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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Briefing for the March 22, 2016 Regular Meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
March 11, 2016


The next regular meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will be on Tuesday, March 22, 2016, at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's offices at 75 Pleasant Street in Malden. The regular meeting will start at 8:30 a.m. (coffee will be available at 8 a.m.) and should adjourn by 1 p.m. The Board will not hold a special meeting this month. The Board's Assessment Committee will meet on Monday, March 21, from 3:15-4:45 p.m. in Malden. All Board members are welcome to attend the committee meeting. If you need overnight accommodations or any additional information about the schedule, please call Helene Bettencourt at (781) 338-3120.


The business agenda for our regular meeting on Tuesday morning leads off with updates on the Southbridge Public Schools and Holyoke Public Schools. We will then review and discuss the new federal law known as ESSA, the Every Student Succeeds Act. The final item on the business agenda is an update on the state and federal education budget.

Regular Meeting

Comments from the Chair

Chair Sagan will brief the Board on current issues and activities. He will ask Roland Fryer, who chairs the Board's Assessment Committee, to report on the committee's March 21 meeting.

Comments from the Commissioner

  1. Student assessment update. On March 21, the Board's Assessment Committee will hear preliminary reports from the workgroups that have been discussing the design of our next-generation MCAS assessments. We expect to publish the request for responses for the testing vendor contract on the Commonwealth's procurement website on Monday, March 14.

  2. Review of English Language Arts and Mathematics curriculum frameworks. As part of the next-generation assessment initiative, the Department is carrying out the Board's directive to convene panels of K-12 teachers and higher education faculty to review the 2010 Massachusetts curriculum frameworks in English language arts and mathematics and identify any modifications needed. We have created an online tool and are inviting educators and the general public to use it to submit comments and suggestions on how to improve the frameworks. The comments that we gather will help the review panels identify concerns or gaps that should be addressed. To date, 800+ individuals have logged into the tool, and 200 have completed their submission. After the review panels have produced their recommendations, I will bring proposed revisions of the frameworks to the Board for your review and discussion. The Board will make any changes it deems appropriate and put the draft proposals out for public comment. After making any additional changes based on the final public review of the proposed frameworks, the Board would then adopt a revised set of Massachusetts curriculum frameworks in English language arts and mathematics.

  3. History and Social Science curriculum framework. Following up on the Board's initiative on civic learning and engagement, the Department is in the process of establishing a panel to review and revise the current Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework Download Word Document. Although the timeline for this process is not yet set, the Department is accepting applications from candidates who would like to serve on the panel. If Board members know of educators or other individuals who might be interested in being considered for the panel, please encourage them to send a resume and brief statement of interest to and by March 18, 2016.

  4. Advanced Placement results. Advanced Placement results released by the College Board at the end of February show that Massachusetts continues to see increases in the percentage of graduating seniors who took at least one AP exam and in the percentage who scored at least a 3 on the exam's 5-point scale. These consistent increases gave the Commonwealth the nation's greatest 5- and 10-year gains in terms of the percentage of graduates earning a score of 3 or higher. See the press release for more information.

  5. Eagleton School update. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is working in collaboration with other state agencies to closely monitor the Eagleton School, a private residential special education school in Great Barrington that serves male students ages 9-22 with cognitive, behavioral and autistic disabilities. The school currently serves about 69 students, 37 from Massachusetts and 32 from out of state. As the Board is aware, I placed Eagleton School on probation on February 17, 2016, in conjunction with sanctions levied by the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) the same day. Per state law, EEC licenses the school's residential facilities and our department (ESE) approves the special education program.

    Private residential special education school programs must be licensed by EEC as a condition of DESE approval. The EEC license sanctions require Eagleton to take specific actions concerning administration, enrollment, and operations to ensure the safety and well-being of the students. DESE's placement of the school on probationary status addresses additional issues relating to the special education program. Staff members from EEC and DESE have been on-site at the school each week. Our staff has been assessing the viability of the Eagleton educational program, reviewing staff qualifications, certifications and waivers, assessing how the school has been implementing behavior plans, and reviewing relevant data. The EEC sanction order requires Eagleton to contract with a consultant who will assess several areas of operation. In addition, the EEC order requires Eagleton to employ additional consultants and permanent employees, including a new administrative operations director of the school. DESE's assistant director of Program Quality Assurance has met with the consultant and will be working with him to evaluate recommended changes to the school structure. I will continue to update you on the status of this school.

  6. Organizational review. I have been keeping the Board apprised about the organizational review of the Department that I initiated in response to the Board's recommendation to use the funding and staffing challenges we face as an opportunity to think about strategic reorganization for cost-effectiveness and efficiency. As you know, last summer the Department experienced a significant reduction in staff, in large part due to the early retirement incentive program and the end of our federal Race to the Top funding. We also have a number of senior managers who have recently retired or will be retiring in the near future. At the same time, our mission - to strengthen the Commonwealth's public education system so that all students are prepared for success after high school - has never been more urgent. In light of these factors, I launched an initiative in 2015 to take stock of our organizational structure and identify changes that we could make to enhance coordination and planning while helping us work more efficiently and effectively.

    With the assistance of Parthenon-EY, a strategic consulting firm, we gathered input from Department staff and leadership as well as external stakeholders through focus groups and surveys. We also researched the organizational structure of other state education agencies.

    Parthenon-EY has submitted a memo (enclosed under Tab 5) outlining the process of the organizational assessment and their final recommendations. These recommendations focus on integrating and aligning work across the agency, confirming the state's role in providing standards and instructional supports, strengthening internal and external communications, and combining related functions into a Student Support unit and a unit devoted to educational options. I have taken these recommendations and made revisions to the Department's organizational structure. Over the next month I will be posting and filling several leadership positions and then these administrators will be responsible for the alignment and integration mapped out through the revised structure.

    Members of the Parthenon-EY organization will be at the Board meeting on March 22 to share with you the information they gathered during their review and a summary of their recommendations.

Comments from the Secretary

Secretary Peyser will brief the Board on current issues and activities.

Items for Discussion and Action

  1. Update on Southbridge Public Schools - Discussion

    The Board voted on January 26, 2016 to designate the Southbridge Public Schools as a "chronically underperforming" (Level 5) district. This month I will present the second monthly report on our work with Southbridge, including an update on the Local Stakeholder Group, family and community engagement strategies, and development of the school district budget for 2016-17. Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston and other members of the Department's Southbridge team will be at the meeting to answer your questions.

  2. Update on Holyoke Public Schools - Discussion

    This month's report on the Holyoke Public Schools includes a couple of notable announcements and an overview of the district's progress in implementing key actions and achieving benchmarks outlined in the Level 5 District Turnaround Plan. Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston and Ventura Rodriguez, Special Assistant to the Commissioner, will present the report and respond to your questions.

  3. Every Student Succeeds Act: Overview and Transition Timeline - Discussion

    At the Board meeting on March 22, we will provide an orientation to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and discuss our anticipated timeline for implementation of the law. ESSA, which was signed into law by President Obama in December 2015, is a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which was last reauthorized in 2001 as the No Child Left Behind Act. Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston and other staff will join me in presenting the overview and responding to your questions.

  4. Update on State and Federal Education Budget - Discussion

    On February 29, 2016, I presented testimony to the Joint Ways and Means Committee on behalf of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's Fiscal Year 2017 budget recommendations as filed by Governor Baker. Secretary Peyser, Higher Education Commissioner Carlos Santiago, and Early Education and Care Commissioner Tom Weber also testified at the hearing, which was held at Everett High School. A copy of my testimony is enclosed under Tab 4. At our March 22 meeting, we will review the status of Governor Baker's education budget proposal for FY2017 in relation to the Board's budget priorities, as well as the outlook for federal education funding. Associate Commissioner Bill Bell, our Chief Financial Officer, will join the discussion.

Other Items for Information

  1. Parthenon-EY Memorandum on Organizational Review

    Parthenon-EY submitted a memo outlining the process of the organizational assessment and their final recommendations. I have enclosed it for your information.

  2. Report on Charter School Matters Approved by the Commissioner

    Under Tab 6 is information on charter school matters that I have approved under the authority the Board has delegated to me.

If you have questions about any agenda items, please call me. I look forward to seeing you in Malden on March 22.

Last Updated: March 17, 2016
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