Statewide System of Support (SSoS)

Turnaround Schools: Frequently Asked Questions

The information in this FAQ addresses the following topics about Turnaround schools in Massachusetts. Use the links to jump to that section of the document.

  1. Commissioner Designated "Underperforming Schools"

    1. What is an underperforming school?
    2. What is a chronically underperforming school?
    3. What is the difference between an underperforming school and a Level 4 school (or a chronically underperforming school and a Level 5 school)?
    4. How are underperforming schools identified? What data are used?
    5. What happens when the Commissioner designates a school as underperforming? What will be different in an underperforming school?
    6. Will DESE identify additional underperforming or chronically underperforming schools?

  2. Focused/Targeted Schools

    1. What does it mean to be a school in need of Focused/Targeted Support?
    2. What is required in the turnaround plan?
    3. Where can I find resources on how to write a turnaround plan?
    4. What is required when renewing a turnaround plan?
    5. What resources are available to support schools identified as in need of assistance or intervention?
    6. Are the identified underperforming schools showing progress towards their goals of accelerating student achievement?
    7. How are stakeholders (i.e., teachers, families, students, and the community) involved in the development and implementation of turnaround plans?

  3. Exit Decisions for Underperforming Schools

    1. How does a school exit underperforming status?
    2. How will DESE assess a school's progress in meeting the exit criteria?
    3. When a school exits turnaround status, does it retain the authorities that came with turnaround status?
    4. What if the district and/or school is unsuccessful in meeting turnaround exit criteria?

A. Commissioner Designated "Underperforming Schools

  1. What is an underperforming school?

    M.G.L. Ch 69, Section 1J: An Act Relative to the Achievement Gap gives the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education the authority to designate schools that are both low performing on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) over a four year period in English language arts (ELA), mathematics, and science (if applicable), and have not shown signs of substantial improvement over the course of that time as "underperforming". Designation as underperforming requires the school, by law, to undertake an accelerated process for rapid and sustainable improvement within three full school years. Underperforming schools are categorized as in need of "Broad/Comprehensive" support under Massachusetts' accountability system. An updated list of current underperforming schools can be found here.

  2. What is a chronically underperforming school?

    A chronically underperforming school is low performing and has not demonstrated substantial improvement over time. This designation is made 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 while it was in underperforming status.

    The Commissioner is responsible for creating a turnaround plan for a chronically underperforming school. The Commissioner may either require the superintendent to implement the turnaround plan (which may include support from a targeted assistance team) or appoint a new leader, called a receiver, to operate the school and implement the turnaround plan.

  3. What is the difference between an underperforming school and a Level 4 school (or a chronically underperforming school and a Level 5 school)?

    The Level 4 and Level 5 terminology was used under our state's previous accountability system. Under the present accountability system, which began in 2018, the level classification was removed, and schools are now classified under the new system as underperforming (formerly Level 4) or chronically underperforming (formerly Level 5) until an exit decision is made by the Commissioner. Both underperforming and chronically underperforming schools are categorized as in need of Broad/Comprehensive Support on our state accountability system.

  4. How are underperforming schools identified? What data are used?

    A school is considered for underperforming designation if it scores in the lowest 20% statewide in MCAS achievement and growth. The Commissioner has the discretion to designate a school as underperforming on the basis of, but not limited to:

    1. School MCAS achievement in English language arts, mathematics, and science;
    2. Change in school MCAS achievement;
    3. Annual student growth on MCAS for students at the school as compared with peers across the Commonwealth;
    4. Graduation and dropout rates (high schools only); or
    5. Other indicators of school performance, including student attendance, dismissal, suspension, exclusion, and promotion rates upon the determination of each indicator's reliability and validity, or lack of demonstrated significant improvement for two or more consecutive years in core academic subjects, either in the aggregate or among subgroups of students, including designations based on special education, economically disadvantaged, English learner status, and racial classifications; or on the basis of information from a school or district review performed under M.G.L. c.15, ยง 55A

  5. What happens when the Commissioner designates a school as underperforming? What will be different in an underperforming school?

    Designation as an underperforming school begins a process for school turnaround designed to support the accelerated improvement of student achievement and establish a high-functioning learning environment within three years. Underperforming schools are required by law to develop a turnaround plan for the school. This plan takes the place of any existing school improvement plan and becomes the basis for any federal grant funding, namely School Redesign Grant (SRG) and Turnaround Assistance Grant (TAG) funds.

  6. Will DESE identify additional underperforming or chronically underperforming schools?

    In 2018, no new underperforming or chronically underperforming schools were identified by the Commissioner. The Department may consider identifying more underperforming or chronically underperforming schools in future years based on new accountability data. The final decision on identification rests with the Commissioner and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

B. Focused/Targeted Schools

  1. What does it mean to be a school in need of Focused/Targeted Support?

    Schools categorized as in need of Focused/Targeted Support on Massachusetts' accountability system are those not already designated as "underperforming" or "chronically underperforming" that are in the lowest 10th percentile of schools in performance across the state, those with low-performing subgroups, high schools with a graduation rate below 67%, and schools with low participation rates. According to the Department's assistance strategy, all schools with this designation must develop and implement a turnaround plan.

  2. What is required in the turnaround plan?

    A turnaround plan requires schools in need of assistance to identify priority areas for turnaround and select strategic initiatives at both the school and district level to address the priority areas. The plan also requires clear benchmarks for student achievement and other indicators toward achieving Measurable Annual Goals (MAGs).

  3. Where can I find resources on how to write a turnaround plan?

    The Department has created a template and comprehensive guidance to support districts and schools in developing and implementing a turnaround plan that meets both state and federal requirements.

  4. What is required when renewing a turnaround plan?

    Turnaround plans need to be revised/updated annually. It is important to note that it is not necessary to write a new turnaround plan each year. A revision involves consulting with a local stakeholder group on the existing plan, then updating the benchmarks and measurable annual goals (MAGs) to reflect the current school year. If there are major changes from the previous years, that would be noted as well.

  5. What resources are available to support schools identified as in need of assistance or intervention?

    Both funding and technical assistance resources are available to support low-performing schools. Some schools ranked in the lowest percentiles are eligible to apply for federal funding through the Massachusetts School Redesign Grants program. Schools identified as in need of assistance or intervention receive priority for support and technical assistance from DESE's Statewide System of Support (SSoS). Districts also provide increased support and oversight to their lowest-performing schools. Further, there are autonomies available to underperforming schools. A further elaboration on the additional resources and autonomies available to underperforming schools can be found here. Many of the same autonomies are required to obtain School Redesign Grant funding. A checklist of SRG required autonomies are here.

  6. Are the identified underperforming schools showing progress towards their goals of accelerating student achievement?

    Yes. As of September 2018, 55% of schools eligible to exit underperforming status have done so. Other schools identified as underperforming in subsequent years are on track toward meeting stated three-year goals in both ELA and math. Growth and progress at each school occurs at different rates given the unique context of each site. Research has shown that underperforming schools which made significant progress implemented key turnaround practices related to leadership, instruction, student-specific support, and school climate and culture. More information is available in the Turnaround Practices reports. The Department's turnaround template and guidance are aligned to these four evidence-based practices.

  7. How are stakeholders (i.e., teachers, families, students, and the community) involved in the development and implementation of turnaround plans?

    State and federal law recognize that successful school turnaround requires ongoing investment by the whole school community. Schools are required to convene stakeholders to assess the current conditions at the school in key areas, make recommendations to the superintendent on the school's turnaround plan, and support the school in implementing the turnaround plan. For underperforming schools, Local Stakeholder Groups are here to have representation from the following groups: families, teachers, district administrators, school committee members, teacher unions, social service agencies, the early education and care community and higher education community, local community members, and DESE.

C. Exit Decisions for Underperforming Schools

  1. How does a school exit underperforming status?
    Underperforming schools have up to three full school years to implement their turnaround plans and show dramatic, sustainable growth in student achievement. At the end of the turnaround period, DESE reviews evidence on the school's progress and makes exit decisions based on three criteria:

    1. Student Performance: Has the school achieved its Measurable Annual Goals for student performance, including student performance for all students in the school, as well for subgroups of students (e.g., English language learners and students with disabilities)?
    2. Conditions of School Effectiveness: Is there evidence that conditions are in place at the school level to sustain continuous improvement?
    3. District Systems of Support: Is there evidence that the district has put systems in place to support the school going forward to sustain the school's turnaround and make continuous improvements?

  2. How will DESE assess a school's progress in meeting the exit criteria?

    A deep analysis of student performance on indicators in the state accountability system over at least three years will be conducted on each school eligible for exit consideration. Also, each underperforming school receives monitoring visits by an external evaluator. An outcome of the monitoring visit is a report that provides the district, school, and DESE with information on the progress of the school in implementing the turnaround plan. The reports also provide information for the school to use to refine its turnaround strategies for the coming year. Ultimately, the Commissioner considers a wide array of available data to determine, in his professional judgement, if the three criteria have been met to allow a school to exit underperforming status.

  3. When a school exits turnaround status, does it retain the authorities that came with turnaround status?

    State accountability law and regulations allow the Commissioner to approve a continuation of the authorities that come with turnaround status. Schools exiting turnaround status receive additional information about the process for requesting the extension of these authorities.

  4. What if the district and/or school is unsuccessful in meeting turnaround exit criteria?

    If the school has made little or no progress and is unable to meet the three exit criteria outlined above, the Commissioner may designate it as a chronically underperforming school. If the school has made progress but not met all benchmarks, the Commissioner may decide to keep the school in turnaround status for another school year. Schools remain in turnaround status if they have made insufficient gains in student achievement at the conclusion of their turnaround term. DESE recognizes that schools that do not meet turnaround exit criteria may be making progress within their current turnaround experience, and may benefit from additional time in implementation to make dramatic progress. The Commissioner may also determine that a school enter into a partnership with a state-approved turnaround operator to accelerate limited progress.

 
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