposition is that each of the three bills will place the Commonwealth in a position of non-compliance with federal education policy - thus jeopardizing the 2012 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) flexibility waiver from the U.S. Department of Education as well as substantial federal education funds.

In return for flexibility from certain aspects of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), states were required to identify their lowest performing schools, and ensure that districts implement interventions designed to turn around student performance in those schools over a three-year period. DESE implements the required accountability structure for our schools and districts through our state-wide assessments.

Without the ESEA flexibility waiver, Massachusetts districts and schools would be required to return to all requirements of NCLB, including the consequences associated with failing to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). As of 2012, over 80 percent of Massachusetts schools were identified as failing to meet the federal AYP measure. With a return to NCLB requirements, districts with Title I schools that do not meet AYP would be required to redirect 20 percent of their Title I grant toward providing transportation for school choice and/or for out of school tutoring (known as supplemental educational services).

Specifically, our total Title I grant disbursement to districts was $204M in FY15. A return to NCLB would result in nearly all Title I districts being subject to the 20 percent funding requirement, losing control of up to $40M. Additionally, $2M the state receives in Title I administrative funding would also be in jeopardy. We anticipate an 8.5 percent increase in Title I funding for FY16, so those numbers will only climb.

Additional cost impacts, including the loss of eligibility for federal school redesign grants, likely would be significant. Schools that successfully apply for school redesign grants typically receive close to $1.5M over a three-year period to support their turnaround efforts.

Massachusetts has been a national leader in K-12 education for over two decades, in large part because of our system for standards, assessment, assistance, and accountability. We need to build on those strengths, not abandon them. The future of our Commonwealth is linked to closing achievement gaps and ensuring that our schools are delivering an education that prepares our youth for success in the 21st century. I look forward to working with the Legislature and the Administration in our continued pursuit of those goals.



Last Updated: June 17, 2015
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