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Commissioner's Weekly Update - December 9, 2016

PISA Results Put Massachusetts among Top Nations:

The 2015 results from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) show that if Massachusetts were a nation, it would share the top spot in reading with eight other nations worldwide. In science, the state's students and those from 10 nations came in second, trailing only students from Singapore. In math, 11 other nations were ahead of the Commonwealth. The triennial test, which assesses a sample of 15-year-olds, also showed that high-poverty schools in Massachusetts had higher scores in 2015 than in 2012.

The assessment also includes a survey that focused on science in 2015 and showed that only 14 percent of the variation in Massachusetts students' science scores was attributable to family economic background. "Eighty-six percent is determined by instructional practices, district policies, and students' attitudes toward science," Commissioner Chester said.

At a visit to Mildred Avenue K-8 School in Boston this week, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. recognized Massachusetts for its sustained commitment to improving education for all students and noted the Commonwealth's strong PISA scores, which were above the national average in all three subjects.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) coordinates PISA and also offers the OECD Test for Schools, an international benchmarking assessment for individual schools.

Recovery High Schools – Proposed Regulations

At the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education's November 29, 2016 meeting, the Board voted to solicit public comment on proposed Regulations on Recovery High Schools, 603 CMR 54.00. Written comments on the proposed regulations may be submitted through January 17, 207 by e-mail to, by mail to ATTN: RHS Comments, Office of Student and Family Support, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 75 Pleasant St., Malden, MA 02148, or by fax to 781-338-3090.

Resources for Science and Technology/Engineering MCAS:

The Department has identified the 2001/06 grades 3–5 and grades 6-8 science and technology/engineering (STE) standards that will be assessed on the 2017 MCAS grades 5 and 8 STE test. These lists will assist schools currently transitioning to the standards in the 2016 Massachusetts STE Framework.

Maximize Bandwidth on a Budget:

As part of the Massachusetts Digital Connections Initiative, EducationSuperHighway is offering district leaders the opportunity to come together virtually at 1 p.m. December 13, 2016 to view their own and other districts' broadband data on Compare & Connect K-12 and discuss strategies to get more bandwidth for their budget during the current E-rate cycle.

Technology Readiness Survey for Schools with Wi-Fi Needs:

Over the last three fiscal years, ESE and MassIT have provided grant funds to help districts upgrade their school Wi-Fi networks. This year, the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) initiated a $10 million loan program for the same purpose. To help us understand the extent to which districts have continuing unmet needs, we are asking that districts complete the brief School Technology Readiness Survey. If completed by someone knowledgeable about the existing infrastructure in the district, the survey should take about 10-15 minutes per school building. (Users can save the survey and return to it later, if necessary.) In general, districts must complete the survey no later than Thursday, December 15, 2016 if they plan to seek state technology funding or assistance from ESE or MassIT or technology loans from the MSBA.

Districts that do not have additional Wi-Fi needs can contact a member of the MassIT team (michael.hamel@MassMail.State.MA.US,, or for a quick conversation to verify this. The MassIT team can also answers questions about the survey. For policy questions, please contact Kenneth Klau at or 781-338-3505.

For Your Info:

  • Improving Middle and High School Writing: The latest What Works Clearinghouse Educator's Practice Guide, "Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively," provides evidence-based recommendations for improving the writing skills of middle and high school students.
  • The Big Read: The National Endowment for the Arts' The Big Read provides people with the chance to read and discuss a single book within their communities. Governments, libraries, school districts, colleges and universities, and non-profit organizations can apply for one of an estimated 75 grants that will be awarded for programming occurring between September 2017 and June 2018. The application deadline is January 26, 2017. For this cycle, communities will choose from 28 selections (novels, short stories, memoirs, poetry, and books in translation).

Subscriber Information: Superintendents, assistant 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) Leave the subject line blank. 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: December 11, 2016
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