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).