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Recommended Amendment to Regulations on Accountability and Assistance for School Districts and Schools, 603 CMR 2.00 (Limitation of Certain Provisions for 2016-2017 School Year)

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
April 13, 2017

At the February 28, 2017 meeting, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) voted to solicit public comment on a proposed amendment to 603 CMR 2.00: Accountability and Assistance for School Districts and Schools. I am asking the Board to adopt the amendment without further modification at our meeting on April 18, 2017.

In my memorandum to you dated April 7, 2017, I provided the rationale for the proposed amendment. That memorandum is attached. In this memorandum, I am providing a summary of the public comment the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) received, as well as a summary of the discussion with the Board's Accountability and Assistance Advisory Council (AAAC) that occurred on April 12, 2017.

Summary of Public Comment

The public comment period ended on April 5th. DESE received three public comments relating to the proposed amendment: two from principals and one from the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA). All three comments are attached.

One principal supported the proposed regulation, but raised a concern about the weight to be given to this year's MCAS scores in the accountability ratings assigned in the fall of 2018. The comment noted that students will be transitioning to the new test, and not all students will be taking the computer-based test. The comment also asserted that when the accountability rating system is determined, 2017 participation rates should far outweigh 2017 scores because this is a transition year.

The second comment asked whether a Level 3 school should be able to move up to Level 2 or a Level 2 school move up to Level 1 this year; and whether schools should be rewarded for high participation rates if they are penalized for low participation rates. This comment also noted schools might have an incentive to set a low baseline this year in order to show growth in future years.

Neither of these two comments prompts me to modify the proposed amendment to the regulation. The concerns identified in the first comment focus on the development of the accountability system, while supporting the proposed amendment. The concern in the second comment, that the amendment might create an incentive for schools to do poorly on the 2017 assessments in order to have a lower baseline for long-term goal setting, is sufficiently addressed by DESE's intention to publicly report 2017 MCAS results for each district and school, including a normative measure of achievement. This reporting will provide valuable information to the public as well as help districts and DESE identify schools that may require support.

In the MTA's public comment, it asserted that a "one year suspension of level designations" is not sufficient. Rather, the MTA proposed that the Board should wait until "new frameworks, assessments and accountability systems have stabilized before imposing adverse consequences based on those systems." The MTA further asserted that the proposed regulatory amendment does not meet either the intention or the requirements of the "hold harmless" vote taken by the Board in November 2015. The MTA proposed that the amendment should be modified to provide that the 2017 MCAS scores "will never be used as a factor in accountability determinations." The MTA also commented on the use of the 90 percent participation rate. For the reasons that follow, I do not recommend further modifications to the regulation.

First, I do not believe it is necessary or reasonable to extend the "reset" (as described in my April 7, 2017 memorandum) beyond this year. The regulation addresses a concern that, absent the amendment, schools would be measured based on the varied assessments that have been administered over the last three years. That is no longer a concern going forward because DESE intends to use the 2017 MCAS results to establish a common assessment baseline for future reporting.

Furthermore, the proposed regulatory amendment does not conflict with the Board's "hold harmless" vote. On November 17, 2015, the Board voted 7-4 to amend the main motion regarding the next-generation Massachusetts student assessment program to include the following:

", provided that schools and districts administering PARCC in spring 2016 and administering the new test in spring 2017, in grades 3-8, will be held harmless for any negative changes in their school and district accountability level based on those test scores."

At its December 2015 meeting, the Board clarified that vote, as noted in the minutes from the December 15, 2015 meeting:

Approval of Minutes
Chair Sagan requested two corrections to his comments on page 4, and the minutes were corrected. Secretary Peyser commented that the Board's vote on the hold-harmless provision is intended to hold districts harmless on negative consequences based solely on the use of test scores …

District and School Accountability Determinations

Ms. McKenna asked for clarification relating to the comment Secretary Peyser made earlier today, when the Board approved the minutes of the November Board meetings, about the hold-harmless provision for districts when the next-generation statewide assessment is administered for the first time in 2017. She said her concern was the use of the word "solely." In response, Commissioner Chester said he believes everyone is on the same page: In 2016, we are continuing the precedent from 2015 for PARCC districts and accountability status would not be lowered except for moving to Level 5. In 2017, when every district is using the next-generation assessment for grades 3-8, no district would have its accountability status change because of the test scores, but status could change based on other metrics. Chair Sagan concurred, stating that test scores would not count in the 2017 accountability determinations but other factors would count, so the fact of the new test in 2017 does not give a pass on accountability. Ms. McKenna thanked the Chair and Commissioner for the clarification. Secretary Peyser agreed, and apologized that his earlier comment may have caused confusion.

December 15, 2015 minutes pp. 2, 6 (emphasis added).

Thus, the Board's November 2015 vote provided that schools and districts would be held harmless with respect to accountability decisions in 2016 and 2017. It does not suggest or require that the test scores from the 2017 MCAS administration may not be used as a baseline going forward.

With respect to the MTA's comment regarding the 90 percent participation rate, the accountability system is set up to encourage high participation rates. If it were not, results would not be reflective of schoolwide achievement.

Finally, regarding the "opt out" reference in the MTA's public comment, state law requires that all students who are educated with Massachusetts public funds participate in a statewide student assessment program under the direction of the Board. This requirement was first enacted as part of the landmark 1993 Massachusetts education reform law. The statute does not contain an "opt-out" provision for parents to remove their children from participating. In short, given that testing is a mandatory part of the curriculum, it is our expectation that all students will participate.

Summary of the Response from the Accountability and Assistance Advisory Council

The proposed amendment to the accountability regulations was discussed by the Board's Accountability and Assistance Advisory Council (AAAC) on January 20 and April 12, 2017. At the AAAC's most recent meeting, there was consensus among council members regarding the proposed plan to reset the accountability baseline using 2017 assessment data in grades 3-8. However, a few members objected to the use of participation rates in accountability determinations, suggesting two alternatives for this year's reporting. The first suggestion was to refrain from placing any school into Level 3 based on assessment participation rates. The second suggestion was to calculate participation rates using the number of students available for testing (excluding those students who refuse to participate in testing), instead of using enrollment data. These suggestions are inconsistent with the rationale for the participation requirement. As stated above, testing is a mandatory part of the curriculum, and our assessment and accountability reporting systems are designed to encourage high participation in order to provide information about schoolwide achievement.

Accordingly, I am recommending that the Board approve the amended regulations, without further modification. A red-lined copy of the proposed changes to the regulations is attached, along with a motion.

Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston and Associate Commissioner Robert Curtin will be at the Board meeting on April 18 to answer your questions.


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April 7, 2017 memo from Commissioner to Board
Public comments on proposed regulatory amendment
Download Word Document
Recommended amendment to 603 CMR 2.00 (red-lined)

Last Updated: April 14, 2017
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