Commissioner's Weekly Update - July 22, 2016
Next-Generation MCAS Update:
Untimed Tests for Spring 2017: Grades 3–8 English language arts and math tests will remain untimed in spring 2017 per current MCAS practice. There was no clear consensus from the Test Administration Workgroup on moving to timed tests, although districts that gave PARCC have already experienced a timed test. The Department expects to revisit this issue for future MCAS administrations.
Standards Review Panel: The English Language Arts and Mathematics Standards Review Panel, made up of K-12 educators and higher education faculty, held its fourth meeting on July 7, 2016. The panel provided recommendations on refinements to the 2011 standards. The Department has engaged the research firm Abt Associates and other subject matter experts to evaluate the recommendations. We expect the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to review the suggested refinements and make proposed updated standards available for public comment this fall.
MSBA Announces Technology Infrastructure Partnership Loan Program:
Several state agencies are working together to help districts access technology. On July 20, 2016, the Massachusetts School Building Authority voted to make $50 million in loans available over the next five years to help districts cover the cost of technology projects. The districts will be vetted through ESE's Digital Connections Partnership Schools Grant process and will apply for and receive E-rate funds with help from MassIT.
After School and Out-of-School Time Grant Opportunity:
The Department has scheduled several grant information sessions to share information and address questions about the FY17 Quality Enhancements in After School and Out-of-School Time (ASOST-Q) grant. Full details about the grant will soon be found in the Funding Opportunity request for proposals once it is posted on ESE's grants webpage (look for FY17 fund code 530).
Reminder about Criminal History Checks and Reporting Requirement:
Before the 2016-2017 school year starts, Massachusetts public and private schools, grades pre-K-12, must have completed national criminal history checks (Statewide Applicant Fingerprint Identification Services, or SAFIS, checks) for all employees who may have unmonitored access to students. For details, please see the regulations on Criminal History Checks for School Employees.
The Department asks that school leaders be sure that their school or district has reported to the commissioner, as required, any educator or applicant for Massachusetts licensure whose SAFIS report shows a criminal history that may suggest unfitness to be licensed, regardless of whether the school or district retains or hires the individual. For details, please see section 51.07 of the regulations.
A frequently asked questions document is available online.
U.S. Department of Education Notice:
The U.S. Department of Education notified ESE on July 1, 2016 that the federal agency plans to penalize the state for offering districts a choice between MCAS and PARCC in spring 2016 instead of a single assessment. This penalty would not hurt districts. The federal agency proposes to essentially re-route approximately $100,000 from the state administration portion of one of Massachusetts' federal grants and send that money to districts instead.
Commissioner Chester has appealed the penalty, noting that the two-test choice was part of a transition to the Next-Generation MCAS that all students in grades 3-8 will take in spring 2017 and that ESE continues to have a strong commitment to "high academic expectations, a high quality assessment, and accountability for results."
Ambassadors for Equitable and Inclusive Practice:
This fall, ESE will partner with the Massachusetts Organization of Educational Collaboratives and both principals' associations to coordinate and conduct visits between principals and equitable and inclusive practice ambassadors. The Department's partnership with the ambassadors is a component of the Massachusetts State Equity Plan to promote equitable access to excellent educators for all students.
The team of ambassadors is composed of current and former principals, teachers, and other educational leaders, and they will share resources and strategies to strengthen instruction. For example, ambassadors will share information about a new grant designed to support innovative partnerships between districts and educator preparation organizations, a district-created interactive planner that helps districts assess and plan for distributing leadership, and information about a free online course on the foundations for inclusive practice.
Schools can schedule an ambassador visit via this online form and can learn more about the program by contacting the executive director of their local educational collaborative.
Massachusetts College Access Celebration:
The Department of Higher Education, which directs the federally-funded Massachusetts GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) program, invites districts to apply to have a Massachusetts College Access Celebration to their high school. The events aim to help high school students submit college applications and be awarded on-the-spot acceptances. The events are high-energy, and organizers hope to visit 50 schools during the 2016-17 school year.
For Your Info:
- Resources for humanities education: U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. has issued a Dear Colleague letter to help districts use federal funds to support humanities education, including social studies, literature, art, music and philosophy.
- Zika guidance: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed interim guidance for kindergarten through 12-grade district and school administrators about the Zika virus. The guidance is designed to address concerns about the risk of infection, provide information for planning school-related activities, and recommend actions that can be taken in consultation with local public health and government officials.
- Inspiration: The U.S. Postal Service recently unveiled a stamp honoring the late Jaime Escalante, the teacher featured in the movie "Stand and Deliver." To celebrate the stamp, the U.S. Department of Education has a blog post with seven quotes from Mr. Escalante.
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