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Commissioner's Weekly Update - March 3, 2017

Graduation Rate Grows for 10th Year in a Row:

The Department announced February 28, 2017 that the Commonwealth's graduation rate had grown for the 10th consecutive year, and the annual dropout rate is the lowest it has been in more than three decades. Approximately 5,900 fewer students dropped out in 2015-16 than in 2006-7. In addition, the gains were greatest for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds over this period, thus substantially narrowing graduation rate gaps with their counterparts. Thank you to everyone whose dedication made this possible!

Massachusetts ranked top state:

Earlier this week, U.S. News & World Report ranked Massachusetts the best state to live in and cited its strong education system among the factors. Massachusetts was also ranked first in Education Week's most recent Quality Counts edition and has been recognized for its students' strong performance on Advanced Placement, ACT, PISA and NAEP assessments.

Educator Evaluation Changes:

On February 28, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to amend the state's educator evaluation regulations. The Department will share a detailed memo about the changes with districts next week.

Three New Charter Schools Approved:

On February 27, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved three new charters and expansions at three existing schools. The new schools are Old Sturbridge Academy Charter Public School, which will open this fall and serve Sturbridge, Brimfield, Brookfield, Holland, Monson, North Brookfield, Palmer, Southbridge, Spencer-East Brookfield, Wales, and Webster; Hampden Charter School of Science – West, which will open in 2018 and serve Agawam, Holyoke, Westfield, and West Springfield; and Map Academy Charter School, which will open in 2018 and serve Carver, Plymouth, and Wareham.

Public Comment Open on Proposed Changes to 2017 District and School Accountability:

On February 28, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to solicit public comment on a proposed amendment to 603 CMR 2.00: Accountability and Assistance for School Districts and Schools related to district and school accountability reporting in 2017. Among other matters, the regulations describe Massachusetts' framework for district accountability and assistance and the process for placing schools into Levels 1-5. The proposed amendment would allow ESE to refrain from placing certain schools into Levels 1-3 at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year. An important element of regulations concerns participation rates. Schools with less than 90 percent participation in spring 2017 will be placed in Level 3. Further, participation rates for 2016-17 will be averaged with 2017-18 rates to establish 2017-18 participation rates and accountability Levels.

These amendments would apply to schools with grades 3-8 and relate to one school year. High schools will continue to administer the legacy MCAS and will continue to be placed into levels. The attached memo, which was sent to district and school leaders on Thursday, provides clarification around the proposed changes. The Department welcomes comments on the proposed amendment. Please submit feedback to by April 5, 2017.

Attorney General's Advisory on Serving Students Regardless of Immigration Status:

This week, Attorney General Maura Healey issued an advisory as a reminder that state and federal law require state educational agencies and local school districts to provide all elementary and secondary students with equal access to public education — irrespective of race, color, sex, gender identity, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or immigration status.The advisory states in part, "Enrollment practices that single out students based on their actual or perceived citizenship or immigration status violate state and federal law. Furthermore, equal access to public education means not only the right to enroll in school, but also the right to an education free from unlawful discrimination and harassment."

ESSA's Limit on Alternate Assessments:

A memo from Commissioner Chester is now available about a provision of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that limits the number of students statewide who can participate in alternate assessments to 1 percent. The provision requires that parents of students who take the alternate assessments be notified that "participation in an alternate assessment may delay or otherwise affect their child's completion of the requirements for a diploma." The commissioner's memo provides:

  • an explanation of the provision;
  • data on each district's participation rate;
  • resources to assist individualized education program (IEP) teams make informed assessment decisions, be retrained on an annual basis, and provide notification to parents; and
  • next steps, depending on whether a district is currently above the 1 percent threshold.

Although ESE plans to request a waiver of this provision from the U.S. Department of Education, it is nevertheless important that administrators and other interested educators become familiar with, and act upon, the information contained in the commissioner's memo. Questions can be addressed to or the Student Assessment office at 781-338-3625.

VISTA is still OPEN!:

The Department has extended the VISTA survey window until March 10. We encourage superintendents and principals who have not already done so to take this opportunity to provide ESE with needed feedback. Close to 50 percent of both groups have responded, and more responses would better inform ESE's resource allocation and policy decisions. For those superintendents and principals who have partially completed their surveys, please remember that Westat allows participants to re-enter the survey where they left off, making it easier to finish providing feedback. Completed surveys improve the reliability and validity of the information collected. Educator voice matters to ESE. Please take advantage of the extended survey window to share feedback on ESE's core strategic initiatives.

For Your Info:

  • School breakfast grant opportunities: Action for Healthy Kids is offering grants of $500 to $3,000 to schools to support increased breakfast participation.

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: March 6, 2017
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