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Commissioner's Weekly Update - November 22, 2013

A Message from Commissioner Chester:

This week the nation marked two important dates in American history: the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination. We remember both of these leaders for their contributions to the American narrative, and we take pride in our role of educating the next generation about their legacy.

In Massachusetts, we reached two significant milestones in terms of education policy – the release of our educator evaluation ratings and adoption of a two-year "test drive" for the PARCC assessments. It is my conviction that no endeavor will have greater impact on the future of our youth and the Commonwealth than the work in which you are engaged.

As I travel the state visiting and meeting with superintendents, principals, teachers, students, school committee members, and parents, I am so encouraged by what I am seeing and hearing about our collective efforts to ensure that all students experience a world-class education. We have established an ambitious agenda in Massachusetts to prepare all students for college and career by upgrading our curriculum and instruction, enhancing educator effectiveness, turning around our lowest performing districts and schools to accelerate student achievement, and using technology and data to improve teaching and learning in the classroom.

I write today to report on the two milestones that we reached this week. Both are testament to the demanding, but savvy, work that superintendents, principals, and teachers have undertaken on behalf of students. On Tuesday, the State Board adopted a two-year timeline for pilot testing the new PARCC assessments and comparing them to MCAS. On Thursday, we released the educator evaluation ratings for 2012-13. Both events are illustrative of the progress you are making toward delivering for all students a program of study that prepares them for success after high school as well as of our effort to pace reforms in a way that stages successful implementation.

PARCC: Two-Year "Test Drive"

On Tuesday, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved my recommendation for a two-year transition plan to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). My recommendation reflects direct feedback I have heard from superintendents, principals, teachers, and school committee members about the importance of pacing ourselves so schools can implement PARCC and other reform initiatives in a thoughtful manner. If we had adhered to the timetable that we anticipated three years ago, we would be administering MCAS tests for the last time this spring (2014) before adopting PARCC as the state's new testing program. With the Board's action this week, though, Massachusetts educators and students will have a chance to "test drive" PARCC for two years.

PARCC is designed to build on the strengths of our current testing program and add additional features. These include more open-ended, performance-based tasks to better measure students' ability to think critically and to apply what they know, as well as the use of innovative technology-based items. Further, at the high school level, PARCC intends to assess a broader range of the skills that employers and colleges report as essential for success after high school. PARCC promises to provide clearer signals to educators and students about the readiness of students for the next grade level and, in high school, for college and career. PARCC also will allow us to produce more timely results for districts and schools to assist educators in planning and tailoring instruction for students in the coming year.

The two-year transition provides for a robust comparison of MCAS and PARCC, so that we can decide in the fall of 2015 whether to sunset the MCAS English language arts (ELA) and mathematics assessments for grades 3-8 and employ PARCC as our state testing program for these subjects beginning in spring 2016. This "test drive" provides two years to compare and contrast MCAS and PARCC, including the content, format, quality, and standards of performance for the two assessments. It also permits us to transition our accountability uses of the assessment results while maintaining trend lines that link back to pre-PARCC performance.

The two-year transition provides teachers and administrators with additional time to refine their implementation of the 2011 Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks in ELA and mathematics, which incorporate the Common Core State Standards, that the State Board adopted in December 2010, as well as to become familiar with new online test administration procedures before any final decision on full-scale implementation of PARCC. We know that not all districts and schools are ready to administer computer-based assessments. The transition period allows us to secure additional funding to ensure that all schools are able to incorporate 21st century learning technologies, including the ability to administer online assessments.

Go to http://www.doe.mass.edu/boe/docs/2013-11/spec-item1-item2.pdf for more info on this week's Board vote. For an analysis of the State Board's decision this week, you may find Education Week reporter Catherine Gewertz's November 20th blog entry of interest.

Connecting Curriculum Improvement Efforts to Educator Evaluation

On Thursday, ESE released the first-ever large scale performance ratings under the state's new educator evaluation system. I knew from first-hand experience that the vast majority of Massachusetts's teachers and administrators are solid performers – and the initial ratings support this. What I was not sure of was the degree to which evaluation is fulfilling its potential as a catalyst for growth and development; districts are linking educator evaluation goals to school and curricular improvement goals; whether we are distinguishing exemplary, solid, and less-than-proficient performance; and whether we are setting a high bar for professional teacher status (PTS). On each of these counts, I found the 2012-13 results to be encouraging.

During the 2012-13 school year, 37,940 educators in 213 Race to the Top districts were evaluated – or almost 62 percent of educators in those districts (which exceeded the target 50 percent mark). Across those districts, 85.2 percent of educators evaluated were Proficient. Smaller percentages of educators received the highest rating of Exemplary (7.4 percent) or a rating of Needs Improvement (6.8 percent). Less than one percent of educators were Unsatisfactory (0.7 percent). Further, the percent of non-professional status teachers rated as Needs Improvement or Unsatisfactory was three times that of PTS, which suggests that evaluators are using Proficiency as the bar for tenure. Professional status teachers largely have earned their status through strong performance while not all new entrants are ready to be full-fledged members of the profession.

I am encouraged by the results that show the vast majority of our educators are solid performers. The system is identifying the strongest teachers and administrators, which will allow us to employ them to help elevate teaching and learning across the system. That is critical because, as we know, no other component of schooling comes close to having the magnitude of influence on student achievement than a teacher's effectiveness.

Further, the results of two recent surveys – one of principals and the other their teachers and administrators – convey the belief of respondents that compared to prior evaluation systems the Commonwealth's new system is an improvement. Respondents report that our new evaluation system is providing administrators and teachers with greater feedback than before to improve their practice.

As part of our release of results on Thursday, Springfield Public Schools Superintendent Daniel Warwick and Malden Public Schools Superintendent David DeRuosi joined me on a call with reporters. I am impressed by the leadership that our superintendents are exhibiting by leading the way in implementing our new evaluation system. This is challenging work, but as Dan and Dave both demonstrated, districts are implementing the new system in ways that support their efforts to upgrade curriculum and instruction in classrooms.

Earlier today, I had the opportunity to visit the Abraham Lincoln School in Revere with Superintendent Paul Dakin. In addition to visiting a number of classrooms to observe the school's early literacy work, we met with two groups of teachers who shared their experiences with the educator evaluation system. One of the most innovative aspects of the district's system is a communications tool that enables educators and evaluators to interact and exchange feedback on a continuous basis. Revere, which was one of the state's early adopters of the new evaluation system, is a terrific example of the power of the new system to provide meaningful feedback to all educators as a way to drive improvements in teaching and learning.

You may find it interesting to note the interest that policymakers and educators outside of Massachusetts are paying to our new evaluation system. Statewide teacher union leadership in at least two states (Kentucky and Maryland) are asking their state education commissioners to trade in their states' adopted evaluation systems in exchange for Massachusetts's system.

Pacing of Reforms

I am sympathetic to the concerns expressed by district and school leaders about the pacing of our reforms and the need to implement these initiatives thoughtfully. To that end, we have made several key adjustments, which include 1) adopting a two-year schedule to "test drive" the PARCC assessments; 2) delaying the year when student results will first count in educator evaluations from 2013-14 to 2014-15; 3) turning 2013-14 into a pilot year for District-Determined Measures (DDMs); 4) providing up to three years after this year (up to 2016-17) to complete the full incorporation of student results and DDMs; and 5) delaying the use of student and staff feedback surveys from the current year to 2014-15. We shared these new timelines with superintendents and principals this past summer. I am asking the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to endorse these adjusted implementation dates. This week, the Board adopted the two-year transition period for PARCC. In December, the Board will vote on the proposed timeline changes for educator evaluation.

As we head into the holiday week, I want to say thanks to the school superintendents, administrators, principals, teachers, staff, parents, and everyone else who plays an integral role in delivering an exceptional education to our one million public school students. I wish you a safe, healthy, and happy Thanksgiving.

Governor Patrick Appoints New State Education Board Member:

Governor Deval Patrick has appointed James Morton to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Mr. Morton, a Springfield resident, is the president and chief executive officer of the YMCA of Greater Hartford, a role in which he has served since Dec. 2010. The YMCA of Greater Hartford is one of the largest YMCA's in the nation, serving approximately 111,000 people in 52 cities and towns throughout Hartford, Tolland, Litchfield, and Windham counties. He holds a BA from the University of Wisconsin (Madison) and a Juris Doctorate from Northeastern University. After practicing law for 18 years, Mr. Morton became a social studies/law teacher and track coach at the High School of Commerce in Springfield for a period of five years. From 2004-2009, he served as an appointee of the Governor on the Springfield Finance Control Board.

Board Recap:

At its Nov. 18 special meeting, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education continued its discussion of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) and the proposed timelines to transition from MCAS to PARCC. At its Nov. 19 regular meeting, the Board voted to adopt the two-year transition plan to PARCC. The Board heard a progress report on the first full year of the Lawrence Public Schools receivership. The Board voted to send out for public comment proposed amendments to the Regulations on Educator Licensure and Preparation Program Approval, relating to the professional standards for teachers. The Board voted on its state education budget recommendation, heard an update from the Commissioner on the four schools he placed into Level 5 last month, and voted to accept the surrender of the Spirit of Knowledge Charter School in Worcester.

For Your Info:

  • Notice of Public Comment: The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is soliciting public comment on proposed amendments to 603 CMR 7.00, Educator Licensure and Preparation Program Approval Regulations. For more info, go to http://www.doe.mass.edu/news/news.aspx?id=7868.
  • National Poetry Out Loud Competition: Schools interested in registering for this year's Poetry Out Loud competition must do so by Friday, Dec. 20. The program encourages young people to learn about great poetry through memorization and performance, while helping them master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and internalize their rich literacy heritage. A program of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, Poetry Out Loud is run locally by the Massachusetts Cultural Council and The Huntington Theatre Company. All schools must hold their competitions and submit their winner by Jan. 31, 2014. See www.huntingtontheatre.org/poetry for more info. Please contact Donna Glick at 617-273-1548 or djglick@huntingtontheatre.bu.edu with any questions.
  • Next Weekly Update: In observation of the Thanksgiving holiday, we will not publish a Weekly Update on Nov. 29. The next update will be on Dec. 6.

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Last Updated: November 25, 2013
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