Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a ten-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

MASC Summer Institute: DESE Next-Generation Accountability System

This past Friday, July 20th, the Mass. Association of School Committees (MASC) kicked off it's second annual Summer Institute. One of the Friday presentations was titled "Massachusetts' Next-Generation Accountability System" an excellent 2-hour clinic by Rob Curtin, Associate Commissioner of Data and Accountability at the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). (Apologies for the alphabet soup of acronyms.) There is much for more information on the DESE website if you're interested in learning more. 

Why should parents be interested? Because the Melrose Public Schools will be measured based on the aggregate student data of all district schools, and schools will be measured based on aggregate student data in those schools. When you see the newspapers reporting on districts, or read more refined data on different websites, you should know how these numbers were calculated. The results should be one factor on which resources are allocated in the district and taxpayers should feel confident that their money is being used wisely to improve education for our students. You'll also want to be cognizant of the fact that the schools are responsible for education all students in every group and subgroup, and it's our privilege as a community to ensure that we meet students where they are and do everything we can to bring them to the next level equitably. As always, the Melrose School Committee will hear a report from administrators on the results in late fall.

Why did MA need a new accountability system?
·      US Dept. of Education’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)
o   DESE was thinking about a new accountability system even before ESSA. DESE hadn’t designed the system to have Level II be bad (left room for interpretation); needed to change the words around accountability.
o   A lot of federal $ at stake (Title I allocations: out this past Monday).
o   Requirements: “annual meaningful differentiation between schools;” “ambitious state-designed LT goals;” continued annual testing; 95% participation; identify lowest performing 5% of schools, and HS with grad rates <67%; identify schools with low performing subgroups.
·      State requirements/reasoning
o   Achievement Gap Act
o   Public info sharing
o   State resource and federal grant allocations

Timeline: did a listening tour, modeling, listening, revising (4/16-4/17); submitted plan to US Dept. of Ed., approved by BOE in June 2017. Final plan: not exactly representative of everyone. (This Sept. 19th BOE meeting: 1st results from new accountability system.)

Non-High Schools
·      Achievement: MCAS average scaled score for English, Math; CPI for Science
·      Student growth: mean SGP for ELA and Math
·      English Language Proficiency: progress made (note: 4% of students in MA were ELL in 2002 and 9% now)
o   Half of ELL students are in 5 MA districts
o   Using ACCESS as the testing measure
o   Takes about 6 years to get kids to ELL proficiency
·      Chronic absenteeism (measured as 10% of days = 18ish). There is a “fairly serious attendance problem” across the Commonwealth and kids who are in school more do better. A school day measured as a day that a student is receiving services. Wide range across districts. In one district, 33% of students miss more than 10 days.
High Schools
·      Similar to non-high schools, but adds elements of graduation, dropout, % of 11th and 12th grade students completing at least one advanced course (AP, IB, post-secondary).

Problem with measuring the closing of the achievement gap:
·      Must have two reference points and there are schools that have all high needs students and others that have no high needs students.
·      Problem: when the high performing group declines, the gap is still closing (but not in the desired manner). Want lowest performing students to get better. (Raising the floor.) Better if you say lower performers vs. higher performers.
·      Urban schools do really well when students stay but so much transience skews the data. Will now look at lowest performers who stay (e.g. 3rd to 4th grade) and they’ll have an improvement trajectory.

Ask: how are our students doing on each of the metrics listed above.

Supt. will have two numbers: percentile and percentage (by school). (If percentage is at 75% or higher, in general, school is meeting improvement targets.) These numbers are weighted equally.
·      Categorizing schools: those needing intervention (15%) and those that don’t (85%). Determined at the discretion of the Commissioner. If percentile is between 1-10% and not already in needing intervention, identified in need of focused/targeted support. Still requires a minimum of 20 students.
·      No more “if you have a Level 2 school then you are a Level 2 district.” Won’t give districts a rating like this.

What should SC members focus on? It depends:
·      Mostly: “how are schools improving?” Subgroups concerns. Specific concerns: chronic absenteeism, ELL, etc.
·      Small number of districts: are you among lowest performers?, equity concerns, dropout/graduation rate concerns.

District and school report cards:
·      DESE will redesign report card in late fall 2018.
·      Measures of performance/opportunity beyond assessment & accountability results:
o   Discipline, availability of art education (this was BIG), educator data, grade 9 course-passing, per-pupil expenditures
·      MCAS scores won’t be the first metric reported.
·      Why isn’t discipline in accountability system? Couldn’t allow a situation where a school thought about disciplining or not disciplining based on accountability but it will be on report card. Last cuts: arts education and Grade 9 course passing. (Students who fail one class in 9th gr. are 25% more likely to drop out.)
·      Comment: there is huge differential in quality of art programs. DESE: they don’t yet have criteria to measure.
·      Educator data is important to student outcomes too (inexperience, out of field, staff attendance) but it’s not in the criteria at this time.

Key factors in student success: is child progressing in all facets of education (math, science, having fun, etc.)? Unfortunately, there is no “fun” metric.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

City of Melrose Inauguration Night!

Last night, a group of dedicated and hard-working Melrose citizens were inducted into their School Committee and Aldermanic offices at a lively and joyous celebration at Melrose's beautiful Memorial Hall. Thank you to all who attended or will watch on cable TV! Below please find my remarks on behalf of the Melrose School Committee:

It is an immense privilege for the School Committee to sit before you this evening as we commit ourselves to serving you and the children of the Melrose Public Schools in 2018 and beyond. We are incredibly grateful to prior School Committee members, Aldermen, department heads, staff members, citizen volunteers, and particularly Mayor Robert Dolan, who have paved the way for the beautiful city and outstanding school district we share, and we welcome those who now join together to keep the momentum going and build on the excellent work that has gone before.

We are living in a time of unprecedented change, and the pace of that change is both exciting and daunting. A stark reality for educational communities is evolving teaching and learning to prepare students for a world about which we may now know little. As Supt. Taymore noted in her opening remarks to Parent University this past November, if you went to school in the ‘70-‘80’s, information doubled every 10 years. In the ‘80’s through the‘90’s, it was every 8 years. For our children, information doubles every 12 months and soon, every 12 hours. She asked: “what do you teach? What is important for students to know? How much can a person remember?”

This past year, the Committee, with community input, agreed on a new Vision for our district: Every student will be an engaged, challenged, enriched, and self-directed learner. To that end, and with the highest standards in mind, we are committed to employing the unique skills and abilities the seven of us bring to the table, and working tirelessly together as decisions are not made alone. We are committed to listening and learning, from parents, community members, staff, students, and experts in education; and then employing input from all to make those decisions, some of which will be popular and some not, but hopefully all with the confidence that we are well-informed. We are committed to staying true to our core values and beliefs, embedded in our new Mission Statement: The Melrose Public Schools will provide and sustain a thriving and dynamic teaching and learning environment, preparing every student to excel in their authentic life and global citizenship, as supported by an engaged community.

You have elected us to represent your community, families and your most precious charges, your children. We take that responsibility as seriously as we take raising our own families, because in truth, your children are our children too. So we ask you to join the School Committee and our administration to build on the many achievements of our school district, and we ask for your support and like-mindedness in being purposeful in our actions, honest in our communications, and compassionate in our thoughts and in our deeds. When we do this, and we will, together, every single Melrose Public School student will shine. Thank you.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

MEF Parent University: Superintendent Taymore’s Opening Remarks

This morning, the Melrose Education Foundation (MEF) hosted their annual Parent University, offering Melrose families the opportunity to learn more about parenting, the world of education, and the Melrose schools. After MEF President Jen McAndrew's welcome and thank you to generous sponsors, Supt. Taymore provided opening remarks below. (Errors and edits mine.)

Thanks to the Ed. Foundation for making this day possible.

Most people view education through their own lens, which is also true for teachers. We have to recognize that schools are intertwined with social and economic changes. But as parents, we’re focused on our own kids. Professional educators have to look at the bigger picture.

Some people are familiar with the knowledge doubling curve (Buckminster Fuller): how often info doubles. Through educational context: if you went to school in the ‘70-‘80’s, info doubled every 10 years. In the ‘80’s-‘90’s, it was every eight years. For our kids, info doubles every twelve months. That will soon be every twelve hours. So what do you teach? What is important for students to know? How much can a person remember? Now in education, every student must have a HS diploma.

The current system of education dates back to Horace Mann (the system most of us know). It was originally based on eight school years and the three r’s: basic skills needed at that time. That was during the 1st industrial revolution (agricultural). By the 1900’s we added grades nine-twelve, but only 7% of attendees graduated from HS. Then came the 2nd industrial revolution: electricity, etc., and educators developed the system we’re all familiar with that’s based on organizational efficiency. Students were separated by grade and age; seat time was a measure of completion and was based on the Carnegie Unit. Most HS’s in this country still adhere to that design (from 1905.) It had to be effective and efficient to turn out workers. In 1950’s, grad rate was 52%. WWII was a watershed moment in our history; many went to college on GI bill. HS and college were desirable for the quality of life and the future of our children, but we still employed the manufacturing model.

3rd  industrial revolution: info and personal tech moved us from mfg. to information economy. We lost thousands of jobs. Labor market = high skill/high pay and low skill/low pay with shrinking middle. Began to look at science and math with space race. We looked at what we taught, now how we taught. Then the legal challenges began (Brown vs. Board of Ed.), federal education acts were implemented (sped, secondary school, etc.). A Nation at Risk (1983) called for sweeping reforms in education. It asked to make computer science a requirement. Also at this time, education control went from local to state to federal (for the right reasons, socioeconomic, etc.). What did that reap? We are still struggling. In MA, we had the Ed. Reform Act of 1993, federal and state mandates, curriculum frameworks, licensed teachers, and measures of success (MCAS 2.0). If there’s any blessing in all this, it’s that there is agreement that every child, no matter where they live, has a right to an equitable education. While there’s been some success, it depends greatly on socioeconomics of town or city, yet what do we continue to do? Cover the curriculum, test, and sort children by achievement. It’s a source of frustration for students, families, and educators.

4th industrial revolution: if you can write an algorithm, the job is gone (Bill Daggett). Ex: taxis and Uber/Lyft. Had to buy a medallion. Now: why pay $50 when I can pay $30? Next will come driverless cars. How and why has it changed the workforce? What happens to municipalities who depend on those fees? What does it mean to low skill jobs that don’t require education/training? Keys to change are internet and artificial intelligence. How many other jobs are being similarly impacted? What is that impact on your child’s future?

We have a mandate for college and career readiness. We are preparing students for jobs that don’t exist. We still employ the factory model and it doesn’t apply in the current environment. How do schools serve children in this environment? Answer: academic, social emotional, physical, and personal development. Leaders are not sitting quietly but learning constantly using research and educators’ interest in continuous improvement.

In Melrose we’ve implemented many things. Trying to build flexible, adaptive, responsive system with inclusive practices (using Universal Design for Learning), etc. Most importantly, no two students learn the same say and not all respond well to six hours of seat time per day. Supt. didn’t have organizing framework, so started looking at CBE. They earned a grant from the Barr Foundation and started working with Great Schools Partnerships. CBE is a student-centered approach, not teacher as provider to student but as student acquirers and creates knowledge. How we will get this incredible amount of education to kids with this pace of change? Kids must have standards (history, inquiry based science, math, reading and writing). With CBE, trying to find approach that will give kids skills that they need in a world we can’t predict. CBE involves: students advance in level upon mastery; clear learning objectives; assessment to inform practices (not every child moves at the same pace or the same level of mastery); providing rapid differentiation and supports (all kids are equal but they are in different places academically); application and creation of knowledge. Students must acquire, use, and create knowledge for the jobs of 2030-2040-2050.

Why has Melrose engaged in this work? This world of kids is so different from anything we’ve ever experienced. We need to provide experiences that help them grow; empower them to be responsible for their own learning. Give them skills, then they apply and practice. CBE doesn’t replace teachers; nothing replaces teachers. Business community concerned that we don’t have enough skilled workers but by 2020 we’ll lose another five million jobs to automation. What will replace those jobs? Those that design and control automation, but we don’t know what it will look like.

The old models don’t work. Kids have changed from the way we were growing up. The Sesame Street effect, what our kids our used to, greatly affects the way kids learn (constant changing screen). Our kids’ expectation is different from ours. While children may have similar changes in development and growth, they’re exposed to so much more so it truncates their childhood. They need to know how to gather and analyze information, take a stand, advocate, problem-solve, and collaborate. We need to provide skills that help them make sense of their world. This is a journey we have to take. We have no choice given where our society is going economically and socially.

What the Supt. asks: that parents get comfortable with the new normal. Please participate in the discussion. Every day the MPS is working toward the same goal as you: we want the best possible future for our children.