Massachusetts’ education governance structure — which through the education secretariat links the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) — provides an exciting opportunity to align resources and policies to address longstanding achievement gaps and improve outcomes for children. These alignment opportunities were the subject of Monday night’s first joint meeting between the boards of EEC and DESE.
Before a packed audience and members of both boards, Matthew Malone, the Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth who also serves on both boards, opened the meeting. He highlighted the importance of this joint meeting and the commonwealth’s collective responsibility to focus on children’s earliest years, birth through eight. He pointed out that there is “no better way” to close the achievement gap than “investing in early childhood.”
During the meeting, the boards heard about several promising initiatives including:
- implementation of the Massachusetts Kindergarten Entry Assessment system
- the National Governors Association Policy Academy, and
- the Early Literacy Expert Panel, which was created through the enactment of An Act Relative to Third Grade Reading Proficiency, legislation SFC helped to craft and support
Implementation of the Massachusetts Kindergarten Entry Assessment system
The federal Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge Grant that Massachusetts won in late 2010 requires states to develop an assessment tool. But as representatives of EEC, DESE and the Executive Office of Education (EOE) noted at the meeting, Massachusetts is going beyond the requirement by creating a comprehensive assessment system grounded in ongoing teacher observation that:
- assesses children’s growth and learning across all developmental domains (cognitive, physical, social, and emotional);
- informs educators about their students’ progress and strengthens professional development, leading to more individualized teaching and learning; and
- provides schools with new sources of data to share with families
Department staff presenters Donna Traynham (DESE) and Carol Nolan (EEC) noted that the assessment effort will require high-quality professional development so that teachers can effectively administer assessments and view the assessment system as a key part of their teaching practice.
The National Governors Association Policy Academy
Last summer the National Governors Association announced a new policy academy called, “Building a Foundation for Student Success: State Strategies to Improve Learning Outcomes from Early Childhood through Third Grade.” After a competitive application process, Massachusetts and five other states — Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, and Pennsylvania— were selected to participate. SFC is delighted to be part of this work, and is represented on the Massachusetts team by Amy O’Leary, Strategies’ Early Education for All Campaign Director.
At the joint board meeting, Saeyun Lee, Policy Director at the Executive Office of Education, and Albert Wat, Senior Policy Analyst at the National Governors Association, explained that Massachusetts is building a birth-through-eight continuum of high-quality early learning experiences. The primary strategies include:
- creation of a birth-to-grade-three definition of college and career readiness
- enhancement of our early learning standards, and
- exploration of birth-to-kindergarten assessment strategies as well as strategies for the early elementary grades
When considered in a national context, Wat explained, Massachusetts is ahead of other states because of its governance structure. Wat lauded both boards’ commitment to exploring alignment and collaboration opportunities.
Two exciting outcomes from the policy academy grant include a governor’s summit, which will be held later this spring, and the creation of a birth-to-grade-three definition of college and career readiness.
The Early Literacy Expert Panel
This panel was established in state law by the 2012 passage of an Act Relative to Third Grade Reading Proficiency. This law was informed by “Turning the Page: An Act Relative to Third Grade Reading Proficiency,” an SFC-commissioned report authored by Nonie Lesaux, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
In her presentation to the joint boards, Lesaux pointed out that the nine-member panel is composed of various stakeholders within the birth-to-eight continuum, including a pediatrician, a kindergarten teacher, an early childhood program director, and others. SFC is represented by Kelly Kulsrud, Director of Reading Proficiency. Co-chaired by Secretary Malone and Lesaux, the panel’s charge includes making recommendations to EEC, DESE, EOE, and the Department of Higher Education on the alignment, coordination, and implementation of four areas:
- support for children’s language and literacy development
- professional development on language and literacy
- screening and assessment to monitor children’s progress, and
- family engagement strategies to support children’s literacy
Lesaux reiterated that that while many factors affect children’s lives, the expert panel is focusing solely on literacy from birth through age eight. She explained that the panel has met twice and that the next meeting is scheduled for February 13. And as Lesaux reminded those who attended, this panel is more than just another committee: It is charged with developing a clear strategy around several key initiatives to create universal impact. The panel will complete a report of its recommendations by June 30.
In summing up the joint boards’ meeting’s importance, EEC Commissioner Tom Weber said, “Putting children in the best position to succeed requires a seamless system of education that starts at birth. The infants, toddlers and preschoolers of today are the kindergarteners, graduates and workforce of tomorrow. Our students will be best served through the alignment of policies, supports, and strong communication across a system that leverages strengths and smoothes transitions.”
We look forward to seeing more creative collaboration across the commonwealth’s education departments, and we look forward to working with these state partners to expand children’s access to high-quality early education and care programs.