Friday, June 24, 2016

Massachusetts testing update

Two things:

  • The state has awarded the testing contract to Measured Progress, who currently hold the MCAS contract. This would not be noteworthy were it not that their subcontractor is Pearson.

  • The following update was sent out by DESE earlier today regarding computer assessment:

  • After consultation with the Test Administration Workgroup and other stakeholders, the Department has decided to implement a gradual transition plan to phase in computer-based testing. We hope this will make the transition more manageable for school and district staff. Here are the details: 
    · For next year’s tests (spring 2017), our expectation is that all schools will administer the computer-based versions of the ELA and math tests in grades 4 and 8.[1] · The Department’s Office of Digital Learning will provide consultation and support for schools that anticipate difficulty in meeting this requirement. In exceptional circumstances, we will waive the spring 2017 requirement if the school has made a good-faith effort to comply and has a plan for getting on track by spring 2018. 
    · For grades 3, 5, 6, and 7, schools may elect either the computer-based or the paper-based tests next spring. We strongly encourage districts to implement the computer-based version in as many additional grades as possible. The Board’s “hold harmless” policy with respect to school level determinations next year provides a good opportunity for students, teachers, and administrators to gain experience with computer-based testing. · Paper versions of all tests will always be available as an accommodation as required by a student’s individualized education program (IEP). We also anticipate setting up a process for principals to request a paper-based test accommodation for a small number of students who do not have IEPs but who are unable to take a computer-based test for other reasons. 
    · We are currently considering a transition in grades 5 and 7 to full computer-based testing in spring 2018, followed by grades 3 and 6 in spring 2019. We’ll finalize this schedule after the 2017 test administration and after plans for high school testing are finalized. 
    It is the Department’s intention to develop a test that is compatible with most of the devices in common use in schools, including tablets, Chromebooks, laptops, and desktop computers. In the coming weeks, we will be finalizing our selection of the next-generation MCAS testing contractor. After that is completed, we will provide additional details regarding the technical specifications for networks and devices. Additionally, we plan to announce funding opportunities for infrastructure upgrades later this summer.

    A few school finance updates from across the country

    NPR has an update from their earlier report on school funding across the country, with updates from Kansas, Texas, and Arizona, ranging from chaos to no change to some change. As all involve funding lawsuits, worth reading, Massachusetts.

    Slate has a thorough piece on Governor Christie's proposed change in New Jersey state funding:
    Here’s how Christie’s proposal would work in practice: Hillsborough Township, the leafy suburb where he delivered his speech, is 78 percent white, 8 percent Latino, and 5 percent black. Its education funding would increase by 86 percent under Christie’s plan. In high-poverty Newark, which is 84 percent black and Latino, funding would decrease by a devastating 69 percent.
    That a member of the Republican presidential nominee’s inner circle has made such a proposal is frankly terrifying. Christie’s plan is a deeply regressive one that would overturn a half-century of bipartisan consensus that poor children need extra educational resources. 
     Also, worth noting from a Massachusetts perspective (emphasis added):
    New Jersey is  one of the top two states in the nation on academic performance adjusted for student demographics, meaning poor children there academically outperform poor children in every state except Massachusetts.  
    According to an analysis of state data by the Education Law Center, the nonprofit that brought the Abbott case, between 2001 and 2010, the average high-school graduation rate across the state’s poorest districts climbed from 71 to 83 percent. There is little doubt that extra funding for poor children drove those gains.   

    Likewise, true of Massachusetts. But it stands in peril so long as we do nothing on the foundation budget.

    Thursday, June 23, 2016

    Need to rip system apart "a ruinous fiction"

    I highly, highly recommend Professor Jack Schneider's piece in the Atlantic on the fiction of everything in American education being broken:
    American education has some obvious shortcomings. Even defenders of the schools can make long lists of things they’d like to change. But the root of the problem is not incompetent design, as is so frequently alleged. Nor is it stasis. Rather, it is the twofold challenge of complexity and scale. American schools are charged with the task of creating better human beings. And they are expected to do so in a relatively consistent way for all of young people. It is perhaps the nation’s most ambitious collective project; as such, it advances slowly.
    No sample can do it justice, though, so please do read it all.

    June meeting of the Board of Ed

    The Massachusetts Board of Education has their regular monthly meeting on Monday and Tuesday of next week; you can find the agenda here.
    On Monday night, they'll be continuing their discussion of teacher evaluation, particularly the section having to do with "impact on student learning," one which is particularly relevant given the Senate's passage of a budget item that would eliminate that as a state requirement (as it no longer is a federal one).  The panel that will address this is:

    • Henry Braun, Director of the Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation and Education Policy, Lynch School of Education, Boston College
    • Thomas Gosnell, President, American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts
    • Barbara Madeloni, President, Massachusetts Teachers Association
    • Martin West, Associate Professor, Harvard Graduate School of Education

    DESE is including as backup on this item a joint white paper from the teachers' unions addressing it, with their own remarks embedded in it. 
    Also on Monday night, the Board will be discussing digital learning, regarding which the state says "Our goal is not to determine which model is the best, but rather to support schools and districts in providing options and models best suited to students' learning needs and preferences." On Tuesday, the Board will have a new member joining them: Nathan Moore, a rising junior at Scituate High School, is the new student member of the Board. The briefing gives an overview of the Commissioner's intent on his opening comments, including what DESE has done around outreach for the state's new ESSA plan. These are the Rennie Center's "Shaping the Future of Accountability" breakfast and the Board's Accountability and Assistance Advisory Council meetings with DESE. 
    The Board will hear updates from the Level 5 districts (Lawrence, Holyoke, and Southbridge) and the Level 5 schools. The Board will discuss and be asked to vote in new Digital Literacy and Computer Science standards. Upon this vote, DESE will distribute the frameworks that accompany the standards. The Board will receive an update on MCAS 2.0. Note that DESE announced today that they have awarded the contract to Measured Progress, which will subcontract with Pearson. The Board will conduct the annual review of the Commissioner; there is no attachment for that, but Mary Ann Stewart has posted an update about it. UP Academy-Springfield (part of the Springfield Empowerment Zone) is looking for an extension on their opening date. They were to open this fall; they now wish to defer that by one year.Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School wants the Board to overrule the Commissioner's denial of their expansion from a June 2014 request. The Board is being asked to vote to end some outdated regulations regarding an expired teacher quality grant, school construction (now covered by MSBA), and independent and agricultural institutes (which was part of a now-repealed law). The Board will get an update on the FY17 budget (they haven't met since the Senate passed their version).  They are also being asked (as per usual) to vote to delegate authority to the Commissioner to act over the summer break, and they're voting on next year's meeting schedule.
    I will not be at next week's meeting, due to its late date in the June calendar. 

    NSBA Trainers conference on ESSA

    I'm in Columbus, OH this week for the National School Boards Association Trainers conference. We're getting an update from the Ohio School Boards Association on the Every Child Succeeds Act. 

    updating as we go...
    Initial comment "This gives so much power back to the state...all that control...still needs to be developed" Important for school boards to stay involved as states develop their own plans under ESSA

    Thursday, June 16, 2016

    Worcester School Committee FY17 budget deliberations (round 2)

    scheduled to start at 4; list of accounts is here; they should be picking up with administration; the budget itself is here, and the Table of Contents on (web) page 7 is hyperlinked to each account. Updating as we go.