On Tuesday, June 26, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) approved new regulations for the accountability system that ranks Massachusetts schools and districts according to student performance and other factors. MBAE considers accountability a critical tool to inform action to improve schools and ensure equity in educational opportunities.
We were pleased that the Board acted on several concerns we expressed in public comments also signed by ten of our Affiliates, although the devil will be in the details of implementation! For now, the Board addressed a lack of specificity by revising the regulations to add clarity, particularly regarding definition of terms that would be used, which measure would be reported annually and more details about the levels used to classify schools and districts. In addition, rather than giving the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education broad power to change the rules in the future, revisions to these regulations will continue to require public input and a BESE vote. We look forward to receiving a one-page document requested by BESE and under final review that will provide us – and the general public – with a full understanding of what to expect from the new system.
Effective organizations – whether in the public or private sectors – depend on evaluation of their performance to guide decisions about future direction and actions to achieve ambitious goals. Some of the reasons cited for opposition to the new system blamed the tools used to measure progress for problems caused by unrelated management decisions. Narrowing the curriculum, creating stress for students, or teaching to the test are not caused by accountability but by reactions and decisions of adults. This is particularly worrisome since the current “proficiency” bar is set far too low to align with grade level and postsecondary expectations.
Fortunately, Secretary of Education Jim Peyser gave a forceful and factual response. He pointed out that the focus of the accountability system on English language learners and the full range of MCAS performance, not just proficiency, will have impact on ensuring educators are paying attention to all children. Targets for individual schools account for different conditions and also provide a balance between achievement and improvement, or growth. Acknowledging that the system is not perfect, Peyser pointed out that it balances many interests to ensure we are meeting obligations to all of our children.
We need to recall the pre-1993 education system where it was too easy for adults to turn away from children who were failing. Blaming accountability the problems some members raised reflected a revision of the history of education reform and the successes it has achieved. Hopefully the new system will help us solve the challenges we haven’t yet been able to meet – closing the achievement gap!