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New Test Accelerates Progress on Education

Posted by Brian Gilmore on May 2, 2014 11:59:00 AM

School committees in Massachusetts have an opportunity this month to accelerate progress towards key education reforms sought by employers.

How? By choosing to adopt the new assessment developed by the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) in place of the increasingly outdated MCAS instrument at the high school level. The new evaluation system was field-tested across the state earlier this year.

EducationAIM supports the efforts of state education officials to extend standards-based reform with an assessment system that will facilitate better evaluation of schools and educators, target support to students' individual needs, and benchmark to interstate and international standards.

PARCC differs from MCAS by enabling schools to assess student achievement on a yearly basis, and to carry it beyond the tenth- grade level where MCAS ends. It will also facilitate interstate comparison of educational effectiveness.

Through its participation and leadership in the PARCC consortium, Massachusetts has joined with other states to create uniform standards developed at the initiative of governors and state education leaders. Working together, the cooperating states are putting in place a system superior to any could have achieved on their own, at much less cost. 

As a result, we can begin to achieve the goals for our schools identified in a recent survey of Massachusetts employers co-sponsored by AIM: national and global standards, a culture of continuous improvement, sound preparation for both further education and the modern workplace, and a comprehensive assessment system as promised in the Education Reform Act of 1993.

The future of our economy depends on our ability and willingness to build on two decades of successful K-12 public school reform to maintain the national leadership and global competitiveness of our education system. We urge members of the employer community who serve, or have influence, on district school committees to support a timely transition to the PARCC assessment.

Topics: Education Reform, Education

Employers See Disconnect Between Schools, Economy

Posted by Andre Mayer on Mar 24, 2014 12:23:00 PM

Twenty years of school reform have made Massachusetts a leader in public education, yet 69 percent of the state's employers report difficulty hiring employees with the skills demanded by the modern workplace, a newly-released survey finds.

EducationOnly 20 percent of business leaders gave the K-12 education system a grade of A or B for job market preparation. 

The survey was part of a broader study conducted by MassINC Polling Group for the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE), with support from AIM and the Massachusetts Business Roundtable. The survey included CEO interviews and focus groups with senior executives and HR administrators. Many AIM member employers participated in the study.

The majority of employers surveyed said the public schools need significant change – 52 percent called for moderate change and 32 percent for major change, while only 10 percent chose minor or no change. The priorities for business in school reform include effectiveness of teachers (63 percent), partnerships between companies and higher education (55 percent), availability of technology in the schools (52 percent), and access for all students to computer science (49 percent).

The need for more partnerships to give students hands-on experience and awareness of career opportunities is a recurring theme that gave the study its title: "Let's get together."

The employer study was released by MBAE in tandem with another report, The New Opportunity to Lead: A Vision for Education in Massachusetts in the Next 20 Years, [full report; executive summary] prepared by, a partnership of international education experts. The New Opportunity concludes that districts, schools and instruction must be transformed if students are to compete successfully in the global economy and if Massachusetts is to remain a hub of innovation. 

 The report calls for a new approach to education reform, one that moves away from state mandates and compliance to one that drives authority and accountability down to the schools and creates conditions in which schools continuously advance their own performance.

MBAE, AIM's longtime partner in education reform, plans to launch a campaign to build support for meaningful changes outlined in the report.

Richard C. Lord, president and CEO of AIM, endorsed the findings and urged employers to become engaged in the campaign to improve educational outcomes.

“High quality public schools are the bedrock of our knowledge-based economy. The job of sustaining Massachusetts’ global leadership in innovation belongs to everyone, and that will require a thoughtful, long-range plan to maintain our competitive advantages, including our education system.”

Topics: Education Reform, Massachusetts economy, Education, Workforce Training

Time for the Next Step in Measuring Education Reform

Posted by Andre Mayer on Sep 21, 2012 3:48:00 PM

“MCAS scores for 10th-graders reach record high,” headlines the Boston Globe. What’s behind the headline?

EducationThe 10th-grade numbers are the best yet, surely good news. Some other results slipped. Year-to-year variations don’t necessarily mean much, but the fact that over a five-year period results have improved on 14 of the 17 MCAS tests certainly represents progress.

Let’s focus on the 10th-grade tests, the last in the series, which students must pass at the “needs improvement” level before graduating from high school. Among 10th graders, 88 percent scored proficient or better on the English test this year, compared to 71 percent in 2007. The percentage of 10th-graders scoring proficient or better on the math test reached 78, up from 68 percent five years ago. Since MCAS was initiated in 1998, these percentages have more than doubled. On the newer science, technology and engineering test, 69 percent of 10th-graders were at least proficient in 2012.

Beyond the overall gains, the 2012 results show noticeable progress towards narrowing the achievement gaps affecting African-American, Latino, special needs and low-income students, and English language learners.

On the downside … we’re still a long way from 100 percent proficiency, and “proficient” is not the top of the scale.  The achievement gaps, though narrowing, remain serious concerns: while 92 percent of white 10th- graders passed all three tests, low-income students were at 75 percent, African Americans at 73 percent, Latinos at 67 percent, students with disabilities at 60 percent, and English language learners at 43 percent. Many individual schools are falling short of their targets for improvement.

And one of the scores stubbornly resisting uplift is third-grade English, especially important because research has established that third-grade reading proficiency is a key determinant of students’ future academic success. (The Legislature has just enacted and sent on to the Governor H.4243, An Act Relative to Third Grade Reading Proficiency, introduced by Senator Katherine Clark (D-Melrose) and Representative Marty Walz (D-Boston) to address this last issue.

So the standards-based reform program put in place under the Education Reform Act of 1993 has worked. Its impact is far from played out, but we have clearly reached a point of slower progress, of diminishing returns. There are inherent limits to the effectiveness of any testing regime, to be sure, but part of the problem lies in the particular limitations of a program that provides assessments only intermittently over the course of a student’s school years.

Without annual assessments (at least) we lack the ability to track students’ progress closely and to give them the individual support they require to move ahead – the student-centered teaching that is one of the great promises of reform. Nor can we realistically expect to use the sporadic assessment system we have as a component of a fair and credible evaluation of educators. The current 10th-grade MCAS tests, moreover, are really at the 8th-grade level, which means there is effectively no statewide standards-based assessment of high-school-level achievement.

This flaw will be addressed through the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a 23-state consortium bringing economies of scale to bear on the creation of assessments based on the widely-adopted Common Core State Standards. Massachusetts is an active member of PARCC, and our state’s Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner, Dr. Mitchell Chester, chairs the consortium’s governing board.

New PARCC assessments in English language arts/literacy and mathematics are planned for administration beginning in 2014–2015; the revised curriculum frameworks behind them were put in place in Massachusetts last year.

What’s behind the headline? We have come a long way in Massachusetts schools. We have further to go – in fact, the road ahead has no end. But we are pressing forward.

Topics: Education Reform, Issues

Performance-Driven Employers Back New Approach to Teacher Evaluation

Posted by Andre Mayer on Jun 8, 2011 3:54:00 PM

Massachusetts employers accustomed to using measurable results to evaluate employee performance and improve quality will find much to like about a proposed new approach to measuring teachers here in the commonwealth.

EducationThe Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will vote June 28 on new educator evaluation regulations that place significant emphasis on student outcomes. The proposal put forward by Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester focuses on recognizing and rewarding excellence; promoting professional growth and development; setting a higher bar for tenure; shortening timelines for improvement; and placing student learning at the center of educator evaluation.

AIM this week endorsed the evaluation proposal. While employers would have preferred a more aggressive approach, the commissioner’s proposal goes beyond the recommendations of a rather disappointing task force report released in March, and would constitute a great improvement over the current situation of uneven and often lax standards – when evaluation is done at all.

“I write on behalf of Associated Industries of Massachusetts and its 6,000 employer members across the commonwealth to urge you and your fellow board members to support, or go beyond, Commissioner Chester’s proposal for the weighting of student achievement in such assessments,” AIM President Richard C. Lord said in a letter to Board of Education President Maura O. Banta.

“As employers, our members know that their own futures, and their ability to contribute to the broader well-being of the commonwealth, depend upon the quality of our public schools; and they know that school quality depends above all on the expertise of teachers and administrators.”

The proposed system would require at least two measures of student learning when evaluating teachers. One would be student gains on the statewide MCAS exams. Others could include samples of student work, other commercially available assessments, or tests designed by individual districts or academic departments.

Massachusetts employers maintain some of the most sophisticated continuous-improvement and employee-evaluation systems in the world and have shared some of their expertise with state education officials. Some of those officials recently visited the Hudson plant of computer chip maker Intel to learn how the company uses its quality system to compete worldwide.

“Student achievement should be the primary factor in evaluating educators – and only in part because the expenditure of taxpayer dollars should be justified by measurable results. The more important reason is that it puts the emphasis where it should be, on students and their success. Aligning educator evaluation criteria with student outcomes will lead to better schools; whereas traditional considerations such as credentials and credits are not about students, and have little demonstrable relationship to educational effectiveness,” Lord wrote.

Employers acknowledge that the instruments, processes and institutional culture that will be required for full implementation are not yet in place in our schools, but we are confident that they will develop over time – if a firm commitment to high goals is made up front.

Topics: Education Reform, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Education

Education Commissioner Proposes Stronger Educator Evaluation

Posted by Brian Gilmore on Apr 21, 2011 10:12:00 AM

education reform, AIM, teacher evaluationNoting that “no other school-based factor has as great an influence on student achievement as an effective teacher” but that “across the Commonwealth today, the state of evaluation systems in public schools is inconsistent and underdeveloped,” Dr. Mitchell D. Chester, the state’s Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, last week proposed new educator evaluation regulations that place significant emphasis on student outcomes. The Commissioner’s proposal, which is subject to approval by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, goes beyond the recommendations put forward by the Statewide Task Force on the Evaluation of Teachers and Administrators in its rather disappointing report last month.

The Commissioner’s approach focuses on five areas:

  • Reward Excellence:  require that districts celebrate excellence in teaching and administration;
  • Promote Growth and Developmentprovide educators with feedback and opportunities for development that support continuous growth and improvement;
  • Set a High Bar for Tenure:  entrants to the teaching force must demonstrate proficient performance within three years to earn Professional Teacher Status;
  • Shorten Timelines for Improvement:  Professional Teacher Status teachers who are not proficient have one year to demonstrate the ability to improve; and
  • Place Student Learning at the Center:  student learning is central to the evaluation and development of the Commonwealth’s administrators and teachers.

While we might have liked to see an even more aggressive proposal, we are aware that the evaluative processes and instruments that will be required are not fully in place – nor is the established trust essential to successful implementation of a plan that after all depends upon the participation of the educators themselves. Indeed, the Commissioner’s three-year implementation timetable is ambitious in light of the limited current capacity of school districts in the field of evaluation. His plan to “take advantage of the expertise of our best teachers through new teacher-led roles” in the process will be a key to success.

We are very pleased that Dr. Chester is explicit that his proposal is a first step. When “the new evaluation system called for in these regulations is fully implemented in districts across the Commonwealth and confidence in its fairness and transparency is warranted,” he notes, then we can move on to considering its use transfer, assignment, and lay-off decisions, and in group and individual compensation decisions based on performance.

The Commissioner’s proposal will be presented to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on April 27. It is expected that a period of public comment will run through June 10, with final action by the Board due June 28.

Topics: Education Reform, Educator Evaluation, Teacher evaluation, Education, Massachusetts

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