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Commissioner's Weekly Update - September 16, 2016

Updated assessment participation data available:

Earlier this week, ESE gave districts and schools embargoed access to their official assessment participation data via the MCAS 2016 Data Drop Box in Drop Box Central in the Security Portal. Participation rates are reported at the district, school, and subgroup level for each subject tested for both MCAS and PARCC districts and schools. These official data incorporate MCAS discrepancies that districts reported during the August discrepancy reporting window. Since being posted in August, MCAS and PARCC data have been subjected to extensive external and internal review, and as such, potential discrepancies may no longer be reported.

As a reminder, these data are strictly confidential and embargoed until ESE officially releases official assessment and accountability results later this month. Please see the updated 2016 assessment and accountability data review and release schedule for more details. For help with questions about MCAS results, e-mail or call (781) 338-3625. For help with questions about accountability reporting, e-mail or call (781) 338-3550.

Substance Use Prevention and Substance Abuse Education: Action Required by October 28, 2016:

Mass. Gen. Laws chapter 71, section 96 (as amended by St. 2016, c. 52, s. 15, An Act Relative to Substance Use, Treatment, Education and Prevention), requires each public school (including district schools, charter schools, and vocational-technical schools) to:

1) have a policy regarding substance use prevention and the education of its students about the dangers of substance abuse;

2) notify the parents or guardians of all students attending the school of the policy;

3) post the policy on the school's website; and

4) file the school's substance use prevention and abuse education policies with ESE in a manner and form prescribed by the agency.

The first three items on the list have been required by statute since 2014, and the fourth item is a result of the 2016 amendment. Each school district and charter school shall file its substance use prevention policy (or policies) with ESE no later than 5:00 p.m. Friday, October 28, 2016.

Filing requirements: Superintendents should submit the policy/policies on behalf of each district's schools. The website addresses (URLs) where the policies are posted should be emailed to ESE at Department staff will use the web links to download the policies from the websites. If desired (not required), superintendents may also attach copies of the policies.

Department guidance and other resources: Schools and districts that are considering amending their substance use prevention policies are asked to review the Guidance on School Policies Regarding Substance Use Prevention and other resources posted on ESE's Safe and Supportive Schools website. For more information or assistance, please contact Anne Gilligan at or (781) 338-6309.

Public Employees and Political Activity:

Some questions have arisen recently about the extent to which public employees, including public school employees, may engage in political activity. The Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) and the State Ethics Commission are the two state agencies that have jurisdiction over this issue, and both agencies have published helpful advisories on the topic.

The Office of Campaign and Political Finance's one-page factsheet on public employees and campaigns lists political activities in which public employees may engage (contributing to candidates, for example) and those in which they may not (soliciting or collecting political contributions, for example). The factsheet includes a reminder that using public resources for political campaigns is prohibited, stating:

"Public resources (government vehicles, office equipment and supplies and the paid time of public employees) may not be used for political campaign purposes, such as the election of a candidate or the passage or defeat of a ballot question. For example, a public employee may not, during his work day, render campaign service to a candidate or ballot question committee or use office postage or equipment to distribute campaign material."

The State Ethics Commission's advisory on political activity discusses restrictions that the conflict of interest law places on public employees. It also provides examples of what public employees may and may not do and includes the following example relating to public school teachers and ballot questions:

"Example: A public school teacher may support a local ballot question, such as a tax limit override question, if she does so on her own time and without the use of public resources. She may serve on a ballot question committee so long as she does so without pay and does not fundraise or act as the agent for the campaign in any matter involving her town. She may distribute campaign literature, make get-out-the vote telephone calls, conduct campaign polls and research, drive voters to the polls, and display or hold signs."

The advisory explains that, as a general rule, public employees may not engage in political activity, whether election-related or non-election related, on public work time or with the use of public resources.

Additional helpful resources from the Office of Campaign and Political Finance include "The Use of Government Resources for Political Purposes", "Activities of Public Officials in Support of or Opposition to Ballot Questions" and "Political Activity Pursuant to a Collective Bargaining Agreement".

Questions may be directed to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance at (617) 979-8300 or and the State Ethics Commission at (617) 371-9500 or

Preparing for Spring 2017 Testing:

The most recent Student Assessment Update is now online and includes an overview of principals' responsibilities for statewide testing during the current school year. It also has links specifically on how to prepare for computer-based testing. As the Commonwealth phases in computer-based testing, ESE expects schools to give computer-based tests to grades 4 and 8 in spring 2017.

Encouraging Regionalization:

Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, in her role as chair of the Community Compact Cabinet, recently announced that the cabinet has $2 million available in a new Efficiency and Regionalization Grant Program open to entities including municipalities, regional school districts, and school districts considering forming a region or regionalizing services. There will be two competitive application rounds for the grant, one from October 15-November 15, 2016, and the second from January 1-February 1, 2017. For more information, contact Sean Cronin, the Department of Revenue's senior deputy commissioner of local services, at

Organizational Update:

In 2015, ESE experienced a significant reduction in staff, in large part due to the state's early retirement incentive program and the end of our federal Race to the Top funding. After gathering input from staff and stakeholders, the agency has reorganized around several centers to integrate work more effectively. The centers and their leaders are outlined in a document attached to the email version of this update, and the staff directory on the ESE website is being updated. To receive a copy of the reorganization summary, please email Jackie Reis.

For Your Info:

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: September 16, 2016
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