What we learned from our 2020 Condition of Education release event

On January 23, the Rennie Center released our annual status report to an audience of nearly 300 state leaders, legislators, students, and educators. This year’s Condition of Education in the Commonwealth report examines the need for new ways of measuring student success, with a focus on three key areas: supporting the whole child, serving all students, and building multiple pathways to college and career. In case you missed the event, you can read more in our 2020 Action Guide, check out our updated Data Dashboard, look back at the slides from the event, and follow the Twitter conversation.

After welcoming remarks from Rennie Center Board President Dr. Celine Coggins, attendees heard from keynote speaker Dr. Dana Thompson Dorsey of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Urban Education. Her remarks focused on the need to address implicit biases before rethinking student assessment. Otherwise, there is the potential for new forms of assessment to reinforce existing inequities. As she put it, “Implicit racial bias is part of ground water we drink, the smog we breathe, and it is baked into the foundation on which we stand. Implicit racial bias permeates every institution, including education, in this country.”

After highlighting the neurological, unconscious nature of implicit bias, Dr. Thompson Dorsey went on to note, “As we are consistently dealing with our biases, we must then turn our schools into a place of cultural awareness, cultural acceptance, and cultural responsiveness.” She discussed the importance of addressing students’ cultures in deep, meaningful ways, for instance by seeking to understand how culture affects students’ daily lives and social interactions. To build this understanding, she advised educators to build relationships with students and families, go into their communities, and practice social and political consciousness within the classroom in order to hear directly from students about important issues.

Following the powerful remarks from Dana and an overview of the Condition of Education project by Rennie Center Executive Director Dr. Chad d’Entremont, attendees heard from Jessica Lowe and Martha Tatro, school counselors from Methuen Public Schools, who provided an overview of Methuen’s approach to mental health screening and intervention. This approach, highlighted in the Condition of Education report, relies on universal screening in grades 3-12 to look for evidence of depression and anxiety, with tiered supports available for students identified as having mental health needs. This effort has resulted in a 66% increase in referrals for services and led to critical and timely interventions for many young people. 

The next segment of the event included a panel discussion moderated by Sarah Carr from the Boston Globe, where state leaders from across the education pipeline were able to share more about recent and ongoing innovations in early education and care, K-12 education, and higher education:

Commissioner Samantha Aigner-Treworgy of the Department of Early Education and Care discussed the importance of building quality teaching and learning environments that create a supportive community for young learners. She noted the work of the Department to ensure program quality, including partnerships with higher education that will continue to build a strong, diverse workforce.

Dr. Martin West, professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and member of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, emphasized the multiple roles that assessment plays within schools and classrooms—while diagnostic and formative assessments are important, state tests like the MCAS also provide important insights. He also spoke of the importance of identifying high-quality curriculum aligned with state standards (as through the state’s CURATE project) and the power of learning from local examples of effective practice.

Dr. Pam Eddinger, president of Bunker Hill Community College, focused on the diverse needs of community college students and the importance of considering students’ cultural backgrounds and aspirations when designing wraparound services to address these needs. She also discussed the value of using an equity lens to examine student outcomes, such as through the state’s Performance Measurement Reporting System, and highlighted the promise of early college programming.

Finally, Massachusetts Secretary of Education James Peyser closed the event by discussing the need for a system-wide infrastructure that allows data to be shared and used across levels. He also shared highlights from Governor Baker’s recently released budget proposal and discussed the next steps to implement the Student Opportunity Act. See the event slides for more information on both of these topics.