In 2009, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) implemented its accountability system to measure individual school and district performance. The intent of DESE’s accountability plan was and continues to be to determine how schools and districts are doing and to clarify what schools and districts may need. Currently, school and district performance indicators include student achievement on standardized tests, student progress and growth, high school completion, progress towards English proficiency for English learners, chronic absenteeism, and advanced coursework completion.
When DESE initially implemented its accountability system, schools and districts were rated from Level 1 to Level 5. The state determined that districts that were labeled level 4 or 5 needed assistance. Schools or districts that were labeled level 5 were subject to a direct takeover by DESE through a receivership. During these years, Westfield Public Schools did spend some time as a level 3 district due to not meeting targets for narrowing proficiency gaps in particular student subgroups. This means that some of our students were not achieving at the same level as other student groups
Beginning in 2018, DESE changed their accountability system and abandoned the “leveling” system of schools and districts. An increased focus was placed on raising the performance of each school’s lowest performing subgroups. Schools and districts are placed into categories that describe how they are doing and what kind of support they may receive from the state. Two of these categories, focused/targeted support and broad/comprehensive support, indicate that a district or school require assistance or intervention from DESE. The other categories include no progress, limited progress, moderate progress, substantial progress, and meeting or exceeding targets. In 2019, our district was classified as making moderate progress toward improvement targets. In 2020, DESE did not issue school, district, or state accountability determinations due to the cancelling of MCAS and school closures related to the pandemic.
WPS community members should know that as a district, we continuously prioritize DESE’s accountability indicators. Students that do not achieve well on standardized tests and local benchmark assessments participate in intervention programs where their progress and growth are tracked. In the last several years, our student drop-out rate has declined dramatically and the number of students that complete high school in four years has increased significantly. Two years ago, we developed an Attendance Task Force to improve student attendance across the district, and despite the challenges of the pandemic, we have continued to address chronic absenteeism in our schools. And while we still offer an abundance of Advanced Placement courses at Westfield High School, our district has also embraced DESE’s Early College Model with our Westfield Promise Dual Enrollment partnership with Westfield State University. Granted this option does not count toward our overall accountability rating with the state, but we believe that students that want to take college courses to earn real college credit at no cost to them while they are in high school should have that opportunity.
With another election season upon us, there is misinformation being spread on social media about our schools and district. I want to reassure our community that the claim that our district was ever or is currently in danger of an imminent DESE takeover is completely inaccurate. In fact, our WHS Transition Services Program, WTA Aviation Maintenance Technology Program, Early College Program, Westfield Virtual School, Westfield Education to Business Alliance, and Work-based Learning initiatives are models in our state. In the last several years, the number of WTA students attending a post-secondary school has doubled and graduates from Westfield High School have been accepted to prestigious schools including Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the United States Naval and Air Force Academies. Last year, Westfield Middle School was named a “Spotlight School” by the New England League of Middle Schools. Our district has a lot to celebrate. False statements about a pending state takeover only serves to deflate the morale of our hard-working teachers, support staff, and administrators.
Most districts and schools develop District and School Improvement Plans that are approved by the local school committee or school board. In Westfield, we develop Strategies for Continuous Improvement because we promote a culture of continuous learning and know we must adapt to meet the changing needs of our students. Effective educators know that student success isn’t just about test scores. As we begin a new school year, it is important for us to remember the true purpose of education, which is to prepare young people to succeed in their lives and contribute as citizens to their community. Please do not hesitate to reach out to our central office with questions about accountability or any other area of concern.
Superintendent of Schools
Westfield Public Schools