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Commissioner's Weekly Update - January 8, 2016

New Year's Message from Commissioner Chester:

Massachusetts students learn in the strongest state public education system in the nation and one of the top performing in the world. I do not take this standing for granted, and the credit for it goes to educators across the Commonwealth. Each day, classroom teachers, principals, and district administrators strive to provide a high quality education to all students.

I consider myself privileged to work with you and to hold the position of Massachusetts's elementary and secondary education commissioner. With this privilege comes a responsibility to ensure that we continue to build on our successes, that we are aspirational in our educational goals, and that we tackle head-on those areas in which we should and can do better.

As we welcome the New Year, I offer some observations about the year ahead and, in particular, the intersection of Massachusetts education policy and the reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act, called the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Every Student Succeeds Act

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is an opportunity to take stock of Massachusetts' policy framework. While in many respects ESSA rebalances the federal-state relationship, the reauthorized Act largely continues Congress' interest in ensuring that the nation's investment in elementary and secondary education is in service of our most vulnerable youth.

The Every Student Succeeds Act removes the highly prescriptive, one-size-fits-all Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) metric that existed under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Nonetheless, the reauthorized act maintains the requirement for statewide assessments in reading/English language arts and mathematics in grades 3-8 and once in high school as well as in science once each in the following grade spans: 3-5, 6-8, and high school.

In addition, ESSA requires states to:

  • set progress measures and long-term academic and graduation goals for all students as well as for each group of students, with greater progress expected for groups that are further behind;
  • report annually on school and district progress and achievement towards those goals;
  • identify and intervene in the lowest performing schools; and
  • evaluate and report the degree to which "low income and minority students … are not served at disproportionate rates by ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers".

Perhaps the greatest impact of ESSA is that we no longer require a waiver from the federal government to continue implementing the system we have developed over the past several years. The Every Student

Succeeds Act gives us discretion to meet the requirements of the reauthorized legislation through the architecture we have built with your assistance and engagement. Working with the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, and other stakeholders, we codified these refinements to the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act through the Commonwealth's 2010 Achievement Gap Act, our Race to the Top program, and our NCLB waiver.

We have also codified high expectations in our Educator Evaluation Framework. Under ESSA, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) will continue to implement the Commonwealth's Evaluation Framework, including annual reporting of both Summative Performance Ratings and Student Impact Ratings. We believe providing educators with meaningful feedback about both their practice and their impact on student learning is paramount to supporting their professional growth. As well, identifying the link between educator practice and student learning is essential to maximizing the impact of our instructional programs.

Looking Ahead

At every level of the education system, we have great opportunities to strengthen the core mission of teaching and learning, while incorporating conditions that address students' social, emotional, and mental health needs.

Over the remainder of this school year and continuing into the 2016-17 school year, ESE will focus on revamping our state assessment system and refining our curriculum frameworks as needed. Fortunately, this is a continuation of work that is already underway. As a result of our participation in the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) consortium, we have a head start on a next-generation assessment system, and its development and implementation is an opportunity for teachers and administrators to ensure that the program of instruction in our schools is aligned with the educational goals that we began outlining with our 2010 English language arts and mathematics frameworks, as well as with our anticipated new science/engineering/technology framework.

The Department will be providing expanded statewide and regional opportunities for teachers and administrators to participate in instructional and curricular improvement initiatives designed to spread good ideas. Some of the most impressive efforts to upgrade curriculum and instruction are happening in Massachusetts' classrooms, and we need to ensure that these efforts are shared.

In addition, ESE will continue to pursue opportunities to support your efforts to meet students' social/emotional/mental health needs. We look forward to working with the statewide professional organizations that have made these efforts a priority and to building on the lessons learned about the kinds of programs, practices, and protocols that successfully meet students' non-academic needs. We know that addressing those needs will help students grow and be successful learners.

Thank you!

On my visits to schools, in conversations with you, and in feedback I receive from my staff, I continue to be inspired by the education that our schools and districts provide to the Commonwealth's youth. Outside entities have recognized this excellence, too: Just this week, Education Week's annual Quality Counts publication again ranked Massachusetts number one among the states. Congratulations on all that you have already accomplished for our students! I look forward to continuing our work together in 2016.

Commissioner's Weekly Update (continued)

Skills Capital Grants Available:

The Department would like to remind districts that the Baker-Polito Administration recently announced the availability of $9.2 million in Skills Capital Grants for vocational-technical equipment investments. The grants will range from $50,000 to $500,000 and must meet requirements such as leading to an increase in skilled workers to meet business-driven hiring needs. Applications are due January 29.

Update on Next-Generation Assessment:

The Department has begun the process of developing a new statewide student assessment system and refining the English language arts and math standards the state adopted in 2010. The email version of the Commissioner's Weekly Update included an attached document describing the committees and workgroups charged with executing the work and opportunities for educators, parents, students, and other stakeholders to get involved. That document is now posted online.

2015 School & District Report Cards Available for Distribution:

Updated school and district report cards, including assessment data and other indicators, are now available on ESE's School and District Profiles website. As a reminder, districts receiving Title I funds are required to distribute report cards annually to all parents or guardians of students enrolled in district schools. The Department asks that districts distribute report cards to families by the end of January. For more information, including details about electronic distribution, see ESE's report cards website or contact ESE at or (781) 338-3550.

Massachusetts FOCUS Academy Courses Open:

The application process for the spring 2016 Massachusetts FOCUS Academy (MFA) courses is now open to ALL districts. The courses are designed to help teams of educators build skills, knowledge, and instructional strategies to support inclusive environments. The Department is opening up available spaces in nine ESE-sponsored graduate level courses that start the week of February 29, 2016 and end the week of June 13. us-academy-mfa-courses.html>Information about the courses and the application process are available online. Space is limited, and the application process will remain open for all districts only during the week of January 11-15. Completed applications will be processed on a rolling basis, and courses may fill before the end of the application period.

Student Government Day Registration Deadline Approaching:

The deadline to register for Student Government Day is Friday, January 15, and participation is on a first-come, first-served basis. Please click here to register students today! On Student Government Day, high school educators and students from across Massachusetts learn firsthand about state government as students take on the roles of governor, state senators and representatives, and Supreme Judicial Court justices. Student Government Day will be April 1.

Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives (AMAOs) for English Language Learners:

Superintendents and Title III directors will soon receive an email indicating that AMAOs are now available and clarifying that the federal Every Student Succeeds Act Title III program requires that districts monitor English language learner progress to English language proficiency. The outcomes of annual ACCESS testing in relation to growth and attainment targets are a critical means to analyze program effectiveness and make changes to English language learner programs when testing outcomes and other data indicate a need to do so. The Department has posted 2014 and 2015 AMAO results for districts online, and districts should use the AMAOs results to inform program evaluation and program modification decisions. For more information about AMAOs, contact Melanie Manares at or (781) 338-3573.

For Your Info:

  • Regulatory review listening session: As part of the ongoing regulatory review process, ESE will host a listening session for comments concerning pre-K through college regulations. The session will be from 3-5 p.m. January 12 in Room 305 of the Springfield Office Building, 436 Dwight St., Springfield. More information is available online, as is a listing of ESE regulations. People can also submit written suggestions and comments, via email at, online at A&F Portal for Comments, or by sending a letter to ESE Regulations Review, C/O Helene Bettencourt, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 75 Pleasant St., Malden, MA 02148.
  • Safe learning communities: The U.S. Department of Education recently released a Dear Colleague letter encouraging school district, college and university leaders to foster safe, respectful, and non-discriminatory learning environments for their students. The letter reminds schools of their obligation under federal civil rights laws to prohibit discrimination based on actual or perceived race, religion, or national origin and includes suggestions to help schools maintain safe learning communities. It also includes links to resources about bullying and harassment and to help school officials, educators, students, and families promote positive school climates.
  • Help improve the Executive Office of Education website: The Executive Office of Education is seeking people to take a 10-15 minute survey to help design a new navigation structure for

Subscriber Information: Superintendents, principals, and charter school leaders will receive the update automatically. For others wishing to subscribe, send an email to with the following information in the body of the email: subscribe ESEUpdate Your Name. (Example: subscribe ESEUpdate John Smith) To unsubscribe, send an email to the same address with the following information in the body: unsubscribe ESEUpdate Your Name. (Example: unsubscribe ESEUpdate John Smith)

Last Updated: January 9, 2016
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