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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Every Student Succeeds Act State Plan: Advancing the Commonwealth's Commitment to Equity and Excellence

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:
March 21, 2017

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Over the course of four meetings of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2016-March, June, September, December-and at the January 2017 meeting, we have discussed various aspects of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), including our extensive public engagement efforts. Following the January 2017 meeting, the Department released its draft state plan under ESSA for a 30-day public comment period. We appreciate the comments we received from Board members at the January meeting and from the public through the formal comment period, and have taken the comments into account in revising the state plan. At the Board meeting on Tuesday, March 28, 2017, I will present an overview of the feedback we received along with the executive summary of the Department's ESSA state plan as revised. We expect to submit the state plan to the U.S. Department of Education on April 3, 2017.

The draft of the ESSA state plan that the Department released for public comment noted that certain potential measures and design principles were "under consideration." Through the public comment period, we consistently heard feedback that the draft plan left questions open about how the state's school and district accountability system would ultimately be designed. We will be able to make final decisions on the system design in late fall 2017, after the results from our new grade 3-8 statewide assessments have been scored and analyzed, and performance level standards for the new tests have been established and applied. In the meantime, the state plan sets forth a clear conceptual framework for the accountability system.

In the interest of responding to this request for greater specificity, I have revised the plan to provide more detail regarding which measures would be included in the accountability metric and which would be included as components of school and district profiles, both on the public website and in school and district report cards.

In selecting indicators to be part of the accountability index, several principles will guide our decisions:

  • We will focus on academic performance (e.g., academic achievement, graduation rates) more so than on school inputs. Student learning is the core work of schools.
  • We will balance robustness with simplicity and transparency. We want to be sure that the signal (academic performance) is not drowned out by noise. While more inputs paint a more complete profile of schools, we do not want the accountability index to mask schools that are struggling with basic literacy, mathematics, and science instruction. We anticipate a larger number of indicators in our school report cards and profiles than will contribute to the accountability index.
  • We will ensure the validity and reliability of our accountability index, so that it is technically defensible.
  • We will set targets that require that each school and district stretch and continually improve.
  • We will align accountability incentives for districts, schools, educators, and students to ensure that all parties are rowing in the same direction.

We need to ensure an appropriate balance between expanding the elements that contribute to the accountability system on the one hand, and ease of interpreting the results on the other. A key purpose of an accountability system is to identify the schools and districts that need the most assistance to bring their students up to the state's academic expectations. The system must focus attention on the schools and districts farthest behind in core academic subjects, because we have a duty to address the needs of the students in those schools. Expanding the number of measures adds dimensionality to the system, but a system with too many measures runs the risk of providing a weak signal regarding the efficacy of the academic program. We need to balance robustness with simplicity and transparency.

The revised plan distinguishes what will be reported as components of school and district profiles versus elements that will comprise the accountability metric. I have made these changes because of my concern that input measures essentially become prescriptions and/or mandates; because combining outcomes and inputs into a single system blurs its focus; and with little experience in measuring curricular opportunity (for example, quantity versus quality of access to a given subject) it is premature to incorporate such elements in an accountability metric.

During the public comment period, we heard very strong support from stakeholders for the inclusion of certain input measures, specifically access to a well-rounded curriculum including the arts, physical education, advanced coursework, computer science, career development education, and other offerings. At least in the initial years of the new accountability system, such input measures are better represented as indicators in a school or district report card so that the information is readily accessible to parents, policymakers, and the public, rather than as indicators in an accountability system.

I agree that student access to the arts and other elements of a well-rounded curriculum are critically important, and we will address these issues through several related actions. First, the Department will be reporting more transparently on student access to and success in such coursework at the individual school and district level. We are committed to providing families and the public with a robust picture of each school and district. These online profiles and report cards will include a wider range of indicators than will be incorporated in the accountability index. We will therefore work both internally and with the field to develop the right measures and report them in the right way on our school and district profiles website and in our school and district report cards. Second, I am committed to ensuring that our curriculum standards are up-to-date and of the highest quality. We recently updated the state's science/technology/engineering curriculum frameworks and digital literacy and computer science curriculum frameworks, completed a review and revision to the English Language Arts-literacy and mathematics curriculum frameworks and hope to release the revised frameworks this spring, pending final Board approval; and we have begun a review and revision of the state's history and social sciences curriculum frameworks.

As a result of the feedback we received during our public consultation process, I am directing my staff to begin a review and potential revision of the state's curriculum framework for the arts, which was last updated in 1999. We are committed to having each and every student benefit from access to a well-rounded education program. These actions will advance that goal.

Enclosed with this memo are the executive summary of the Massachusetts ESSA plan and the summary of comment from the recent public comment period. Because the U.S. Department of Education just released the new template for the state plan on March 13, our staff is still working on the full plan, which is 100+ pages long. We expect to have it available for you before our March 28 meeting.

I look forward to discussing these issues and next steps with you on Tuesday, March 28. Russell Johnston, Rob Curtin, and other members of my staff will join me for the presentation and discussion.

Attachments:

Download MS WORD Document
Massachusetts ESSA Plan

Download MS WORD Document
Executive Summary of Massachusetts ESSA Plan
Download MS WORD Document
Summary of Public Comments
Download PowerPoint Presentation
BESE March 2017 ESSA Presentation


Last Updated: March 21, 2017
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