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Mastering the Maze of School Accountability

A Massachusetts School Accountability Handbook for School Improvement Teams and Local Association Leaders

Executive Summary:

The Massachusetts school accountability landscape is rapidly changing.  Schools must address state and federal accountability requirements.  Both are grounded in student test results from the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System.

This handbook is designed for school improvement team members and local association leaders who are confronting the accountability maze created by the Massachusetts Department of Education in response to both the Education Reform Act of 1993 and the reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 2002.  This handbook addresses five key issues:

1. Education Reform Context

  • The national reform context begins with the 1983 report, A Nation at Risk and includes the National Goals Panel practices and the Effective Schools research.
  • Massachusetts legislative activity starts with the Basic Skills Improvement Policy Act of 1979 and continues through the Education Reform Act of 1993. 
  • The history of Webby-Levy-McDuffy and Hancock cases addresses the equity and adequacy of school funding. 
  • The Board of Education, Department of Education, and Education Management Audit Council control the regulation process with regard to school and district accountability.
  • School "accountability," with the resulting rewards and sanctions, is explained in relation to school improvement focused on student achievement.

2. School Accountability in Massachusetts 

  • The state system includes the School Performance Rating Process and a School Panel Review for Underperforming Schools.
  • The federal system includes the requirement that all students be proficient in English and mathematics by 2014.  Schools must make Adequate Yearly Progress toward this goal for all students and student sub-groups. Schools must close the achievement gap using disaggregated data by disability, poverty, language, and racial status. 
  • Although both systems rely on MCAS data, each applies different consequences to schools whose performance is determined to be inadequate.

3. School Performance Rating Process in Massachusetts 

  • Using MCAS results, the DOE evaluates all schools’ progress toward meeting the established standards.
  • Then, the DOE must identify schools that are not meeting expectations and those that are performing and/or improving at a high level. 
  • The BOE determines whether schools with low performance are underperforming or, if, after a two year improvement effort, are chronically underperforming. 

4. Preparing for a School Panel Review 

  • Currently, 48% of Massachusetts schools have failed to make AYP in both English and math and over 250 have been involved in either the state or federal accountability system.
  • To date, 62 schools have had panel reviews.  These involve staff surveys, review of documents, and a brief site visit.  The focus is on school improvement planning.
  • The expectation, however, is that up to 90% of all Massachusetts public schools could be eligible for a school panel review by 2014.

5. School Improvement Planning 

  • The Massachusetts accountability system focuses on the school as the unit of improvement.   School leaders are responsible for developing improvement plans based on their analysis of student performance data and educator needs.  
  • The four key analyses that should inform a well-designed plan include student assessment data; standards-based curriculum aligned to the curriculum frameworks; instructional strategies addressing the differentiated needs of students; and professional learning for the school’s instructional and administrative staff.

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