Audit flags licensing lapses at Collaborative for Educational Services in Northampton

  • BUMP

Staff Writer
Published: 7/23/2021 7:37:01 PM

A state performance audit of the Northampton-based nonprofit Collaborative for Educational Services (CES) found that 18 teachers did not have proper licenses between mid-2017 and early 2019, and that the organization did not fully evaluate all of its teachers during the 2017 to 2018 school year.

The Collaborative for Educational Services, which provides educational support services to 36 school districts in Franklin and Hampshire counties, has agreed to work with state education officials to improve its licensing and annual evaluation procedures in response to Thursday’s report by state Auditor Suzanne Bump’s office.

“The nonprofit must be more diligent in its oversight of teacher licensure and evaluation, which is critical to our students in ensuring they receive the highest quality public education possible,” Bump said in a statement, adding that she is “encouraged by their response during the audit process.”

The nonprofit, founded in 1974 as the Hampshire Educational Collaborative, is one of 25 such collaboratives in Massachusetts. The school committees in 33 of the 36 participating districts — including Greenfield, Deerfield and Orange — choose a representative to the Collaborative for Educational Services’ board of directors.

Under state law, an educational collaborative’s mission is “to complement the educational programs of member school committees and charter schools in a cost-effective manner.” The Collaborative for Educational Services also contracts with agencies including the Department of Youth Services (DYS) to deliver special education and transition services in state facilities.

The audit examined the collaborative’s practices between July 1, 2017, and March 31, 2019, and looked at a sample of 60 educators.

The report notes that, for periods lasting 55 to 507 days, 18 of the teachers did not have the proper licenses or waivers for the subjects they were teaching. At least four were not licensed at all, and had not received waivers, upon hire; eight worked at least 496 days — and two went their entire employment period — without the appropriate credentials.

In its response to the audit, which is included in the state’s report, the Collaborative for Educational Services said that many of the teachers in question worked in small-classroom institutional settings, where teaching “out-of-field” is “part of the therapeutic design” and not subject to regulation by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

“CES therefore seeks to hire teachers who hold a proper license or waiver within at least one of the subject areas and grade spans they will be assigned to teach, and provides extensive ongoing training and curricular resources to support its educators to successfully teach ‘out-of-field,’” the nonprofit’s response reads.

But Bump’s office wrote that state regulations “recognize that teaching out-of-field may negatively affect the quality of education.”

“We believe that regardless of the teaching model CES uses,” the audit reads, “the collaborative should take whatever measures it can take to minimize out-of-field teaching and ensure that its educators teach the subjects for which they were hired and are properly licensed.”

The Collaborative for Educational Services had 977 full- and part-time employees during the audit period, and in fiscal year 2019, it received just under $40 million in total revenue from various state agencies, including DYS, DESE, the Department of Early Education and Care, and the Department of Public Health. In reviewing the contract with DYS, auditors said it is missing provisions regarding free access to public education, which are required by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

During the 2017 to 2018 school year, auditors found that seven Collaborative for Educational Services employees conducted evaluations on the 60 teachers included in the sample without proper credentials, and that the collaborative did not have an evaluation system for administrators.

“As a result, CES cannot effectively assess educator performance, provide meaningful feedback to its educators, or promptly identify and address underperformance,” the audit reads.

The required teacher evaluation process includes a self-assessment, goal setting, development of an educator plan, and two types of assessment called formative (during the course) and summative (at the end of the course). Regulations require that evaluators observe the teacher and use these observations as evidence in their assessments.

“CES did not ensure that its educators and evaluators completed all required activities for the annual evaluation cycle for 30 of the 60 educators in our sample,” the report reads. “Some educators had more than one instance of noncompliance. … Evaluators did not observe 20 educators at least four times during the school year, evaluators did not complete formative assessments for 16 educators, and evaluators did not complete summative evaluations for four educators,” among other concerns.

In its response, the Collaborative for Educational Services partly blamed the issues on technical features of the “new online evaluation information system product” that it was implementing at the time, along with potential user errors, and promised a “thorough review” of the system and its use.


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