Thursday, June 30, 2016

Thoughts on the Commissioner’s Evaluation

Evaluating the Commissioner is an important dimension in providing citizen/public oversight of the Department. In my comments at the Board meeting Tuesday, June 28, I expressed my primary concerns about Reading, Social Emotional Learning (SEL), and Advisory Councils. However, due to time constraints, I wasn't able to share all comments, commendations, recommendations.

As the Board has heard in two Special Meetings (in May and June), all educators are evaluated with a rubric specific to their educational role. Rubrics are comprised of 4 standards (customized for each role) and many indicators and all educators are given a performance rating using one of four performance levels: Unsatisfactory; Needs Improvement; Proficient; Exemplary.

By contrast, the Commissioner is evaluated using a set of criteria determined by the Board's Evaluation Committee, with input from Board members. I attended two meetings of the Committee (October 19 and May 24) and was pleased that they accepted some of the changes I recommended over the previous year's evaluation.*

This year's criteria are based on the Board’s mission and five core strategies in the Department’s Strategic PlanI also considered a variety of evidence in completing my evaluation.**

The Commissioner's performance rating also differs from the one used in MA's Educator Evaluation System. Unlike the Ed Evals' four performance levels, the Commissioner's performance is rated with a 5-point numeric rating: 1 (Unsatisfactory); 2 (Needs Improvement); 3 (Proficient); 4 (Very Good); 5 (Outstanding). Is a numeric rating the most useful for a high-performance evaluation? I think not. There's wisdom in the performance levels used in MA's Ed Eval system. Education is progressive, in that it's continuously improving; it's more instructive to know what to focus on than to consider a number, or worse, to consider some lower ranking "as a slap in the face" or a "terrible thing".

I shared my evaluation in a phone call with Penny Noyce, Chair of the Evaluation Committee, on Monday, April 25. The Board received a copy of the Commissioner's Self-Evaluation on May 20, followed by an updated self-eval on June 3. I was able to share my evaluation with Commissioner Chester in a phone call on Thursday, June 16.

Of particular concern:
Category I: Facilitate Student Achievement and Growth (30%) My biggest concerns lie in the final two bullets of Category I:
  • “to develop a plan to address gaps in reading achievement”, which is part of the Department’s Strategic Plan; and
  • "to develop and implement a plan to strengthen support for students’ social/emotional health”, also a Board priority
WRT Reading: The Board received no information whatever about a plan in the works to address gaps in reading achievement. We did see announcements about Massachusetts NAEP results, touting the Commonwealth's #1 ranking in reading, which is commendable, but moving forward, we should be less concerned about our ranking among other states and focus on our children's needs in MA - - 50% are not proficient in reading or math. That there is no plan for improving reading achievement is Unsatisfactory: rated 1.
WRT SEL: Some work is already underway, and the Board dedicated one of our Special Meetings to the topic, but we saw nothing about a plan to strengthen support for SEL.
SEL Needs Improvement: rated 2.5.
Commendations include: Reporting on the LEAP initiative. Recommendations: 1). That we hear about L4s at least once a year - there's a criterion that the Commissioner report on Level 4 and 5 districts and schools. The only L4 district/schools we heard about were the Springfield middle schools, via the Springfield Empowerment Zone at the regular meeting last month. 2). When the Board received Mitchell's self-evaluation we read for the first time that a reading pilot had been launched in BPS for Kindergarten and grades 1 and 2. Further recommend that the Board be informed when new initiatives are launched.
Category I: 3.0 overall.

Category II: Management & Operations (25%) Concern here has to do with Advisory Councils. A majority of ACs were asked not to schedule meetings this year, which didn't sit well with many of them. Councils are comprised of numerous volunteers, who submit applications for appointment. They, collectively, put in many hundreds of hours on behalf of public education in the Commonwealth, advising both the Commissioner and the Board in this regard. Recommendation that the Commissioner use the Board and Advisory Council leaders to find solutions to this unfunded mandate together. Advisory Councils Needs Improvement: 2.5. Commendations include: 1). Organizational review - DESE was adjusting to diminished resources and staffing due to state budget priorities (including early retirement program) and the end of federal RTTT funds. I thought this was a wise use of funds. 2). And while the Department has yet to communicate to the Board about implementing a new Strategic Plan based on the organizational review, my Recommendation is to include the Board in Strategic Planning.
Category II: 3.1 overall.

Of little concern:
Category III: External Relations and Communication (25%) Commendations include: The ongoing role of the Department on the Foundation Budget Review Commission, which lead to its final report in October (2015). Recommendations include: 1). The Commissioner/Department should've engaged with the Board to convene several public hearings on ESSA, in addition to the Commissioner's privately scheduled meetings with stakeholder groups. 2). The Commissioner meets privately with various external groups and education associations and he frequently provides very brief updates to us. Much of this Category pertains to the external groups; I understand that the Committee looked more closely at this and I responded where the Board had had direct information about external communications.
Category III: 4.0 overall.

Category IV: Board Support and Effective Interactions (20%) Commendations include: 1). Timely receipt of materials is improved over last year. Thank you. 2). Also, good professional working relationships with Senior Leadership and Office Staff. Recommendations include: That the Chair update the Board following weekly meetings with the Commissioner; the Chair represents all of the Board. No detail need be provided - the Chair's update could be as simple as a bulleted list of topics.
Category IV: 4.3 overall.
Once all Category performance ratings were weighted with percentages as designated, my overall evaluation results in a 3.6 performance rating. This acknowledges the Commissioner's adept and practiced expertise. It also acknowledges that the work is continuously improving. It's not as high as the performance rating of 4.7 found in the Committee's Performance Review.

The MOTION offered by the Committee was included in our Board Book along with the Committee's final report:
that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approves the Commissioner's FY2016 performance rating of "outstanding" as recommended by the Board's Committee. The Board further approves a salary increase for the Commissioner of 2%, effective July 1, 2016.
Given my expressed concerns, I couldn't support an "Outstanding" rating. We benefit from the Commissioner's eight years of stable educational leadership and I wanted to support the recommendation of the Committee to increase his salary by 2%.

At the meeting I offered a MOTION that effectively split the original MOTION into two questions/votes; it wasn't seconded.

The Committee's MOTION prevailed on a vote of 9-0-1: Penny was absent; I voted "Present".
- - -
Final Report that majority of the Board endorsed as presented, "Commissioner's Performance Review for FY2016" is HERE.

Margaret Raymond Driscoll, Chair of the Melrose School Committee, was present at the Board's regular Tuesday meeting and blogged about it HERE.

* My recommended changes from 2014-2015 Performance Criteria for consideration for the 2015-2016 Performance Criteria is HERE, with tracked changes (everything in red and strike throughs).

The final Performance Evaluation Criteria used by the Evaluation Committee is HERE.
** Evidence considered in my evaluation: 2015 Strategic PlanAnnual Reports of Advisory Councils; Autism EndorsementBoard Committees on Charter Schools, Budget, Assessment 2.0, Commissioner's Performance EvaluationBoard Discussions on ESSA; Board's website; Briefings and Commissioner Comments at Board Meetings; Candidate Assessment of Performance (CAP); Commissioner's Self-Evaluation; Commissioner's Weekly Update sent to subscribers; Communications to US/ED Regarding the "two test" option and their decision to subsequently designate the Department as "high risk"; Communication from Commissioner's Office Staff, Senior Leadership, General Counsel; Content Standards Review of ELA, Maths, History, and Social Studies; Definition of College and Career; Department's Online Accountability Survey; Department's website; Discussion and backup materials in advance of the MCAS/PARCC Decision; Email; EOE website; First of 3-year Turnaround Plan in Holyoke; Foundation Budget Review Commission's Final Report; Graduation Rates; LEAP initiative; May Presentation of the Springfield Empowerment Zone; MGL, Ch.15, sec.1G (Advisory Councils); MGL, Ch.69, sec.1K (Receivership); Monthly Phone Calls with the Commissioner; NAEP; National reporting in print and digital media on education in Massachusetts (e.g., Center on American Progress, Education Week, etc.); Peck School, Eagleton School, and Discipline Reporting at two UP Academy Schools; Press Releases; Quarterly Reports on Level 5 Schools; Recommendations from the Parthenon Group; Recommendations of the Local Stakeholder Group, Southbridge; Reference to Meeting with MassPartners; Reference to Meetings with Twenty-four members of the Urban Superintendents Network; References to Association and other conferences; References to Traditional School District and Charter School Leaders Working Group (new); Reports on Student Discipline Data; Scheduled Meetings of Board's Advisory Councils; Schedule of Meetings with Stateholders Regarding Options for Accountability Under ESSA; Science, Technology/Engineering Standards; Second 3-year Turnaround Plan in Lawrence; Southbridge District Review Report; Special and Regular Board Meetings, especially in September, October, and November; Standards for Digital Literacy and Computer Science; State Equity Plan to US/ED; Updates on L5 Districts; US/ED Special Education Letter of Determination; Weekly Message from the Commissioner to Board; Working Group on Assessment 2.0; Working Group on Civics Engagement; Years of strong assessment (MCAS).

Monday, June 20, 2016

Commissioner's Annual Performance Evaluation Criteria

In the absence of a rubric, criteria for the commissioner's annual performance evaluation was determined last fall by the Commissioner's Performance Evaluation Committee (Penny Noyce, Committee Chair; James Morton, Board Vice Chair; and Paul Sagan, Board Chair); all Board members were invited to provide input. Criteria were drawn from the Board's Mission Statement and goals in the Department's Strategic Plan. The Board is scheduled to conduct its public evaluation of Commissioner Chester at the Regular Meeting on Tuesday, June 28. As of this writing, the evaluation is agenda #5 of 11 items for Discussion and/or Vote.

Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
2015-2016 Performance Criteria
Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education

The mission of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is to strengthen the Commonwealth’s public education system so that every student is prepared to succeed in postsecondary education, compete in the global economy, and understand the rights and responsibilities of American citizens, and in so doing, to close all proficiency gaps. The Commissioner is the secretary to the Board, its chief executive officer, and the chief state school officer for elementary and secondary education (Mass. General Laws chapter 15, section 1F).

In support of the Board’s mission and the goal of preparing all students for success after high school, the Commissioner and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) have adopted five core strategies (listed on page 1 of the Strategic Plan):
  • Strengthen standards, curriculum, instruction, and assessment
  • Promote educator development
  • Turn around the lowest-performing districts and schools
  • Use technology and data to support teaching and learning
  • Support students’ social/emotional health
The following performance criteria focus on the Commissioner’s roles, accountabilities, and goals and are organized in four categories:
  1. Promoting Student Achievement and Growth
  2. Management and Operations
  3. External Relations and Communication
  4. Board Support
The criteria promote measurable outcomes that are realistic and attainable. The Board is recommending setting these function areas into priorities that will set the Commissioner’s work plan and distribution of his time and efforts.

Performance Criteria
I. Facilitate Student Achievement and Growth (30%)
Make substantial progress on the five core strategies listed above to facilitate student growth and achievement, including:
  • Develop, implement, monitor, and report on clear turnaround strategies for Level 4 and 5 districts and schools 
  • Lead the effective rollout and implementation of major initiatives around curriculum and assessment, including the next generation of the statewide student assessment program
  • Promote educator development through continued implementation of RETELL, the educator evaluation system, and other initiatives
  • Ensure effective engagement of district leaders by promoting, motivating, measuring, and communicating progress of efforts to close proficiency gaps and raise student performance in underperforming districts
  • Develop a plan to address gaps in reading achievement
  • Develop and implement a plan to strengthen support for students’ social/emotional health

II. Management and Operations (25%)
  • Lead the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) by setting the vision, approving the strategies, and establishing a culture that promotes the Board’s mission and makes substantial progress on the five core strategies listed above
  • Manage within the parameters of DESE’s budget to achieve goals, including:
    • Report on and implement a strategic plan for DESE based on recommendations from the Fall 2015 organizational review
    • Ensure that the DESE is structured, staffed and aligned across all centers to meet its annual operational targets and stated goals, within the limitations of DESE’s budget and state hiring parameters
  • Respond appropriately to changes in federal and state requirements
  • Increase diversity within the DESE staff, and within the advisory groups

III. External Relations and Communication (25%)
  • Manage relationships and communications to maximize alignment of external stakeholders (e.g., Legislature, Governor’s Office/EOE, MTA, AFT-MA, MASS, MASC, principals’ associations, business groups, foundations) with the Board’s overall priorities and goals 
  • Engage and responsively communicate with the field and citizens regarding major Board and Department initiatives
  • Effectively lead the discussion and communications regarding Massachusetts educational policies and initiatives
  • Represent Massachusetts on the wider educational scene through participation, presentations, and leadership, enhancing the Commonwealth’s position as a national leader in K-12 education and positioning Massachusetts to benefit from best practices nationally and internationally

IV. Board Support/Effective Interactions (20%)
  • Effectively interact with members of the Board
  • Engage Board members in setting the strategic vision for DESE and discussing DESE priorities and local/national policy issues relevant to Massachusetts
  • Keep the Board updated on subjects necessary for the Board to fulfill its role, including timely transmission of materials for meetings
  • Receive feedback from Board members during annual performance review process

Rating Structure
•    Outstanding = 5
•    Very Good = 4
•    Proficient = 3
•    Needs Improvement = 2
•    Unsatisfactory = 1

Using a Standards-Centered Framework to Implement ESSA

The following are some take-aways from a recent NASBE webinar I participated in - led by Robert Hull, Director of NASBE's Center for College, Career, and Civic Readiness.

State Boards of Education (SBEs) have been reviewing and revising learning standards ever since the publication of "A Nation at Risk" in 1983. It's not enough to adopt standards; SBEs must create a standards-based system in which all policies are aligned with the learning standards.

Learning standards put the student in the center and standards become the "hub of all other components in the system. NASBE identifies six broad areas of policy around the learning standards:
  1. Expectations
  2. Curriculum
  3. Materials
  4. Measures of Effectiveness
  5. Accountability System
  6. Professional Learning
Each SBE lies within a unique context, not shared in exactly the same governance model, or authority, with regard to Power of Policy in their state, but all have the Power of the Question and the Power to Convene.
  • The Power of the Question is the power to ask the right Qs of the right people
  • The Power to Convene is the power to bring the right people together
  • The Power of Policy is the power to set policy
When a SBE has all three, then they have the Power of Collective Voice.

Learning standards define what students need to know and be able to do. All policies not only need to align with learning standards, but do so with fidelity and coherence among the six categories:
  1. Expectations: for students, teachers, schools
    1. Students: i.e., expectations at each grade/level and academic area; grading; matriculation
    2. Teachers: preparation; certification; licensure; evaluations
    3. Schools: Principal/Administrator preparation; professional learning standards; evaluation; certifications and licensure.
  2. Curriculum: All policies that govern the organization of learning (scope and sequence); they are very broad levels of authority that ensure standards are aligned to curriculum. Standards establish the end product while curriculum is the means to that end.
  3. Materials: including software, supplements; textbooks, all instructional resources available to teachers and students.
  4. Measures of Effectiveness: Student assessment; evidence of performance of students, schools, and districts. Policies governing the Department and Board effectiveness. Some systems go beyond summative assessments to include interim, benchmark, and formative processes. All must be aligned with learning standards to be effective.
  5. Accountability System: The state accountability system for federal compliance. (Under "waivers", school system support, rewards, educator effectiveness are guaranteed alignment with some policies). Also - separate school accreditation models are separate from federal accountability requirements. Are there policies that govern public reporting of Board or state-level leadership effectiveness? If so, must be aligned.
  6. Professional Learning: Requirements; mentoring programs; professional licensing and certification requirements for renewal; professional growth for improved student learning.
Standards-Based Learning Framework provides a basis for Strategic Planning and for policy development based on student learning.

Strategic Planning (SP) is an outward process of alignment and coherence; a way of planning, leading, and living as a Board. The process institutionalizes the concept of continuous improvement of the system of districts, of schools, and of the Board itself.

Decision Making (DM) process is the obverse of strategic planning (SP):
  • SP begins with learning standards and moves toward actions to improve student achievement
  • DM points back to learning standards, examining how each choice will serve the core mission
(Robert Hull gave the example of MA BESE's 2010 "Conditions for School Effectiveness" - a tool to identify research-based practices that all schools, especially the most struggling schools, require to effectively meet the learning needs of all students. It defines conditions and how they look when implemented purposefully and with fidelity. Also, ultimately, provides conditions for state receivership).

The "hub" never changes - it's always about the learning standards - it's always about learning.

State examples as seen through the lens of a standards-based system were provided from Maryland and Delaware: 
  • Maryland, with regard to their work for K-12 computer science education. 
  • Delaware builds on current strategic goals and initiatives, existing structures, and partnership.
In aligning standards, there are options - look at all of the state's policies and determine:
  • policies that are aligned (good, keep 'em)
  • policies that are not aligned:
    • decided which policies to revise so that they become aligned
    • decide which policies to archive
NASBE has published Policy Updates to guide SBEs.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

NASBE: Public Education Positions

I'm a member of the (PEP) Committee. We had a conference call recently to discuss how to do some revamping of the positions, with respect to establishing a process and structure for establishing new positions, reaffirming positions, and archiving positions.

  • NASBE referred to the structure of the Government Affairs Committee (GAC) as a good template: members to PEP would be appointed by state boards of ed, with NASBE President appointing the Chair. After some discussion, the Committee was in unanimous support.
  • NASBE had been working on a preamble for the position statements, which was brought to the Committee and ultimately supported (unanimously) after discussion.
  • The Committee's recommendations will go before the NASBE Board for its support to adopt this structure on MOnday, June 20, which also requires changes to the PEP Committee Bylaws (Article X, Section 4).

If the Board votes to support one or both recommendation at its meeting on Monday, June 20, the proposal will go before the Delegate Assembly at the Annual Conference this October for a final vote and Bylaws change.