SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 17, 2012

On the road to success for all students

Mitchell D. Chester
The Salem News

---- — 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, but continuously improving.

Newly released international test scores place Massachusetts among the world leaders in eighth-grade math and science achievement. On the heralded TIMSS assessment, Massachusetts eighth-graders trail only their peers in Singapore in science achievement. In math, Massachusetts eighth-graders trail only their peers in four leading Asian countries.

The state is a recognized national leader in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration has invested heavily 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 Latino 10th-grader was scoring at or just below the Needs Improvement category on MCAS. 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 ambitious 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 educators. 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 use technology to improve teaching and learning.

The best education today is happening in Massachusetts. 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.

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Mitchell Chester is commissioner of elementary and secondary education in Massachusetts.