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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

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


Emerging Practices in Rapid Achievement Gain Level 4 Schools: Analysis

At the November 2011 meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, I provided an update on the performance of Level 4 ("underperforming") schools. Since those results were released, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) commissioned an analysis to explain which policies and strategies were most effective in the Level 4 schools showing accelerated improvement. At the April 24, 2012 Board meeting, we will present the findings of this analysis (see enclosed report, Emerging Practices in Rapid Achievement Gain Schools: An Analysis of 2010-2011 Level 4 Schools to Identify Organizational and Instructional Practices that Accelerate Students' Academic Achievement). The following is a brief overview of the background, content, and implications of the report.


The 35 Level 4 schools announced in March 2010 were the first schools to undergo a new turnaround plan development process defined in An Act Relative to the Achievement Gap, the landmark legislation signed into law by Governor Patrick in January 2010 that provided new flexibilities to turn around the lowest performing schools and greater accountability for results. Each of the nine districts with one or more Level 4 schools was required to produce a turnaround plan for the commissioner's approval and was given priority to apply for competitive federal School Redesign Grants of approximately $500,000 per year for up to three years for each of its Level 4 schools. The Department also provided targeted supports to the districts and helped connect them to additional turnaround resources where appropriate. One of the identified Level 4 schools in Boston subsequently was closed, leaving 34 schools in nine districts.

We were encouraged that 22 of the 34 Level 4 schools achieved significant gains in both English language arts (ELA) and mathematics after the first year of turnaround efforts. To learn more about the improvement process, we arranged for a formal evaluation, which resulted in the report that is being presented to the Board.

Emerging Practices in Rapid Achievement Gain Schools: Overview

The Department commissioned an analysis by the Institute for Strategic Leadership and Learning (INSTLL, LLC) to identify the explicit practices in Level 4 schools that are showing accelerated improvement. The study identified ten Level 4 schools that made the largest combined increase in the percent of students attaining Proficient and Advanced and compared their practices with ten Level 4 schools with the smallest combined increases and, in some cases, decreases in achievement. These 20 schools were analyzed to explore trends and themes that would explain the differences in achievement gains.

Through a very detailed analysis of school practice and implementation, the report concluded that "while there are no discernible trends (at least after one year) with respect to the turnaround model used by schools (e.g., turnaround, transformation, restart), specific educational programs, or even with respect to additional funding, the analysis did identify three significant commonalities among Level 4 schools with rapid achievement gains." The following three strategies were implemented effectively and with a degree of sophistication that was "substantively different than those schools with little or no immediate achievement gains":

  1. The school has an instruction- and results-oriented principal who has galvanized both individual and collective responsibility for the improved achievement of all students through a variety of deliberate improvement structures, expectations, practices, and continuous feedback.

  2. The school has created instruction-specific teaming and teacher-specific coaching for pursuing ongoing instructional improvement.

  3. The school has developed a well-orchestrated system of ongoing data collection and analysis that informs a continuously responsive and adaptive system of tiered instruction directly attentive to students' specific academic needs.

Actions Taken

The Department's Center for Targeted Assistance has distributed this report through both the Office of District and School Turnaround and the District and School Assistance Centers, to encourage district and school administrators to learn from these examples. The following is an overview of how the findings from this analysis have been used to further the Department's assistance efforts:

  • The content of the findings has been used to modify the Turnaround Plan template, Level 4 District template, and School Redesign Grant requirements and scoring rubric so that all plans for turning around schools will be assessed against the district and school leadership capacity to implement and monitor these practices;
  • The district liaisons serving the Commissioner's Districts have aligned their assistance to districts to help build district capacity to support schools in implementing these practices; and
  • The District and School Assistance Centers are sharing the report with Level 3 districts and schools to ground their self assessment and support effective implementation of the key Conditions for School Effectiveness as seen in this analysis.

At the Board meeting on April 24, Senior Associate Commissioner Lynda Foisy and Jesse Dixon of the Department's Office of District and School Turnaround will present these findings in more detail and will respond to your questions.


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Emerging Practices in Rapid Achievement Gain Schools: An Analysis

Last Updated: April 19, 2012
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