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Evaluation of the District and School Assistance Centers (DSACs)

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
January 13, 2012



In the fall of 2009, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) established a system of regional assistance centers to provide resources and direct support to high need districts and schools in the state. As one of the key functions of the Center for Targeted Assistance, the District and School Assistance Centers (DSACs) are the Department's vehicle for providing technical assistance to districts, giving greatest priority to Level 3 and Level 4 districts other than the 10 "Commissioner's districts"1, to enhance their capacity to accelerate improvement in their schools. The assistance is organized to help districts meet expectations articulated in DESE's Accountability and Assistance Framework by supporting the implementation of key aspects of the Conditions for School Effectiveness and the District Standards. Districts participate voluntarily, accessing resources in professional development, direct targeted assistance, and networking that best meet their needs and context for improvement. While the DSACs coordinate with the Readiness Centers in their regions, the DSACs are focused on working with the state's higher need K-12 districts to support strategic and integrated improvement initiatives that address key district needs.

Because this is a new and challenging endeavor, we commissioned the UMass Donahue Institute to gather data and conduct an evaluation to help improve the initiative's operations as well as track its impact on improving district capacity and, ultimately, student performance.

I have attached the Donahue Institute's first comprehensive report released in December 2011 detailing the period from the DSACs' beginning through June 2011. Information was gathered from DESE and DSAC staff and district and school leaders. The report provides findings about the DSACs' structure, the initiative's development over the first 18 months, and the early response from and impact on priority districts as reported by their leaders. The evaluators have also posed some policy considerations to help us continue to refine and adapt the DSACs for continued success.

General Findings

Overall, the evaluation points to a successful launch and early implementation of the regional assistance through the DSACs. The report cites key milestones in the development, staffing, and service delivery of the regional assistance centers. These include:

  • Formation and development of Regional Teams: The DSACs staffed and trained six regional teams with successful educators including former district superintendents, former school principals, and literacy, mathematics and data specialists. The DSAC staff used an integrated team-based approach to assist districts in using effective systems and practices to improve student performance.

  • Participation in DSAC Assistance Activities: All 51 eligible Level 3 and 4 districts accessed some DSAC resources in 2010-2011. All districts accessed school improvement grant funds to help support critical training and development activities. Over 70% of eligible districts participated in ESE-approved professional development in literacy, mathematics, special education, sheltered English immersion, and/or school leadership. Additionally, Level 2 districts participated in available networks in literacy, mathematics, and/or data analysis, fulfilling the DSAC commitment to extend services to more districts where possible. Finally, roughly three-fourths of Level 3 districts participated in one or more targeted assistance activity delivered by DSAC staff including data team development, self- assessment using the Conditions for School Effectiveness, and conducting Learning Walkthroughs.

  • Satisfaction: Districts that engaged with the DSACs in targeted assistance and training activities cited positive factors that fostered their involvement including:

    • DSAC teams that understood their needs and had essential and relevant experience and expertise
    • DSAC staff that was accessible and responsive
    • DSAC offerings that were relevant and highly regarded by program participants
    • Job embedded services that are customized to districts' contexts
  • Initial Impacts: Districts that accessed DSAC services reported a greater sense of urgency for improvement in their schools as well as better access to new resources and services. Districts that engaged most intensively with DSAC targeted assistance also pointed to the following impacts in their schools and districts:

    • Improved structures for data use and analysis
    • Increased opportunities for and capacity for self-reflection and strategic planning
    • Increased sense of shared responsibility for improvement among the educators in the district
    • Increased opportunities for teacher leadership
    • Early changes in classroom practices

Considerations and response

The UMass Donahue evaluation points to several challenges that we are taking into consideration as we engage in program and budget planning. These concerns generally reflect a need for greater and more consistent funding that would stabilize staffing and be responsive to the range of district needs. The Board has already begun to address this through its FY13 budget request that seeks additional funding for DSAC staff for key positions in literacy, English language learners, and leadership specialties. In addition, the DESE leadership for regional assistance continues to refine DSAC systems in response to district needs and feedback. This year, as an example, DESE released grant funding to the DSAC eligible districts three months earlier than in the previous year to enable districts to use the funding more strategically. Also, in response to concerns that DSACs might "abandon" districts that no longer were designated in Level 3, DSACs established a policy to continue to provide grant funding and access to DSAC targeted assistance for districts that exited Level 3 in 2011.

Given the initial findings of the evaluation report, I am confident that this initiative is heading in the right direction and is addressing an important need for a systemic approach to support district and school improvement for our priority districts.

Senior Associate Commissioner Lynda Foisy and Associate Commissioner Lise Zeig will be available at the January Board meeting to provide additional context about this initiative and its evaluation as well as to answer your questions.


Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
District and School Assistance Center (DSAC) Evaluation: Findings Regarding Implementation and Preliminary Outcomes of the DSAC Initiative - December 2011
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
District and School Assistance Centers' Overview and Foundational Services


Last Updated: January 23, 2012
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