Chronically Underperforming Schools: Frequently Asked Questions
Q1: What is a Level 5 School?
A: A Level 5 school is a "chronically underperforming" school and is both low performing and not showing signs of substantial improvement over time. "Level 5" refers to the placement of the school in the state's Framework , which classifies schools based on their student performance. A school with low performance is designated Level 5 by the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education because of significant concerns about the capacity of the school and district to make the changes necessary to raise student achievement at the school to acceptable performance levels.
The Commissioner is responsible for creating a turnaround plan for a Level 5 school. The Commissioner may either require the superintendent to implement the turnaround plan (which may include support from a targeted assistance team) or select a new leader, called a receiver, to operate the school and implement the turnaround plan. Whether the Commissioner directs the Superintendent or appoints a receiver, that person is held responsible for implementing and achieving the goals set out in the school's turnaround plan. The turnaround plan will be designed to put in place a comprehensive plan of action for significantly and rapidly improving the educational outcomes for all students in the school.
The authorities and flexibilities granted through the turnaround plan empower the Superintendent or the receiver to implement an ambitious and accelerated reform agenda so that students receive the quality of education that they need to meet the high standards that we hold for all students in the Commonwealth.
Q2: How are Level 5 schools identified? What data are used?
A: A school is designated Level 5 when it has failed to improve as required by the goals, benchmarks, or timetable of its prior turnaround plan, or when the school has failed to make significant improvement and when conditions in the district make it unlikely that the school will make significant improvement unless it is placed in Level 5. Before a school is designated chronically underperforming by the Commissioner, a school must be designated underperforming (Level 4) in the state's Framework for School Accountability and Assistance and fail to improve significantly.
A Level 5 school is selected from among the state's Level 4 schools. The state's Level 4 schools are among the lowest performing 20% of schools in the Commonwealth based on an analysis of four-year trends in absolute achievement, student growth, graduation, and dropout rates, and improvement trends as measured by the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), as well as findings from monitoring site visits over the previous three years. Based on an analysis of these data, along with input from the school community, the Commissioner may declare the school as Level 5 or "chronically underperforming."
Q3: How many Level 5 schools are there currently?
Under the timelines provided in the statute, 2013 was the first time that the Commissioner has been able to designate Level 5 schools under statute. Currently, four schools have been designated Level 5. The law states that not more than 4% of the total number of public schools may be designated as underperforming (Level 4) or chronically underperforming (Level 5) at any given time.
Q4: Who has the Commissioner selected to work with him on the Level 5 schools?
A: By law, the Commissioner can either ask the Superintendent of the district to lead a Level 5 school (which may include support from a targeted assistance team), or he can name a new leader, called a receiver, to lead the school. Whether the Superintendent or a receiver, the leader will report directly to the Commissioner regarding the school and will be accountable for improving education for every student in the school.
On January 29, 2014, the Commissioner announced the following decisions about who would work with him to develop and implement his turnaround plan for each of the four Level 5 schools.
Dever Elementary School (Boston): Blueprint Schools Network
Holland Elementary School (Boston): UP Education Network
Morgan Full Service Community School (Holyoke): Dr. Stephen Zrike, Receiver, Holyoke Public Schools
John A. Parker Elementary School (New Bedford): Dr. Pia Durkin, Superintendent, New Bedford Public Schools
Q5: How are stakeholders such as teachers, parents, students, and community members involved in decisions regarding a Level 5 school?
A: Stakeholders such as parents, teachers, and community members are essential to turning around a Level 5 school. Prior to designating the schools Level 5, the Commissioner held roundtable discussions at each of the four schools; stakeholders including parents, teachers, and community members participated in those conversations. Within 30 days following the Level 5 school designations, the Commissioner convened a Level 5 School Local Stakeholder Group at each of the four schools, with representation from teachers, parents, the surrounding community, social service organizations, and other representation as outlined in statute. All four groups submitted recommendations to the Commissioner for his consideration as he develops a turnaround plan for each Level 5 school. The Local Stakeholder Groups also had the opportunity to review the Commissioner's preliminary turnaround plan for each school and propose modifications.
Q6: What is the relationship of the district's Superintendent to a Level 5 school?
A: The Commissioner may require the Superintendent to implement the school's turnaround plan. If the Commissioner selects the Superintendent to implement the plan (potentially with support from a targeted assistance team), the Superintendent will be responsible for implementing all of the components of the plan and will be responsible for the school meeting all goals and targets set within the plan. The authority to make changes in the school comes through the turnaround plan.
If the Commissioner selects an external receiver to operate the school and implement the turnaround plan, the receiver has managerial and operational control of the school, including the implementation of the turnaround plan. The receiver has all of the powers that the Superintendent previously had over the school. The Superintendent would still retain her/his managerial and operational authorities for the other schools in the district that have not been designated Level 5.
Whether he selects an external receiver or the Superintendent to implement his turnaround plan, that person or organization reports to the Commissioner regarding the work on the Level 5 school.
Q7: What is the relationship of the district's school committee to a Level 5 school?
A: The school committee still retains its customary role and authorities for the other schools in the district that have not been designated Level 5. The Commissioner or external receiver, as applicable, presents a written report to the school committee on a quarterly basis to provide specific information about the progress being made on the implementation of a Level 5 school's turnaround plan, including an annual evaluation of the school's progress.
Q8: What happens to teachers in Level 5 schools?
A: Teachers and other educators are essential to turning around a Level 5 school. Some teachers currently working in Level 5 schools may be interested in contributing to the reforms that will be proposed by the Level 5 turnaround plans; however, this call to action may not be the right fit for every teacher in the building. State law establishes conditions by which all staff in the school may be required to reapply for positions in the school. (MGLc.69, § 1J (o))1 Each Level 5 school's turnaround plan addresses working conditions at the school.
Q9: If the Level 5 school's receiver is named in the middle of the school year, do changes take effect immediately?
A: If a receiver is named mid-year, the district will continue to manage the Level 5 school's daily operations for the remainder of the school year. Staff currently working at a Level 5 school will continue in their jobs, and the school schedule will remain the same during this period. Students and staff should not expect significant changes in the remaining months of the school year. The receiver will use this time to prepare to assume full operational and managerial control of the school over the summer, and will manage all day-to-day operations at the school the next school year.
Q10: What is the state's role in Level 5 schools?
A: The Commissioner is responsible for convening the Local Stakeholder Group, creating the turnaround plan, and evaluating the school at least annually. In addition, the state's role in Level 5 schools includes defining exit criteria, including measurable annual goals tailored to each school; assessing school and district capacity to dramatically improve student achievement; monitoring the school's progress; and providing targeted assistance.
Q11: Where can I find the turnaround plan for a Level 5 school?
A: All Level 5 school turnaround plans are posted on DESE's Level 5 Schools website.
Q12: Will parents have the right to transfer their child to another school from a Level 5 school?
A: Parents with children in Level 5 schools maintain the same rights to request a transfer to another school in the district as they did prior to the Level 5 identification.
Q13: How does a school exit Level 5 status?
A: Upon the expiration of a turnaround plan for a chronically underperforming school, the Commissioner conducts a review of the school to determine whether the school has achieved the necessary academic and other progress required in the turnaround plan and whether the district has the capacity to continue making progress in improving the school's performance. If the school has made significant improvement, the Commissioner may determine that the school has improved sufficiently for the designation of chronically underperforming to be removed.
Q14: Where can I get more information about Level 5 schools?
A: For updates regarding DESE's work with the Level 5 schools, please see our Level 5 Schools website. For any questions or concerns about a Level 5 school, you may also email DESE at . firstname.lastname@example.org