Office of School and District Turnaround

Frequently Asked Questions

Level 4 Schools: Frequently Asked Questions

The information in this FAQ addresses the following topics about Level 4 schools in Massachusetts. Use the links to jump to that section of the document.

  1. Identification: What is a Level 4 school, and how are Level 4 schools identified?

    1. What is a Level 4 school?
    2. How are Level 4 schools identified? What data are used?
  2. Implementation: What happens to Level 4 schools?

    1. What happens when a school is designated as Level 4? What will be different in a Level 4 School?
    2. What is the impact on a district when one or more of its schools is first designated Level 4? What will be different for the district?
    3. What is required in the Turnaround Plan?
    4. What resources are available to support Level 4 schools?
    5. Are Level 4 schools identified in previous years showing progress toward the goal of accelerating student achievement?
    6. How are stakeholders (i.e., teachers, parents, students, and the community) involved in decisions regarding a Level 4 school?
    7. Will parents have the right to transfer their child to another school from a Level 4 school?
    8. What happens to teachers in Level 4 Schools?
    9. Is there a limit on the number of Level 4 schools?
    10. Will ESE identify additional Level 4 schools?
  3. Exit Decisions: How do schools exit Level 4 status and what does it mean to continue in Level 4 status?

    1. How does a school exit Level 4 status?
    2. How will ESE assess a school's progress in meeting the exit criteria?
    3. What does exit "pending approval of Level 4 exit assurances" mean?
    4. If a school exits Level 4 to either Level 3, 2, or 1, does the Department consider it turned around?
    5. When a school exits Level 4, does it retain the authorities that come with Level 4 status?
    6. What if the district and/or school is unsuccessful in meeting Level 4 exit criteria?
    7. Are schools that continue in Level 4 status required to develop a new Turnaround Plan?
    8. How long can a school continue in Level 4 status?

A. Identification

  1. What is a Level 4 school?

    A Level 4 school is an "underperforming" school that is 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 has not showed signs of substantial improvement over that time. "Level 4" refers to the placement of those schools in the state's Framework Download PDF Document  Download Word Document.
    Level 4 schools are referred to as "turnaround schools" since designation as a Level 4 school requires them to undertake an accelerated process for rapid and sustainable improvement within three full school years.

  2. How are Level 4 schools identified? What data are used?

    Level 4 schools are the state's lowest performing schools based on an analysis of four-year trends in absolute achievement, student growth, and improvement measured by MCAS. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) assesses the results from English Language Arts (ELA), mathematics, and science MCAS to determine the Composite Performance Index (CPI), the percentage of students scoring at the Warning/Failing level, the percentage of students scoring Advanced, and the annual student growth percentile for the years available (ELA and mathematics only) for improvement trends over four years. For high schools, dropout and graduation rate indicators are also incorporated into the calculation.
    The Framework for District Accountability and Assistance and state law both call for the use of multiple indicators to identify schools as candidates for Level 4 accountability, assistance, and intervention activities. ESE identifies schools that are both low performing on MCAS over a four-year period and not showing signs of substantial improvement or strong positive annual student growth over that interval.

B. Implementation

  1. What happens when a school is designated as Level 4? What will be different in a Level 4 School?
    Designation as a Level 4 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. State law1 requires that districts with a Level 4 school 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) funds.
  2. What is the impact on a district when one or more of its schools is first designated Level 4? What will be different for the district?
    According to the state Framework for District Accountability and Assistance, a district's accountability Level is determined by its lowest performing school. When a district has one or more schools designated as Level 4, it receives a district designation of Level 4 as well.
  3. What is required in the Turnaround Plan?
    A Turnaround Plan requires Level 4 districts and schools 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 that will be used as the basis for exiting Level 4 status.
  4. What resources are available to support Level 4 schools?

    Both funding and technical assistance resources are available to support Level 4 schools. Newly identified Level 4 schools are eligible to apply for federal funding through the Massachusetts School Redesign Grants program. Level 4 districts and schools receive priority for support and technical assistance from ESE's Office of District and School Turnaround. Districts are also providing increased support and oversight for their Level 4 schools.

  5. Are the identified Level 4 schools showing progress towards their goals of accelerating student achievement?

    Yes. Fourteen of the Level 4 schools identified in 2010 exited Level 4 in 2013; four more of those schools exited Level 4 status in 2014 and one more exited Level 4 in 2015. Two schools identified as Level 4 in 2011 exited in 2015. Other schools identified as Level 4 in subsequent years are on track toward meeting stated three-year goals in both ELA and math. Growth and progress at each school has been at different rates given the unique context of each site.
    Research has shown that Level 4 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.

  6. How are stakeholders (i.e., teachers, parents, students, and the community) involved in decisions regarding a Level 4 school?

    The law recognizes that successful school turnaround requires ongoing investment by the whole school community. Each new Level 4 school is required to have a Local Stakeholder Group convene to assess the current conditions at the school in key areas and make recommendations to the Superintendent on the school's Turnaround Plan.
    Local Stakeholder Groups must have representatives from the following groups: parents, 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 ESE.

  7. Will parents have the right to transfer their child to another school from a Level 4 school?
    Parents with children in Level 4 schools maintain the same rights to request a transfer to another school in the district as they did prior to the Level 4 identification. For more information about school and district choices in Massachusetts, visit ESE's "Choosing a School" guide.
  8. What happens to teachers in Level 4 Schools?
    ESE is committed to helping districts work with teachers in a collaborative way that values their expertise and commitment to children. Some teachers in these schools will be encouraged to play a role in the planning and implementation of the school's redesign. Others may opt to transfer out of the school because this call to action may not be the right fit for them. State law establishes conditions by which all staff in the school may be required to reapply for positions in the school.
  9. Is there a limit on the number of Level 4 schools?
    By statute, the state can have no more than 4% of all public, non-charter schools identified as Level 4 and Level 5 at one time.
  10. Will ESE identify additional Level 4 schools?

    ESE may consider identifying more Level 4 schools in future years based on new accountability data.

C. Exit Decisions

  1. How does a school exit Level 4 status?
    Level 4 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, ESE 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 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 ESE assess a school's progress in meeting the exit criteria?
    Each Level 4 school receives monitoring visits by an external evaluator. An outcome of the monitoring visit is a report that provides the district, school, and ESE with information on the progress of the school in implementing the turnaround plan. The reports also provide information that the school can use to refine its turnaround strategies for the coming year.
  3. What does exit "pending approval of Level 4 exit assurances" mean?
    The exit of any school from Level 4 to Level 3, 2, or 1 will be contingent on the district's agreement to a set of "exit assurances" designed to help ensure ongoing support and sustained improvements.
  4. If a school exits Level 4 to either Level 3, 2, or 1 does the Department consider it turned around?
    When originally designated, Level 4 schools were "stuck" in patterns of underperformance and were not providing all of their students with a high quality education. However, the Department is pleased to see the progress made by schools that exited Level 4 accountability status. But, the expectation is that they continue their focus on increasing their students' achievement. They have put systems in place at both the school and district level to support their continued progress but they will continue to work diligently until all students are experience a high quality educational experience and graduate from high school ready for college and/or a career. The Department is encouraged by the work to date by districts, schools, students, and the community.
  5. When a school exits Level 4, does it retain the authorities that come with Level 4 status?
    State accountability law and regulations allow for the Commissioner to approve a continuation of the authorities that come with Level 4 status. Schools exiting Level 4 status receive additional information about the process for requesting the extension of these authorities.
  6. What if the district and/or school is unsuccessful in meeting Level 4 exit criteria?

    Schools where gains have not been sufficient by the end of their turnaround term are still underperforming and remain in Level 4. Some of these schools may be in a position where they are making meaningful improvements with their existing turnaround plans; other schools may need to make considerable strategic changes to existing structures and programs in order to make dramatic progress. Still other schools that had limited progress in the first two years decided to enter into partnerships with state-approved turnaround operators.
    If the school has made little or no progress and is unable to meet the three exit criteria outlined earlier, the Commissioner may designate it as a Level 5 school. If the school has made progress but not met all benchmarks, the Commissioner may decide to keep the school in Level 4 status for another school year. In 2013, the Commissioner identified four schools as Level 5 designation. More information about Level 5 Schools.

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Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148-4906

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