Friday, January 29, 2016

Superintendent's Notes

State Assessment Update

In October of 2015, the State Board of Education reached their decision to transition to a PARCC-like MCAS 2.0 in the Spring of 2017.  Shortly thereafter, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education provided guidance to districts on the Spring 2016 assessment choices.  Based on this guidance Maynard students in grades three through eight will continue to take the ELA and Math PARCC assessments in the Spring of 2016 with a few significant changes to the assessment structure.  

The good news is that rather than two required testing windows, this year students will only complete one assessment for ELA and one assessment for Math over a single testing window. 8th grade students enrolled in Algebra I or Algebra I Accelerated will take the Algebra I assessment.  The data gathered during our pilot last year indicated that most students finished well within the time allotted, generally taking between 30-40 minutes for a 60 minute unit.  In addition to the PARCC tests, students in grades 5 and 8 must take the science MCAS assessment.  The High School Assessment schedule remains the same, with one assessment window for Math, ELA and Science.  Over all, these change results in reduction of testing days for the 2015-2016 school year.  Principals will continue to provide information regarding each school’s assessment schedule.  

Additional concerns were raised regarding the “test-prep” in the weeks and months before the state tests. Regardless of the name of the test (PARCC or MCAS 2.0), these next generation assessments evaluate critical academic skills.  You cannot test prep for these types of assessments in the short term.  The “test prep” is really found in the day to day instruction we are providing our students.  Students should be provided an opportunity to show what they know in the same manner as they will be assessed. This practice, however, should be integrated into the normal instruction in which the students are engaged, and not a separate “test prep”.  After speaking with the principals, I am confident that teachers are appropriately integrating this practice into their instruction.  

These concerns speak to a broader issue around assessment culture, and how we as a community use this data.  The “test-prep” culture is symptomatic of an inappropriate use of assessment data.  In communities where classrooms and schools are “graded” by the student results on the state assessments, teachers feel inordinate pressure to ensure the highest achievement possible, regardless of what their students can actually do.  I would like to believe that Maynard is not one of those communities.  The administrative team and I are committed to using both internal and external assessment data to improve the quality of our educational programming and outcomes for our students.  As such, we value these assessments as “temperature checks” to see how our students are doing at mastering important concepts and skills and want the data to be as valid as possible.  We as a community determine how much pressure we are putting on our teachers and students, and whether we are focused on “getting results” or on academic growth of our students.   

Often parents will ask about “opting out” of the state assessments.  It is important to know that there are no provisions in state law that allow for districts to opt students out of testing.  Therefore all students count.  Districts are expected to have all students take the required state assessments.  If district participation rates drop below 95 percent for the student population or any identified subgroup, the district is penalized through the accountability rating system. Last year, Maynard missed the 95 percent participation rate by one or two percent in several areas.  

Opting out has an unintended consequence of providing our community with an unfair representation of our student's achievements on the state assessment.  For those who value that accountability data it creates a negative perception about our community.  In addition, it limits our ability to use this data to inform our instruction and improve our educational programs for every student in Maynard.  Most importantly in conjunction with other assessment tools, educator teams use this data to evaluate risk and provide supports so students can meet their goals.  

I am optimistic that our participation rates will increase this year.  The Maynard Administrative Team and I would welcome a conversation with any parents who would like to discuss this further.

"Most Likely to Succeed" Documentary

Members of the School Committee, administration and community attended a viewing of this documentary at Newton North High School.  Similar to the Book Study we conducted with "The Smartest Kids in The World: and how they got that way (Riply,2012), this documentary forces us to reexamine the education our students will need and the education we should be delivering.

My colleagues, Bella Wong from Lincoln Sudbury Regional High School and Diana Rigby from Concord Carlisle Regional School System have decided that our three progressive communities should shared opportunities to have these types of thoughtful events.  As a result we have scheduled an evening to view this documentary together at no charge. 

On March 9th at 7:00 pm Lincoln Sudbury Regional High School will be hosting a viewing of the documentary "Most Likely to Succeed" for all of our communities to participate in.  In an effort to track our attendance I would appreciate if interested participants would register in advance at this link:

Discovery Museum Speaker Series

The goal of this speaker series is to bring together expert voices for engaging dialogs with the community on matters of importance to children and families.  I was invited to attend the recent speaker series presentation titled "Helping Children Succeed: Facilitating Children's Intrinsic Motivation in a Pressured World" by Dr. Wendy Grolnick Wednesday evening.  I was so impressed by the quality of the presentation and the number of parents present.  Her research on intrinsic motivation is one of the areas that the Maynard schools are investigating to support our students achievement.

More information about future events can be found at the following link: 

Important Events and Reminders:    
In an effort to streamline the Superintendent’s Notes, I will provide important upcoming events or announcements that have already been posted in previous Superintendent’s Notes in this section.

ABC of Resources For Families

Do you know what community resources are around you for you and your child?  Where can you look for adaptive or inclusive activities?  Where can you find a support group?  How does -MassHealth work?  Are there any online resources to connect you with other families?  Who can you turn to when you need answers?  Knowledge is power!  Come to the Maynard SEPAC’s “ABC of Resources For Families” on Tuesday, February 2nd at 7:00 pm at the Maynard Fowler School Library to learn more about various programs, organizations, services, newsletters and websites that could assist you in the journey of raising your child on an IEP.

SEPAC board members and other parents have compiled a variety of resources for you for the presentation and  will also be available to answer questions.  There are lots of resources and services out there to take advantage of, but first you have to know where to find them!  

Please RSVP to Jen Scott at or 978-897-2735 to attend. Free and open to the public.

Hoax Bomb Threat Questions and Answers

There has been a lot of concern about the hoax bomb threats in Massachusetts and other states.  I am pleased to report that Maynard has not had a bomb threat yet.  However, we have been prepared to deal with this for quite a while. 

Maynard Schools, Police, and Fire have worked collaboratively on the development of crisis teams and general emergency preparedness.  In regard to bomb threats specifically, in addition to our internal protocols, we a statewide document titled Massachusetts Bomb Threat Response Guidance and additional guidance documents from the US Department of Homeland Security.

I would like to answer some general questions that I have heard from parents about evacuations which might happen during a bomb threat.  Those questions include:

Q-1. IF we have to evacuate a school where do the staff and students go?

A-1. In an evacuation, each school has a location at the next closest school to evacuate to.  If the whole school campus is in jeopardy, the Police have arranged an offsite location at the Mill and Main for all of our students and staff to go to.

Q-2.  During an evacuation are all students and staff accounted for?

A-2  The administration and staff make sure all students, staff, and visitors are accounted for during any evacuation whether it be for a fire drill or a bomb threat.

Q-3.  How would students standing around during an evacuation requiring dismissal be dismissed or do parents and friends randomly pick children up?

A-3.  The administrative team bring the dismissal approval cards parents fill out with them to the evacuation site.  We have planned for the extreme event that a dismissal would take place away from the school.  In that scenario the buses, walkers, and family or friend pickups with approvals would happen just as they do at the school.

I hope this is helpful information.  Please feel free to write any other concerns that would be good to share with the school community.

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