Commissioner's Weekly Update - November 8, 2013
Massachusetts Tops NAEP for the Fifth Consecutive Time:
On Thursday, Governor Patrick announced that for the fifth consecutive time, Massachusetts 4th and 8th graders scored first or tied for first place on all four National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams. According to the 2013 NAEP results, Massachusetts ranked first alone among states in 8th grade mathematics, and tied for first in 4th grade reading, 4th grade mathematics, and 8th grade reading. All the credit for this outstanding accomplishment goes to our educators and students for their hard work and continuous improvement. While our performance since two years ago held steady on three of the four NAEP tests, the average reading score for Massachusetts 4th graders declined by five points since 2011. For more info on the 2013 NAEP results, go to http://www.doe.mass.edu/news/news.aspx?id=7846.
Update on New National Background Check Law:
Planning is underway for the full-scale rollout of the new State Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or SAFIS. The state's new national background check law authorizes a national criminal database check for all school employees and certain other individuals who may have direct and unauthorized access to children. Recently, the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security selected MorphoTrust as the vendor to handle the fingerprinting. The Executive Office of Education has posted an FAQ on its website about the new law.
Next week, superintendents will receive a memo from ESE Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson in which he will ask districts to identify a point of contact to receive the results of the criminal records checks. ESE is also looking for some volunteer districts to participate in a soft launch of SAFIS, using their newly hired employees, prior to the full-scale rollout. Initial fingerprinting sites will be located in Beverly, Boston, Bourne, Brockton, Pittsfield, Springfield, and Tewksbury, with additional sites added during the full-scale rollout. If your district is close to any of these seven sites and you would like to help your new employees beat the rush to complete the background checks, please contact Deputy Commissioner Wulfson at firstname.lastname@example.org. SAFIS will open for registration for employees in the soft launch districts in early December.
Updates on PARCC:
Intent to Apply for Waiver – Later this month, ESE plans to submit a request for a waiver of certain federal requirements that relate to participation in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) field test in spring 2014. ESE has posted notice of intent to apply for a waiver online at www.doe.mass.edu/news/news.aspx?id=7843. If you wish to submit comments, please send an email to email@example.com by Nov. 20, 2013.
Upcoming Conference Calls – On Nov. 20 and 21, 2013, ESE will host conference calls to support superintendents with schools that will participate in the spring 2014 PARCC field test. Specifically, the calls will help superintendents make informed decisions about students who will take MCAS tests in grades 3-8 and will take the performance-based assessment component of the PARCC field test. For info on registering for these calls, go to http://www.doe.mass.edu/conference/?ConferenceID=1726.
New Sample Items – PARCC has released a new set of sample test items in English language arts/literacy and mathematics. Educators are asking for additional sample items as useful and effective tools to support the transition to the new PARCC assessments. With this new set, PARCC now has posted more than 70 sample items on its website in grades 3-11 in both subjects. As an additional resource to teachers, PARCC will re-release its sample test items on its technology platform later this winter. This will enable educators, students, parents, and others to experience the items on the same technology interface that students will use during actual testing. To view PARCC's sample items, go to www.parcconline.org/samples/item-task-prototypes.
Healthier Meals and Snacks for Students:
In recent years, the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and our state's An Act to Improve School Nutrition have provided Massachusetts students with healthier and more nutritious school meals. The United States Department of Agriculture also recently published the "Smart Snacks in School" nutrition standards to further support the nutritional well-being of students by having schools make available healthier choices wherever selling food outside of the meals program. Each of these initiatives supports healthier students and staff through stronger local school wellness policies and the development of strong professional standards and training resources for school nutrition personnel. To learn more, please see a joint letter from the U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture, Thomas Vilsack, and Education, Arne Duncan, at http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/all-foods_USDA-ED.pdf.
Update on Proposed Virtual Schools:
This week, ESE received one application from a collaborative seeking to operate a virtual school that, if approved, would open in the 2014-15 school year. The Education Cooperative (TEC) in Dedham submitted an application for its proposed virtual school, TEC Connections Academy (TECCA) Commonwealth Virtual School. We will post the application online next week to http://www.doe.mass.edu/odl/cmvs/app-process.html. Commissioner Chester anticipates bringing a recommendation on the proposed virtual school to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for review and a vote at its February 2014 meeting. If you have any questions, please contact Luis Rodriguez, Director of the Office of Digital Learning, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Congratulations to the AP District Honor Roll Recipients:
This week, the College Board named 33 Massachusetts school districts to the 2013 AP District Honor Roll for expanding access to Advanced Placement (AP) curriculum and maintaining or improving the percent of students scoring 3 or higher. The College Board named 477 districts across the U.S. and Canada to the 4th annual AP Honor Roll. For more info, go to http://www.doe.mass.edu/news/news.aspx?id=7842.
For Your Info:
- The Hour of Code – Coming in December: In recognition of Computer Science Education Week, Code.org is encouraging students to participate in a one-hour introduction to computer science during the week of December 9-15. The event, called the "Hour of Code," is sponsored with support from Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, the Boys & Girls Clubs, the College Board, the National Science Teachers Association, and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, among other partners. Through a variety of self-guided tutorials, students will be exposed to computer science skills that are foundational to success in today's global economy. No prior computer science experience is required to participate. Every educator who registers to host an "Hour of Code" will receive a gift of 10GB of free DropBox storage. And one participating school in every state will win a free class-set of laptops. To be eligible for the laptop giveaway, you must register by Nov. 15. For more info, go to http://csedweek.org/.
- College Savings Art Competition: The Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority (MEFA) and ESE are pleased to announce the Tenth Annual College Savings Arts Competition, entitled, "What Do I Want to Be When I Graduate from College?" This popular competition promotes arts education and the advantages of a college education. All Massachusetts students in grades K-5 in public, private, charter, and home-based schools are encouraged to participate. For more info, go to http://www.mefa.org/saveforcollege/saveforcollege.aspx?id=1303.
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