Mitchell D. Chester: Seeking success for all students
BOSTON — If you look at the achievement markers for Massachusetts public school students, the results are astounding. Massachusetts students and teachers are not only performing at a high level, they are continuously improving. Our accomplishments are a direct result of Gov. Deval Patrick’s leadership and the administration’s investment in K-12 education.
Newly released international test scores place Massachusetts among the world leaders in eighth-grade mathematics and science achievement. On the heralded Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study assessment, Massachusetts eighth-graders trail only their peers in Singapore in science achievement. In math achievement, Massachusetts eighth-graders trail only their peers in four leading Asian countries.
Under Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray’s leadership as chair of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Advisory Council, the state is a recognized national leader in STEM education. The administration has invested in programs to develop a highly skilled workforce, foster economic development and position the commonwealth as a leader in the 21st-century innovation-based economy.
Our students today are reading better and doing math better than a decade ago. Ten years ago, the typical African-American or Hispanic/Latino 10th-grade student was scoring at or just below the “needs improvement” category on the MCAS test. Today, the typical African-American or Hispanic/Latino 10th-grade student is scoring in the “proficient” range.
Despite these accomplishments, not all students are enjoying the same level of success. The story for English language learners and students with disabilities is not as good as for other student groups. And the proficiency gaps that exist in every student group demonstrate the work that still needs to be done to bring all students to high levels.
The administration’s K-12 education agenda is aimed at closing proficiency gaps, particularly in the Gateway Cities, and ensuring that all students are ready for the opportunities that await them after high school. To meet these goals, we are implementing four primary strategies in classrooms, schools and school districts across the state.
• First, we are strengthening curriculum, instruction and assessment. This year, schools are implementing the new Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks in English Language Arts and Mathematics, which incorporate the Common Core standards but are customized for Massachusetts. The frameworks have added rigor, clarity and focus to the state’s already high standards. We are adopting new standards for English language proficiency and providing professional development to teachers of English language learners to ensure those students have a pathway to high achievement.
Massachusetts is also collaborating with two dozen other states to build a new generation of assessments for all students.
• Second, we are improving the effectiveness of our educator workforce. The single most important factor in a child’s academic success is having high quality teachers, and we have the best teachers in the country in Massachusetts. The state’s new educator evaluation system places student learning at the center, and is fundamentally about supporting the professional growth and development of all teachers and administrators.
• Third, we are working to turn around our lowest performing schools and districts. We have identified 43 schools in greatest need of rapid improvement that have developed and are implementing accelerated turnaround plans.
But for students in these and many other schools, academic support alone is not sufficient. Schools must work in partnership with community agencies and families to provide students with greater socio-emotional supports that are essential to sustaining a healthy learning environment.
Turning around a school is not easy. But we owe it to the students and families in those 43 schools to change a persistent pattern of low achievement and expectations.
• Fourth, we are piloting ways for schools across the commonwealth to use data to inform instruction and technology to improve teaching and learning. Digital learning has an important role to play in reform, as part of a larger, classroom-based approach to curriculum delivery.
The best education today is happening in Massachusetts. The Patrick-Murray administration’s investment in public education is paying huge dividends.
But we can’t be complacent lest we jeopardize the remarkable gains made over the past decade. We owe it to our students and their families, and to the commonwealth’s future, to prepare all Massachusetts public school students for success after high school.
Mitchell D. Chester is the state’s commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education.