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Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-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.

Monday, November 9, 2015

NEASC Reforms and Implementation Timeline (#MASCconf2015)

Presented by NEASC Director George Edwards, with panelists Jake McCandless (Pittsfield Supt.), Jon Sills (Bedford Supt.), and Joel Stembridge (Newton South Principal), the session offered “progress being made developing [NEASC] reforms and the timeline for their implementation.”

Resulting from significant outreach by districts around the state, it was clear NEASC had become too accountability based. Districts were focused on compliance vs. being self-reflective so real change wasn’t necessarily taking place based on the process. It also became clear that school leaders could have power even in the top-down, mandate-driven “milieu”. Real change happened because Supts. and school leaders were invited to cooperate to build new processes that would be helpful to schools. In one example, Bedford, NEASC was asked to:
o   Focus on and support school improvement goals as identified by school/district and aligned with the standards.
o   Be less prescriptive and more flexible.
o   Focus on a schools’ capacity for continuous self-reflect and growth (school councils, SIP’s, what do schools want to work on?). Where in the standards does that fit? Broad vs. prescriptive way to get there. Develop a standard on engagement.
o   Emphasize formative feedback and continual planning and improvement – visit will be more about how to move forward on goals.
o   Develop manageable recommendations based on the standards.
o   Provide clear guidelines for achieving those recommendations.

Joel Stembridge noted that Newton South has suspended participation until the new work is out but sees “good things” happening at NEASC like:
o   It’s now more of a counterpart to simplistic test-driven oversight (include nurses, SEL, etc.) – using a whole school approach.
o   NESC provides PD for teachers with tie-ins for curriculum + assessment.
o   Every good institution is self-reflective (looking at external standards).
Concerns remain:
o   Accreditation isn’t a “one size fits all” process; there is now movement but there hasn’t been movement on rubrics. They’ve asked NEASC about the purpose of rubrics (they are one way but not the only way – research shows this) / instead maybe show how faculty works together to improve curriculum and not be overly prescriptive).
o   The process took up so much time. Hard to engage in other critically important initiatives.
o   At the end of self-study, they had a big report but lots of recommendations (he rec’d 87 recommendations). WAY too hard. Can NEASC identify big picture recommendations and de-emphasize others (?).

NEASC came to the conclusion that their process was too prescriptive, took too much time, required schools to stop other work, caused high schools to be out of sync with other district schools, was redundant with other mandated processes, was too expensive, and was a “one size fits all” proposition.

Efforts to date by NEASC to address concerns included meetings with school leadership in all NE states (2013); summer chairs workshop (2014/2015), committee to revise standards (2014), committee to revise rating guides (2014), review and revise pre-self-study and self-study process (ongoing), review and revise accreditation visit protocol (ongoing), review/revise standards (late fall/early winter.

The standards review will focus on being less prescriptive/more flexible, including focus on school improvement, greater emphasis on goals vs. specific strategies, using indicators as guidance, and encompassing a “growth mindset.” Initial revisions to standards include making targeted revisions (summer, 2014). Comprehensive revision will begin this late fall/early winter. (Standards went beyond identifying goals, but also said how to meet the goals, so looked especially at standard 5 revisions (indicators 2 + 3). How would schools address equity and achievement gap? Looked at indicator 3 – student relationship with a faculty member (advisory indicator). They are working to give flexibility to develop local initiative and provide changes in language for all rating guides to adopt more formative language (e.g. “not yet meeting the standard vs. “fails” and also change what qualifies as “not meeting the standard”). Completion of revisions expected by the end of summer 2016 (and will be a natural extension of the self-study redesign). There will be time for schools to respond to changes.

Common core and state crosswalks have been developed. An on-line accreditation portal is being implemented (for uploading self-study and evidence like links to curriculum docs, the visiting committee report, and the follow-up process) and will be phased in from fall, 2015-2017.

Accreditation redesign protocols look like:
o   Shortened self-study (1 year).
o   Differentiated use of staff. In the past every staff member needed to work on self-study. Now: schools decide how to use staff (i.e. ok to use just some staff and will vary among schools).
o   Use of existing artifacts as evidence: measures to determine student achievement (like DDMS’s) that state is already requiring + comprehensive program reviews for SPED.
o   Focus on school/district priorities: some schools for whom some standards that are non-issue – some schools are brand new – so why do a facilities study? Maybe do more on areas that need focus that they’ve already identified.
o   Smaller visiting committees. Before = 16 committee members and larger. In a small school w/20 teachers, sent team of 9 as pilot. Looking for the right number since it has big impact on cost to schools.
o   Fewer recommendations focused on standards using indicators as guidance.

Other notes:
o   Pilot schools include Reading and Burlington.
o   NEASC is currently working with a number of districts that are interested in a district-wide approach to accreditation (accrediting each of its schools K-12). It could look different in districts depending on the size of the district/# of schools.
o   Cost: annual membership dues are $2600-5K with average cost for 10 year visits about $15-25K. Having the portal and smaller visiting committees will reduce these costs.
o   Exploring how to helpful districts escrow money for visit so yearly expenses are similar and planned in advance for budgeting.
o   Training is enormous part of what needs to be done (especially on-going training for chairs). Challenge = all are volunteers so they have to leave families/work; looking at making training more convenient by using on-line platforms. Focus is consistency, outreach to Supts.
o   Some districts have piloted DESE “Planning for Success” program, a focused /strategic long-range process with 1 year action planning. Benefit to process is it’s not exhaustive – gets past planning to actual work quickly. Efficient. Creates momentum from data. How is that alignment act as an integrated part of the NEASC site visit?