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Commissioner's Weekly Update - March 13, 2015

PARCC Tests to Begin:

More than 200,000 Massachusetts students in grades 3-8 will take mathematics and English language arts tests developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) this spring as part of Massachusetts' unique, two-year test drive of the assessment system. The districts administering PARCC represent slightly more than half of the state's grades 3-8 districts, and the first tests will start Monday. Students in 11 other states have already completed more than 2 million PARCC tests.

Most of the Massachusetts districts that have chosen to use PARCC this spring will have at least some of their students take the test on a computer. The Department used the lessons from the spring 2014 field tests to help districts prepare for this spring's tests, but technical issues may arise. When faced with such an issue, schools should first call PARCC support at 1-888-493-9888 and get a ticket number. If necessary, schools can then call ESE at 781-338-3625.

This spring's PARCC results will be reported to students and families during the 2015-16 school year, and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will vote in fall 2015 whether to adopt PARCC. The Department would like to thank all of the districts that are helping the Board test whether PARCC is the right 21st-century test for Massachusetts students. More information about PARCC, including materials designed for parents, is available on our website. Anyone with questions about PARCC can email MCAS and PARCC Participation Requirements, Oct. 15, 2014.) This program is an important component of the Commonwealth's public education system, and participation is required for all students enrolled in public school. The state assessments provide important feedback to families, teachers, administrators, and state policymakers as to where schools are succeeding and where schools and districts need to enhance their efforts. Legislators and taxpayers also expect an objective assessment of student and school performance in return for a very significant investment of public funds. In those districts that have chosen to give the PARCC assessment, having all students participate will allow the state to better evaluate the quality of the test.

Nevertheless, ESE knows there will be isolated instances of a student's refusal to take the test, either of his/her own volition or at the direction of a parent. In these cases, we ask principals to encourage parents to rethink their refusal and remind them that students' and teachers' experiences will help the state decide whether PARCC is a worthwhile assessment. When a parent directs their child to refuse to take PARCC, they are forgoing their child's opportunity to contribute to ESE's evaluation of the test. We ask principals and test proctors to handle refusals with sensitivity. Students should not be pressured to take the test, nor should they be punished for not taking the test. They may sit quietly and read in the testing room, but if they are distracting others in the class who are taking the test, it would be appropriate to have them move to another location in the school with adult supervision. There is no requirement to provide formal or informal instruction to these students during the test period; having them do homework or read a book is sufficient.

For students who refuse to take the MCAS or PARCC paper tests, no special reporting is needed. If no answer form is submitted for a student, or if a blank answer form is submitted, the student will automatically be considered absent. For students who refuse to take the PARCC online test, the test administrator will need to mark the student's test as "complete" in the PearsonAccessnext system so that the test session can be closed. Completed online tests with no responses will also default to absent.

PARCC Security Agreement for Educators:

It has come to ESE's attention that some educators who will administer PARCC have raised concerns about the PARCC Security Agreement included in the PARCC Test Administrator Manuals. As always, test administrators and other school personnel involved in the administration of state assessments are expected to follow the policies and protocols for test security and administration. Teachers, however, do not have to sign the PARCC Security Agreement in order to proctor the test.

Test administrators and other school personnel involved in test administration have an ethical and professional obligation to administer the assessments in accordance with the relevant policies and protocols whether or not the individuals sign the relevant acknowledgement form or agreement.

Reminder about MCAS and PARCC Test Security:

Protecting the security of test items is important to creating a fair and reliable test for all students.

All cellular phones (including camera phones and smart phones) are prohibited from both the MCAS and PARCC testing environments during the test, during breaks and after students have completed testing. Test administrators should ensure that students do not have cellular phones or any other prohibited materials during testing. If a student is found to be in possession of a cellular phone or other prohibited material, the student may be dismissed from the testing environment, and ESE may invalidate the test later.

Assessment Schedule:

The Department sent important instructions to school principals and test coordinators on March 12 regarding this spring's MCAS English Language Arts test administration and an updated 2014–2015 testing schedule (superintendents were copied on this message as well).

Additional guidance on snow day

The snowy winter of 2015 has led many schools to miss a record number of days. We appreciate all of the efforts districts have made to reschedule as many of the days as possible to provide students with at

least 180 days of structured learning time. In our conversations with district officials, it has become apparent that some districts, even with their best efforts, will be unable to reschedule all of the missed days. The commissioner is prepared to grant waivers to the 180-day requirement if districts make a concerted effort to make up the missed days but are unable to make up all of them.

Number of snow days through March 31Description of options
1 to 5Districts must use the 5 extra days already scheduled in their calendars. No action required.
6 to 10Districts must add at least 3 days in addition to the 5 noted above, using April vacation, Good Friday, Suffolk County holidays, Saturdays, or extending later into June. Once 3 days have been added, a district may request a waiver of the 180-day requirement and propose longer school days to offset the remaining days.
11 or moreDistricts must add at least 4 days to the calendar in addition to the 5 noted above, using April vacation, Good Friday, Suffolk County holidays, Saturdays, or extending later into June. Once 4 days have been added, a district may request a waiver of the 180-day requirement and propose longer school days to offset the remaining days.

Waiver requests proposing extended days must demonstrate a positive impact on student learning and must provide students with at least 900 (elementary) or 990 (secondary) hours of structured learning time this school year. The amount of time being added to a day must be significant, and districts will need to provide information on how they are dealing with implementation issues, including teacher schedules, bus schedules, and impact on afterschool activities.

Early release days count toward the 180-day requirement, but only the actual structured learning time counts towards the 900/990 hour calculation.

Here again is the link to the ESE's full policy on missed school days.

Some districts are also experimenting with projects or other out-of-school work to help make up missed instructional days. If a school committee in its judgment determines that the work meets the definition of "structured learning time" in the student learning time regulations and is equivalent to in-class instruction, it may be counted toward the 180-day and 900/990 hour requirements. No waiver is required, but we ask that districts send us information that will help us to identify best practices.

We hope this guidance will help districts deal with this winter's unprecedented snowfalls while ensuring students receive as much rich instructional time as possible.

We also call to your attention that Labor Day comes very late next fall (Sept. 7). We strongly urge districts to start school before Labor Day to minimize the scheduling challenges posed by New England winters. In addition, an increasing number of districts are exploring one full week's vacation in March along with a long weekend in February and April instead of one week each in February and April.

Other Updates

Digital Learning Day and Digital Citizenship Course:

Today is Digital Learning Day. The Digital Learning Day website offers resources, lesson plans, and sample activities for schools. For more, look on Twitter under #DLDay.

In partnership with the National Hockey League (NHL), the National Hockey League Players Association, and the Boston Bruins, EverFi will offer Massachusetts students and their teachers in grades 5-8 full access to the NHL Future Goals – Digital Citizenship Course, a 3.5 hour, supplemental web-based learning course focused on preparing students to lead a healthy digital lifestyle. The interactive curriculum, aligned with Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks, teaches the nuts and bolts of technology while tackling issues like cyber bullying, validating online sources, plagiarism, Internet safety and other critical topics.

This course is free to Massachusetts schools and districts, face-to-face professional development through EverFi is free, and the course will be available to Massachusetts students and teachers beyond Digital Learning Day. To request access to the program, please contact Maddy Murphy, EverFi program manager, at 202-713-5163 or maddy@everfi.com.

Cultural Proficiency:

As part of ESE's Diversity Initiative, the agency would like to disseminate resources in alignment with ESE Model Performance Rubrics to help schools and districts diversify their educator workforce and develop cultural proficiency practices among educators. To meet this need, ESE is seeking a Cultural Proficiency Provider. Please take the time to briefly review this request for bids posted on COMMBUYS and pass on the information to any individuals, vendors, or groups that may be able to meet the requirements of this bid. The deadline to submit a proposal is March 31. All interested parties must be registered with COMMBUYS in order to submit a proposal. For directions on how to register with COMMBUY, please contact the COMMBUYS helpdesk at EducatorDevelopment@doe.mass.edu.

Intent to Apply for Waiver from Certain School Improvement Grant requirements:

Next month, ESE will submit a new application for federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) funds to help serve the Commonwealth's persistently lowest achieving schools. The Department intends to apply for a waiver of certain SIG requirements. We have posted our notice of intent to apply for a waiver online. Anyone who would like to submit comments is invited to do so by sending an email to titlei@doe.mass.edu by March 31.

For Your Info:

  • Deadline extended for ed prep reviewers: The Department has extended the deadline for people to apply to be education preparation program reviewers to March 15. For more information, please contact edprep@doe.mass.edu.
  • Licensure website now on mass.gov: The ESE web site is gradually migrating to www.mass.gov. The first section to do so is licensure. Visitors can go straight there or be redirected from the old site.

Subscriber Information: Superintendents, principals, and charter school leaders will receive the update automatically. For others wishing to subscribe, send an email to imailsrv@list1.doe.mass.edu 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: March 16, 2015
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