The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Race to the Top

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
September 10, 2010

Over the past month we have been notified that Massachusetts will be a recipient of $250 million in Race to the Top funding, and will also participate in a 26-state consortium awarded $170 million in Race to the Top Assessment funding to develop a next-generation college and career readiness assessment system. This memo will provide you with updates and next steps on both major initiatives.

Race to the Top
We were very pleased to learn on August 24 that Massachusetts was one of the 10 states selected to receive funding in Phase 2 of Race to the Top (RTTT). Our final score was 471 out of 500 possible points, which ranked us first among the winners. The final rankings for the winning states in Phases 1 and 2 were:

Phase 1

  1. Delaware: 454.6
  2. Tennessee: 444.2

Phase 2

  1. Massachusetts: 471.0
  2. New York: 464.8
  3. Hawaii: 462.4
  4. Florida: 452.4
  5. Rhode Island: 451.2
  6. District of Columbia: 450.0 (tie)
  7. Maryland: 450.0 (tie)
  8. Georgia: 446.4
  9. North Carolina: 441.6
  10. Ohio: 440.8

In all, Massachusetts will receive $250 million over the next two years, $125 million of which will be distributed to the 275 participating districts and charter schools using the Title I formula (see attached list for district allocations). An additional $23 million will be distributed to districts through competitive grant opportunities to support key initiatives. The remainder will be used to support the state-level work needed to launch and evaluate all RTTT initiatives, ultimately benefiting all participating districts and charter schools.

After pausing briefly to celebrate, we moved immediately into implementation mode. Before participating districts can access any of their funds, they are now required to create implementation plans to be reviewed and approved by the state. All 275 plans must be submitted, reviewed and approved by the Department (ESE) within 90 days of the August 24 award date.

The anticipated timeline is an aggressive one. We will hold four webinars throughout September to provide districts with early guidance, and provide additional technical assistance through written materials and in-person activities with the District and School Assistance Centers. Preliminary guidance was distributed earlier this month and we expect to issue a full RFP with project descriptions for all projects by September 20. District scopes of work will be due to the DESE on October 22 and all documentation is due to the USED by November 22.

District Activities
To participate, each district or charter school was required to sign a Memorandum of Understanding, committing to making improvement in up to six strategic areas:

DESE has identified a range of both required and optional projects to support each of these goals. All RTTT districts and charter schools must participate in the following five projects:

Districts that selected some of the optional initiatives on the MOU will be required to also implement the following projects:

For their initial Year 1 RFP, all participating districts will be required to submit, among other things, a program narrative describing their district improvement plan priorities and alignment to the state's and district's goals and performance measures.

Districts are only required to indicate anticipated activities in years 2, 3 and 4 at this time, and will submit a full RTTT implementation plan and budget for Years 2-4 in spring 2011. At that point we will ask districts to describe in detail their plans for implementation across the remaining three years of the grant, as well as to establish ambitious but attainable performance measures for each project.

We anticipate that the 2010-11 year will be devoted largely to planning and initial development of activities. We expect that the remaining three years will involve the most intense work as districts and the state implement and expand capacity. For this reason, we expect that most districts will pace the expenditure of their RTTT funding so a greater proportion of the grant will be spent in the last three years.

Race to the Top Assessment In addition to receiving the RTTT funding, we learned on September 2 that the 26-state Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) consortium had been selected to receive $170 million in federal funding to develop a next generation assessment system. These new tests will be aligned to the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics.

I am pleased to be chairing the governing body for this project. This grant is an outstanding opportunity to develop next generation assessments, and refinements that we would have pursued with state funding if we were not in a fiscal downturn. At this point the MCAS assessment budget has been pared so much over the past three years that it barely supports the core program and does not permit new development.

We have four years to develop assessments that are aligned to the Common Core Standards expectations; that utilize emerging assessment technologies (including on-line formats that allow for cost efficiencies and faster turnaround of results); that employ classroom embedded assessments that are directly connected to the ongoing curriculum; and that permit the assessment of student synthesis of information from complex texts, application of knowledge to solve problems and generate arguments. This type of assessment cannot be done through traditional one- or two-hour testing sessions.

Over the next four years we will evaluate the utility and added value that the new generation assessments provide. It may be that they supplement the MCAS as we currently know it; it may be that we decide the new assessments do not provide added value and therefore we choose not to employ them; or it may be that the new assessments add sufficient value that we decide to transition from the current MCAS. I will not recommend abandonment of our current testing regime unless it is clear that a next generation assessment continues to measure student achievement against performance expectations that are at least as ambitious as MCAS.

The 11 governing states that will lead PARCC in assessment development are: Arizona, the District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and Tennessee. The other participating states are Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. Florida will serve as PARCC's fiscal agent, and Washington, D.C.-based Achieve, Inc. will play a key role in coordinating the work of the Partnership.