Boston Parent Mary Battenfeld’s MA BESE Testimony

Testimony to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (June 24, 2014)

Chairwoman Banta, Commissioner Chester, Secretary Malone, and Members of the Board:

Good Morning. My name is Mary Battenfeld. In September, I will begin my fifteenth year as a Boston Public Schools parent. Thank you for your service, and for taking the time to listen to me today. I join the educators, parents, and elected officials who have spoken before me in asking you to change accountability calculations to give greater weight to growth–ideally 40%, but certainly no less than thirty. Including more growth is fair.

When my three children ask me to be fair (or more likely, accuse me of unfairness), they mean they want me to treat them in a way that does not favor one over another. Yet a measure that relies heavily on raw test scores does just that. It favors wealthier districts and schools over high poverty districts and schools. Given what former Secretary Reville has called the “the consistent, ironclad law of association between poverty and educational achievement,” is it fair to judge Brockton, with a district population of 80% low income students, by a measuring rod long on achievement and short on growth?

You can’t fix the unfairness of poverty. But you can remediate the bias and harm that comes from effectively labeling schools based on their student population. You can create a better measure, one that does not punish schools and districts for educating poor children, children with disabilities, and English language learners.

On June 9, I proudly watched my daughter graduate from Boston Arts Academy, a school with a state level 3 ranking. But BAA parents and students know we are better than that. As our school song, “Come Dream with Us,” says, “this is who we are/tomorrow’s shining star.” Growth data says so too. With 71.2% low-income students, BAA in 2013 was above target in narrowing proficiency gaps for low-income students, African American students, and Hispanic students. Between 2012 and 2013 the number of low-income students at Boston Arts scoring Advanced on the ELA MCAS more than doubled.

This story, seen in one of my children’s schools, can be found in school after school in Boston, and in districts across the state, if you will only look for it. Changing the accountability calculation to give at least 30% weight to growth will help you see those stories, and evaluate schools and districts more fairly.