DESE Update and Q&A with Assistant Commissioner Chris Neale
On March 25, the Network for Educator Effectiveness facilitated an online discussion with Dr. Chris Neale, the Assistant Commissioner for Quality Schools at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. More than 100 participants joined the session to hear updates and ask questions.
The following is a summary of the questions and discussion. A link to watch the full session is included at the bottom of this post.
Opening Remarks from Assistant Commissioner Chris Neale
Dr. Neale started the session by thanking everyone in the field for navigating this unchartered territory. It is evident that everyone has the interests, welfare, and safety of students as their top priority.
Dr. Neale directed participants to keep an eye on DESE’s COVID-19 webpage for regular updates and information. The website includes the Commissioner’s statement on forgiveness of hours and calendar standards. The website will include a standard short waiver request that districts can fill out and send in after you return to school.
One of the big pieces of information at this point is that attendance hours are forgiven, and payment is preserved. That should take care of just about everything that needs to be taken care of. And it allows people to open up and use a combination of virtual and paper/pencil assignments, including special education.
The other big news: Last week, the Commissioner cancelled all state assessments for spring 2020 so we can focus on what is good for kids and not worry about issues of accountability. On Friday, we sent in a waiver to the federal Department of Education, and now we are waiting upon final confirmation that the federal waiver will be approved for cancellation of state assessments.
Q: Will there be a waiver for CCR 3.1-3.3 and CCR 3.4 accountability measures?
Dr. Neale: We are waiting on those answers for right now. The north star for the Department is, there is a time and place for accountability, but that time is not now.
Q: Will we need to revise our board policy to waive the last credit for the 2020 graduates?
Dr. Neale: It would be wise to consult your policy service and either put in an emergency policy or have the policy waived.
Q: If HiSET testing centers become unavailable due to university closures, can we serve as our own testing center? If not, what extensions for MO OP will be allowed?
Dr. Neale: It seems like a really tall order to open up a temporary center. Rather than try to start a new one, try to set up a cooperative agreement between people wanting to use the center and those running the center. At DESE, we are working through avenues of credit and may be able to allow a longer window of accreditation.
Q: Will the U.S. Constitution, Civics Test, and CPR requirements be waived for this year’s seniors?
Dr. Neale: Constitution tests and CPR tests can be developed online, taken in alternate methods, or even done in possible small groups. Attorneys for DESE are currently examining statutes that schools need to get a relief from. As of right now, it is not in DESE’s power to just waive laws.
Q: Will there be any extensions for core data end-of-year reporting?
Dr. Neale: It’s a little early to say that we know what needs to happen. We are aware of the need to be reasonable and flexible about deadlines.
Q: Will districts still need to complete the Exception Code List for seniors?
Dr. Neale: We don’t think that will be necessary, especially since the state suspended testing. We will also suspend the graduate LMD requirement.
Q: Do we have provided free and reduced meals daily if we have been approved for the seamless summer option? Can we package up more than one day’s worth of food?
Dr. Neale: I would say contact Barbara Shaw at Food and Nutrition Services for that information.
(One participant noted that there has been guidance that you can package more than one day of food.)
Q: Will there be an allowance for extended summer school options?
Dr. Neale: We are looking at that right now. That is out of Roger Dorson’s shop, and there are significant financial implications of that. We have to develop and give that information out soon. I don’t know currently if structures will look similar or not.
Q: Will DESE communicate with the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development for students in Algebra One who do not take the Algebra I EOC?
Dr. Neale: We are having internal discussions about that right now. We are in communication with each other about how to continue to make that work.
Q: Are there talks about allowing districts to start next year’s classes prior to the stated law?
Dr. Neale: It is an area of discussion. It is a Missouri statute, and one that has been held pretty firmly to. DESE has been talking about it, but it will be something that will require an executive order or a change from state legislators.
Q: Just for clarification: Are districts going to be allowed to define and set graduation requirements for seniors, such as credit amounts?
Dr. Neale: The state board sets minimum requirements. Districts and charters have latitude to set higher requirements and could ease down to state minimums. Use any assessment that may be competency-based to show that the student has met the standards. Districts are also able to make pass/fail credits or other crediting. Local districts should consult their policy service, consider needed revisions, and apply what is needed to all students.
Q: Will the students 9th-11th be required to take the EOCs they were scheduled to take this year in the following years?
Dr. Neale: It is easy to suspend testing now. There are decisions downstream that still have to be made. Discussions are being held, but answers are not decided yet.
Q: Will non-seniors have to take the testing next year?
Dr. Neale: Federal regulation does require the taking of EOCs. DESE still has to figure that out. The Missouri plan for ESSA would allow them to take Geometry as the EOC. Current guidance does not specify whether they have to take Algebra I EOC first.
Q: How would you advise schools to take attendance if their students are completing “virtual lessons”?
Dr. Neale: Missouri statute 162.1250 outlines policy on this. If any virtual course meets the criteria set forth in the statute, then attendance could be kept.
Q: Are districts required to pay for MOCAP courses if requested by the student or parent while schools are shut down?
Dr. Neale: If it is a new local enrollment, policies would govern that. If it is an existing MOCAP course, I would encourage districts to continue that as it is a level of continuity not afforded to most students during this time.
Closing Remarks from Assistant Commissioner Chris Neale
As soon as DESE has thoroughly vetted the answers to these questions, we will publish those. We will continuously update the COVID-19 page.
Thank you again to those that are providing such essential services to everyone focused on students. The questions asked are critical, and I don’t want to diminish those, but they can be taken care of at a later time.
The Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE) is a simple yet powerful comprehensive system for educator evaluation that helps educators grow, students learn, and schools improve. Developed by preK-12 practitioners and experts at the University of Missouri, NEE brings together classroom observation, student feedback, teacher curriculum planning, and professional development as measures of effectiveness in a secure online portal designed to promote educator growth and development.