Boosting Student Achievement in Everett:Discussion on how Everett Improved its Rankings from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

Curriculum Analyst Patricia Massa addresses the Everett School Committee at Monday’s meeting. Massa talked about the successful teaching and learning practices the district has implemented, leading to better test scores and higher rankings from the State Department of Secondary and Elementary Education.

Curriculum Analyst Patricia Massa addresses the Everett School Committee at Monday’s meeting. Massa talked about the successful teaching and learning practices the district has implemented, leading to better test scores and higher
rankings from the State Department of Secondary and Elementary Education.

In December of 2015, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced that every school in Everett has achieved Level 1 or Level 2 status on its five-tier academic rating system. This is a rare distinction among urban school systems and a great source of pride for the community. To highlight and amplify this achievement, the School Committee is holding a series of presentations detailing the steps the district has undertaken to boost standardized test scores and student performance.

The first of these was held on Monday evening, as Curriculum Analyst Patricia Massa addressed the topic of Teaching and Learning. Specifically, Massa discussed the improvements that have been made in the areas of curriculum, assessment, technology, inclusivity, college and career readiness, and successful methods for meeting diverse academic, social, and emotional needs.

“Traditionally, teaching and learning in Everett adhered to the ‘stand-and-deliver’ model,” Massa explained. “The teacher would stand in front of students and lecture at a chalkboard. The teacher was the ‘sage on the stage.’” Today, Massa said, “Everett’s classrooms are vibrant, interactive and collaborative spaces where teachers are the facilitators of learning, and students create their own meaning and discover what they need to know.” Massa added that Everett’s teachers have taken on the role of “facilitators” who utilize “interactive technology” and “inclusive practices” to create lively and successful learning environments.

All Massachusetts districts and schools with sufficient data are classified into one of five accountability and assistance levels, with the highest performing in Level 1 and the lowest in Level 5.

Massachusetts uses the Progress and Performance Index (PPI) to assess the strides of each district and individual school toward its particular targets. The PPI produces a single rating number from information on narrowing proficiency gaps, student population growth, graduation and dropout rates, and other factors.

All districts, schools and student subgroups with sufficient data are assigned an annual PPI based on data collected and analyzed during the previous two years.

In December, the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced that Everett High moved from Level 3 to Level 2, while both the Keverian and the Webster schools moved from Level 2 to Level 1.  Everett thus joined Cambridge and Revere as the only urban school districts in the Commonwealth where all schools are rated Level 1 or 2.

Significantly, Everett has the second lowest per pupil annual expenditure, $13,317, among all of the urban school districts with which it is categorized by the state.  The other cities currently placed in that category, based on similarities in grade span, total enrollment and special populations, are: Brockton, Chelsea, Fall River, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Malden, Methuen, Quincy and Revere.

“We have consistently demonstrated that good overall student performance can be achieved within relatively modest financial parameters,” said Superintendent of Schools Frederick F. Foresteire.  “Our entire system and all of our personnel are united in the ideal of continuous improvement.”

Mr. Foresteire applauded “the teachers, principals and administrators for developing a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach to changing the way we conduct the ‘business of education’ in Everett.”

Collectively, he said, “we produced amazing results by identifying four areas that needed to be addressed simultaneously over the course of entire school year and throughout the whole district.”

The Superintendent gave a special mention to Erick Naumann, a veteran educator in Everett who has overseen significant improvement as principal of the Parlin School and, currently, as Everett High’s principal. “Mr. Naumann has taken one of the leadership roles in our success. He has created an environment in which teachers thrive, and that obviously leads to better performance by our students,” he said.

In addition to Massa’s presentation on Teaching and Learning, the three other components of the district’s comprehensive, four-pronged approach to meeting the standards set forth in the DESE’s accountability system are Professional Development and Collaboration, Educator Protocol, and Family and Community Engagement. Presentations on those categories will be given at future School Committee meetings. These presentations are part of a program called “Measures, Milestones and Meanings,” which was launched in December and will continue indefinitely.

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Dr. Thomas Stella will lead the presentation on Educator Protocol. He will discuss the district’s success in solidifying every aspect of how it evaluates and supports teachers. “Simply, our goal is to ensure that each student in Everett is taught by an effective educator, in schools led by effective leaders,” Dr. Stella said. To make this a reality, Dr. Stella said, “student learning is placed at the center of all evaluations. Teachers are provided with feedback and opportunities that support continuous growth and improvement through collaboration.”

Professional Development is under the domain of Curriculum Director Janice Gauthier. She attributes improved performance to the implementation of programs that were adopted following careful consideration that relies on data and teacher solicitation. Of particular benefit has been the utilization of the “Keys to Vocabulary” model, which has been especially helpful to ELL (English as a second language) students. The Everett Public Schools (EPS) has also made great use of two courses, “Studying Skillful Teaching” and “Making Student Thinking Visible.”

“These courses are all about pedagogy so that all student needs can be met through differentiation,” Gauthier explains. “Asking students to explain their thinking not only engages them in their learning by getting them to think about what they are learning, but it also gives the teacher an indication of who’s understanding their instruction and who is not.”

The final presentation will be detail how the EPS has engaged families and the community during this process, ensuring that its efforts are communicated with students and parents to help ensure successful results in the classroom.

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