Statewide System of Support (SSoS)

Turnaround Plan Guidance

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A Letter from the Associate Commissioner of the Statewide System of Support on 2018 Accountability Results and Aligned Assistance

Turnaround Plans for Schools Requiring Assistance or Intervention

The Statewide System of Support (SSoS) in the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) has created a plan template and accompanying guidance for district and schools identified under Massachusetts' Next-Generation District & School Accountability System as requiring assistance or intervention (see Broad/comprehensive support and Focused/targeted support in chart below).

Schools without required assistance or intervention
(approx. 85%)

Schools requiring assistance or intervention
(approx. 15%)

Schools of recognition

Meeting targets

Partially meeting targets

Focused/targeted support

Board/comprehensive support

Schools demonstrating high achievement, significant improvement, or high growth Criterion-referenced target percentage 75-100 Criterion-referenced target percentage 0-74

*Schools with percentiles 1-10

*Schools with low graduation rate

*Schools with low performing subgroups

*Schools with low participation

*Underperforming schools

*Chronically underperforming schools

Just as the new accountability system in Massachusetts was designed to meet federal ESSA Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) [1] requirements, this turnaround plan guidance and template was designed to support schools and districts in meeting federal ESSA planning requirements, as well as state planning requirements under the Massachusetts Act Relative to the Achievement Gap M.G.L. Ch 69, Section 1J [2]. In addition to its alignment with state and federal planning requirements, this template and guidance promotes research-based evidence of best practice in high performing Massachusetts turnaround schools and the turnaround practices.

These materials were developed from the lessons learned across the state and based on some guiding principles:

  • A streamlined plan with succinct narrative that is user-friendly and an authentic guide for all practitioners
  • A systematic and intentional strategic plan to drive rapid school improvement
  • A plan that is built on benchmarks that effectively measure growth throughout the school year to determine if the school is making progress towards meeting their annual goals
  • A living document that can be used as a communication and reflection tool

While the resources below are intended to provide districts and schools the guidance and additional resources they need to effectively engage in the turnaround planning process, ESE's Statewide System of Support (SSoS) regional assistance staff are available to provide support to schools engaged in this important work. You can reach out to leaders of the Coastal, West/Central, or Strategic Transformation regions to access these supports.

A note for schools only designated as requiring assistance or intervention for one or more low-performing subgroups: It is recommended that these schools should use this full set of guidance in developing a plan, focused throughout on analyzing data, selecting strategies, and monitoring progress towards improving academic outcomes for students in those subgroups.

Getting Started

Below are detailed guidance and instructions for each step of the turnaround planning process. A district and school team can access each section on this web page when needed for each step. Please check back here often for updates and additional resources as they are rolled out by the SSoS team. For example, resources coming soon are a downloadable Turnaround Plan Template, a downloadable full set of Turnaround Plan Guidance in one Word document, and new guidance for sections below noted as "Coming Soon."

How long should the turnaround planning process take? We offer this guide for planning timelines for both schools engaging in this process for the first time, and for schools that are renewing on an annual basis.

Download Word Document
Sample Timeline for Turnaround Plan Development

[1] ESSA requires that schools in the lowest 5th percentile must work with local stakeholders to develop and implement a comprehensive support and improvement plan. By law, these plans must be informed by all the indicators in the state's accountability system, include evidence-based interventions, be based on a school-level needs assessment, involve stakeholders in planning and implementation, and identify resource inequities that must be addressed. The plan must be approved by the state and once approved, the state is responsible for monitoring and reviewing implementation of the plan. Schools with consistently underperforming subgroups (targeted support and intervention schools) are subject to the planning requirements for schools in the lowest 5th percentile, but the state is not required to approve or monitor the plans.

[2] All schools named as "underperforming" must meet several requirements in developing a turnaround plan under M.G.L. Ch 69, Section 1J.

Section 1 - Executive Summary

What to Consider Before Writing

An Executive Summary of a turnaround plan should stand on its own in describing the turnaround work at the school - someone should be able to read the Executive Summary and understand the essence of the turnaround plan without having to read the whole plan.

There are myriad resources available on how to write an executive summary. While DESE does not specifically endorse a particular one, some universal themes that appear throughout the literature are:

  • Keep it concise
  • Write the executive summary after the turnaround plan is written
  • Should be a hook to the rest of the plan
  • Should stand alone if the executive summary is all that is read
  • Write in language that the average stakeholder can understand; limit jargon
  • What's unique and exciting about your school and the plan for the coming years
  • The target audience for the Executive Summary is your stakeholders, not DESE - have one of them read the summary and ask them to share what they took away as the headlines.

What to Write

What to write about in your turnaround plan

Summarize the following information in 1-2 pages, and in a way that will make sense to your key stakeholders such as students, teachers, families, school committee, and community.

  1. A snapshot or brief profile of the school (examples include demographic information, what makes the school unique, among others)
  2. Brief summary of the vision for the school
  3. Outline key improvement strategies and goals that address root causes of challenges the school faces that will be used to accelerate improvement in each turnaround practice
  4. How the school will measure the success of the new approach
  5. How this plan represents a new approach to improving the educational experience for children and how will educators deliver that new experience

Section 2 - Stakeholder Engagement

What to Consider Before Writing

To develop a high-quality turnaround plan, schools should gather meaningful input from an array of key stakeholders, incorporate that input into their Turnaround Plan, and continue to regularly share progress with key stakeholders as the plan is implemented.

Engaging key stakeholders in this way is a strategy that would benefit all districts and schools, not just schools engaged in turnaround. Districts and schools engaging in turnaround and in the state's Planning for Success process tell us that soliciting input from an array of stakeholders:

  • allows them to see multiple perspectives on the school's turnaround needs,
  • helps to ensure that the Turnaround Plan addresses the diverse needs of its community, and
  • builds a shared sense of urgency and commitment to the turnaround planning and implementation process.

Role of Stakeholders in the Turnaround Planning Process

Generally speaking, stakeholders serve an advisory role by offering their perspectives, feedback, and broad recommendations on how to address the school's challenges. Their input informs the work of the school team charged with developing the Turnaround Plan, and provides insight and input throughout the implementation of the plan. The role of stakeholders, of course, may vary depending on existing relationships between the school and different stakeholder groups.

Stakeholder Group vs. Redesign Team

While stakeholders generally serve an advisory role, it is important to determine who at the school and district level with serve on the school's redesign team - a group of school and district staff that will be most affected by the anticipated changes in the school. This could be a team that already exists in the school, or may need to be developed with new staff. Establishing a redesign team early on is an essential step in the turnaround planning process. Team members should be informed of the intense nature of the work involved in school turnaround and they should be willing to make the commitment to this process. This work will most likely need to involve after school, evening and/or weekend meetings to complete the turnaround plan. Most importantly, the redesign team should be the entity that drives the implementation of the turnaround plan, supporting school and district leadership in monitoring school progress and making mid-course corrections.

Among the team members there should be individuals who are strong in areas of reading and math instruction, other key instructional areas (e.g. special education, English language learning), data analysis, technology, communication, community engagement, team building, and student services. The size of the team should be relative to the size of the school. For example, a small elementary school may decide to have only 8 members. A secondary school may have 12-14 members. Groups larger than 20 members may be too large for the core team. Sub-committees may be needed as planning intensifies.

Identifying and Recruiting Key Stakeholders

The composition of your stakeholder group will depend on the unique context of your school community. Seek out individuals who can serve as champions and critical friends, who bring diverse skills and perspectives, and who serve the school in a variety of capacities. The number of stakeholders should be large enough to include an array of perspectives, but small enough for all stakeholders to make meaningful contributions to the process. Think about the students that your school serves and make certain that the stakeholder group includes representatives who can speak authentically to their perspectives and needs, particularly those who have been historically marginalized (African American/Black, Hispanic/Latino, English learners, students with disabilities, etc.).

  • Students. Students of all ages can be valuable partners in the planning, implementation, and monitoring of school improvement efforts. Throughout this guidance, when we refer to stakeholders or the Community, we include students as the first and most important customers to consider. As the recipients of the planned work, they have excellent insights into how well things are working and where they can work better.
  • Consider existing advisory groups. School site councils, parent teacher organizations, Special Education Parent Advisory Councils, English Learner Parent Advisory Councils, school and district partners, and student leadership groups may yield members who are already active in the school's turnaround and are likely to continue their involvement in the school's implementation of the turnaround plan.
  • Other key stakeholders. Other stakeholders may include union representatives, community organizations, SSoS regional assistance team members or social service organizations. For middle and high schools, members of the local higher education community may be relevant stakeholders. Likewise, for early grades, members of the local early education and care community should be considered.

Developing a Process for Gathering Stakeholder Input

  • Seek input early. Begin seeking stakeholder input early in the process of turnaround planning so that stakeholders can make recommendations to inform the direction and priorities of the turnaround plan.
  • Series of meetings. Many districts and schools gather stakeholder input through a series of about four or five meetings, which provides ample time for discussion of the school's context, challenges, and opportunities.
  • Facilitation. When convening discussions among groups of stakeholders, consider identifying a skilled facilitator to guide the group's discussion and to document group recommendations. Whenever communication is a barrier, there should also be an interpreter available to support stakeholders not fluent in English.
  • Deliverables. It has proven to be important for meetings to include a published/shared agenda, attendance records, notes/minutes, and a written set of recommendations, all translated to support stakeholders who are not fluent in English.
  • Other strategies for gathering input.Districts may also choose to engage with stakeholders through focus groups, surveys, interviews, or other methods appropriate to their context and needs.
  • Ongoing, two-way communication. Stakeholder input should not end once the turnaround plan is written. Following the guidance in the next section, include stakeholders in the vision setting process. Identify ongoing opportunities to share information about the turnaround process with the school community, and to receive formative feedback from your key stakeholders as turnaround progresses.

Suggested Topics to Address with Stakeholders

  • Why turnaround planning? Explain why the school is developing a turnaround plan, and what the timeline and process will look like. Explain how voluntarily engaging in turnaround plan development and implementation process can help students. Share and explain the timeline for development and implementation of the turnaround plan.
  • Explain how stakeholders can help. Provide stakeholders with a clear explanation of their role and purpose in the turnaround plan process. Explain that they are not charged with creating or implementing the turnaround plan, but with offering broad recommendations for how the school and district should address turnaround challenges. Clarify how you will be engaging with stakeholders (e.g. series of meetings, surveys, etc).
  • Discuss school and district context. Share and discuss data illustrating the school's challenges and opportunities. Reflect on what it is like to teach, learn and be part of the school community, especially for those that have been historically marginalized.
  • Turnaround research & best practices. Identify and discuss evidence-based research and best practices for achieving school turnaround. How can best practices be incorporated into the school's context? How can stakeholders support the turnaround?
  • Identify what problems must be urgently addressed and what key assets can be leveraged. What changes to collective bargaining contracts can be negotiated between management and unions?
  • Funding considerations. Turnaround plans should be focused on altering structures and conditions in a way that does not rely on additional funds, but rather reallocates existing funds. The turnaround plan must be possible with current funds and accelerated and/or enhanced with federal [1] and state targeted assistance funds. Stakeholders can provide guidance and/or suggestions on how turnaround efforts can be funded.

[1] The School Redesign Grant (SRG) program is a source of federal funding for some low-performing schools; however, the SRG program is administered on a competitive basis - it is not an entitlement. It is important to note that turnaround plans written in application for competitive SRG funding must meet stated grant requirements and meet a scoring threshold on the SRG Scoring Rubric. In the event that the district does apply for federal SRG funding, the content of the funding requests in the SRG proposal must supplement rather than supplant district funding. SRG funds should be considered an investment in school capacity because participants need to consider the long-term sustainability of proposed efforts. Federal SRG funding can only be used for up to three years - then the district is responsible for maintaining the improvements in that school without the additional funding source.

What to Write

What to Write About in the Turnaround Plan Template

Briefly describe in one-two pages:

  • the composition of the stakeholder group that provided input into your turnaround plan. In your description, be sure to address how the perspectives of historically marginalized groups are represented.
  • the process used to gather input from stakeholders
  • the recommendations made by stakeholders and where they are reflected in your turnaround plan (if available, attached a copy of written stakeholder recommendations)
  • your school's plans for ensuring regular, ongoing engagement with stakeholder groups as the turnaround process progresses and who is responsible for ensuring that this happens.

Additional Resources

Additional Resources Relative to Stakeholder Engagement

While not required, these resources may be helpful as you engage in this step of the turnaround planning process:

Download Word Document
Sample Stakeholder Engagement Worksheet

Requirements for Underperforming Schools

State law requires that schools designated as underperforming assemble a group of stakeholders that meet specific criteria and under specific timelines. Underperforming schools only should use this resource in addition to the guidance above to ensure compliance with state law.

Download Word Document
LSG Guidance for Underperforming Schools

Section 3 - Envision the Future

What to Consider Before Writing

Envisioning the future with a diverse mix of interested parties is a powerful and effective early step in the planning process. Inviting participation in the visioning process will build ownership and advocacy for the resulting plan among both educators and the community. An inclusive approach will also contribute to a positive school culture, helping to build a shared understanding of the work required to serve all students as well as the relationships and trust among stakeholders that will support that work.

Visioning is especially important in a turnaround context, as it can be easy to focus only on the short term challenge of stabilizing a school. Engaging a wide range of stakeholders in a visioning process can help a school articulate an asset-based picture of the future they want for their school and their students, which can then inform a compelling road map for improvement. Visioning can also help a school begin to articulate the answer to the question: How will this improvement effort be different from what we have done before?

What is the Vision?

The vision, as defined in the Massachusetts Planning for Success tool, articulates the school's aspirations for students: what you value and why, and what future success will look like. The school's vision, mission, and core values are the foundation of the school's turnaround plan. The school's vision should speak to the unique context of the school while also aligning to the larger vision for the district as a whole.

The Visioning Process

School leaders will want to consider: How can we design an inclusive planning process that creates a shared vision for all students while strengthening community understanding and support? The school should identify a visioning protocol and a process for using this protocol to conduct visioning sessions with educators (for example, during school faculty or departmental meetings) and with families, students, and community members (for example, during family meetings, student advisories, or high school student government meetings).

A number of visioning protocols and processes exist, and schools may choose to create their own process as well. One commonly used protocol is the Back to the Future Protocol, originally developed by Scott Murphy, which includes guidelines for facilitators in how to work with groups to conduct the visioning process. It is available here.

It is helpful if school leadership and planning teams are the first to participate in the visioning process, before bringing it to others. Their participation in visioning is, of course, essential to the planning process. In addition, these participants can also vet the protocol and the school's design for conducting visioning sessions across the community. Having experienced the protocol and the effective facilitation of it, these participants will have some preparation should they choose to facilitate the protocol themselves in future sessions as part of the school's visioning process.

Using Visioning Results

Results from the visioning process are useful in two ways: they provide guidance for creating the plan's vision statement, and more importantly, can be used by a planning team to identify strategic objectives, overarching goals, and key levers for improvement. This can serve as a starting point for the team's development of strategic objectives.

What to Write

What to Write About in Your Turnaround Plan

Briefly describe in one-two pages the vision for the school.

In your description, include:

  1. Your long-term (3-5 years) vision of success for your school and your students and your hopes and dreams for them.
  2. How will this improvement effort be different from what we have done before
  3. How this vision relates to, fits within, and aligns with the district's vision
  4. How stakeholders were engaged in the process used to craft this vision
  5. What it will look like, sound like, and feel like when you have reached it

Section 4 - Assessment of Assets and Challenges & Root Cause Analysis

What to Consider Before Writing

Before identifying strategies and taking action, the school needs to be grounded in a thorough analysis of data that helps district and school leaders, staff, and stakeholders take stock of the school's strengths and challenges and develop a common understanding of what needs to change in order to achieve the school's vision for success.

Rather than leaping straight to developing solutions and strategies, slowing down to take time for a deep analysis of assets and challenges can result in stronger turnaround implementation. Without it, schools may invest significant time, energy, and resources into implementing strategies that do not actually address the real challenge(s). Schools and districts may end up addressing symptoms rather than the real causes of the school's challenges. Over the course of your analyses, it is recommended that you include opportunities to involve individuals with a range of perspectives in order to bring different interpretations to the data analysis. (e.g., in your stakeholder group)

Schools with the most successful turnaround plan implementation are those that take the time to use multiple data sources to engage in deep reflection about their assets and challenges and develop common understandings of the root cause of the challenges that are getting in the way of the school's success. Districts and schools really need to dig to uncover an underlying factor or condition that is creating a problem, and that, if addressed, would eliminate or dramatically alleviate the problem. This type of root cause analysis helps a school narrow the field of potential causes until everyone can agree on strategies that will yield the biggest bang for the buck if they act on it together. Then the school can identify evidence-based strategies that will clearly address those challenges, and also identify which data points would be most helpful to monitor their progress in addressing that challenge.

Assessment of Assets and Challenges

The goal for this section of the turnaround planning process is to thoroughly analyze school and district level quantitative and qualitative data to identify 2-5 key assets and challenges of the school aligned to theGuiding Questions Aligned to the Turnaround Practices Download PDF Document. Next, the school should probe for causation and identify potential root causes for the selected key assets and challenges. This process, when done well, can be a heavy lift for the school. Therefore we offer the following detailed guidance to support your team in this effort.

Suggestions for a meaningful analysis:

  • Engage in analysis over multiple meetings, allowing for enough time to explore different angles on the same data and integrate additional data sources at each subsequent meeting.
  • Articulate a few questions or lines of inquiry to guide your review of the data. What do you hope to learn?
  • Explore data that aligns to the school's vision. The data you explore and the findings you identify should all serve the purpose of helping the school excel in reaching its vision.
  • Involve individuals with a range perspectives to bring different interpretations to the data analysis. Specifically, consider including students, families, and community partners in your analysis of the data.
  • Revisit the Turnaround Practices Research for examples of how 'gain' schools analyzed their data. Specifically, take a look at the 2016 Turnaround Practices Field Guide.
  • Ensure the analysis touches on all four turnaround practices as well as the cross-cutting themes by considering the Guiding Questions Aligned to the Turnaround Practices Download PDF Document document. The guiding questions document is a critical resource the school redesign team should refer to often throughout this process.
  • Consider using a neutral facilitator who can help the group push beyond their usual level of comfort and ensure a deep reflection of the data - someone who can skillfully engage participants in seeing data in new ways and lead to honest conversations about what is or is not working well at the school.

Suggested Data Analysis Considerations

The suggestions below reflect just a few of the many ways a school could explore their quantitative data. In many cases, exploring multiple data sources alongside each other can help create a different picture than if a data point is seen in isolation.

  • Engage with a wide range of data, including both qualitative and quantitative data related to student outcomes, student and staff demographics, stakeholder perceptions, and school processes (such as staff hiring, student referrals, curriculum review processes). Reference the additional resources provided below in this section.
  • Probe for equity in school practices and outcomes, and explicitly examine whether historically marginalized groups (such as minority racial/ethnic groups, English learners, former English learners, students with disabilities, and students in poverty) disproportionately experience different outcomes. During your analysis take steps to offset any unconscious biases that might influence your review of the data. How do these trends compare to those for their counterparts?
  • Consider the findings and data in the school’s most recent Turnaround Site Visit (TSV) or Monitoring Site Visit (MSV) reports. How do these findings align to local data on systems and structures to support turnaround efforts in place at the school and district?
  • Be sure to look at data for each individual grade and classroom as well as for the school as a whole, and also look at data for low-performing student subgroups. If the school has low-performing subgroups, a deeper analysis of the data relative to those subgroups, as well as overlaps between subgroups (i.e., black and students with disabilities).
  • Look at the key priorities in the current school and district improvement plans. Does the data show evidence that those strategies are making a difference for students?
    • If so, why do you think that is, and how can you keep building on those successes?
    • If not, why do you think that is, and what do you think needs to be done differently?
  • Compare local school classroom observation data with that from external reviews, such as Monitoring Site Visits or Turnaround Site Visits.
  • Compare MCAS proficiency rates with course pass/fail data.
    • Are students passing coursework but still struggling to demonstrate proficiency on MCAS?
  • Compare student growth vs. proficiency on MCAS.
    • Which students are experiencing the highest growth, and what is contributing to that?
    • Which students are experiencing the lowest growth, and why might that be?
    • Are students experiencing higher growth in some subjects compared to others?
    • Are there any trends in which grades or student groups are experiencing higher or lower growth?
  • Compare student attendance and teacher attendance. How often are students actually in front of their assigned teachers?
  • Compare teacher discipline referrals, student suspensions, and student restraints with student perceptions of school culture and self-assessments on key social-emotional competencies.
    • Do students and teachers have the same perspectives of school climate?
    • If suspensions and restraints have declined, do you have additional data that shows whether school climate has actually improved?
    • Do different student groups get disciplined at different rates and/or in different ways? What do you think is at the root of this? Does the level of English language proficiency of the student, or the number of years in a Massachusetts school, affect discipline rates of students (or English learners in particular)?

Root Cause Analysis

A meaningful root cause analysis requires participants to look closely at how their own policies, programs, practices and procedures impact the the key challenges and/or successes identified in the initial data analysis. In fact, root cause analysis protocols typically direct participants to focus explicitly on factors over which their actions can reasonably be expected to have influence, rather than factors out of their control (e.g., poverty).

Note that the same data you look at to determine your root cause can be translated into the data you use to benchmark progress. Schools should make direct connections between identified challenges, the selection of strategies to address the root causes for those challenges, and benchmarks to assess if progress is being made towards improvement. For example, if the school noticed a correlation between low performance of black students that are also students with disabilities, a strategy should be chosen to address the hypothesized root cause for these students low performance, and the school should set benchmarks for these subgroups to ensure progress is being made throughout the turnaround plan.

Tools to guide your root cause analysis process include:

Download Word Document
Sample Root Cause Analysis of School Challenges - provides case studies of root cause analysis in successful turnaround schools.
  • At the middle and high school levels, consider getting student insight on the root causes of identified challenges through focus groups or surveys.
  • ESE's District Data Team Toolkit (Module 4: Knowledge) and Planning for Success resources include good overviews of the root cause analysis process and its importance, multiple examples of root cause analysis protocols, and advice for facilitating a successful root cause analysis process.
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The Early Warning Indicator System (EWIS)

What to Write

What to Write About in the Turnaround Plan Template

In two-three pages, describe 2-5 key assets and challenges your school identified during the initial data analyses for additional exploration via root cause analysis. In your description, please incorporate information about:

  • The complete set of initial data analyses you conducted (e.g., data sources; aggregate analyses; disaggregated analyses by grade, student subgroup) to identify the key assets and challenges;
  • The evidence that led your school to single out these particular assets and challenges;
  • The process and additional data sources used to conduct root cause analysis for each key asset and challenge identified;
  • The key practices, policies, and systems at the district and/or school level that your school hypothesizes are at the root of each success and challenge;
  • The approaches you used throughout to identify key assets and challenges, as well as root causes, through the lens of the four Turnaround Practices and what you learned as a result.

Additional Resources

Additional Resources Relative to Assessing Assets and Challenges & Root Cause Analysis

While not required, these resources may be helpful as you engage in this step of the turnaround planning process:

Related data resources:

Download Word Document
Specific Data Sources to Consider for Assessment of Assets and Challenges & Root Cause Analysis
Download Word Document
Sample Measurable Annual Goals (MAGs)
Download Word Document
Suggested Local Data Sources About Students
Download Word Document
Suggested Local Data Sources Aligned to the Turnaround
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Benchmark Guidance for English learners
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Overview of DESE data tools such as Profiles, DART and Edwin Analytics
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DESE's Accountability Lists, Materials, and Tools Website

Related data resources specific to middle and high schools:

View External Link
The ABC's of High School Success
Early Warning Indicator System (EWIS)
Analysis of Dropout Data
View HTML Page
Success After High School DART
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