The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Update on Level 4 Schools

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
October 12, 2012

Pursuant to our responsibilities under An Act Relative to the Achievement Gap, in March 2010, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted regulations to identify and intervene in Level 4 ("underperforming") schools. At that time, we identified 35 Level 4 schools representing nine districts and serving 18,924 students. On November 15, 2011, we identified six additional Level 4 schools in four districts serving 2,829 students. Most recently, on September 19, 2012, we identified three additional Level 4 schools in three districts serving 1,693 students. The following is an update on the planning, funding, and turnaround work currently taking place in the Level 4 schools.

2010 Level 4 Schools


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 district 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 of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) prioritized these districts for assistance and provided significant targeted supports to help connect them to useful turnaround resources where appropriate. District leaders and local union presidents from all nine districts have been receiving ongoing technical assistance through DESE's Level 4 Schools Network (L4N). The L4N hosts regular conference calls and technical assistance workshops to clarify the expectations of the law and grant requirements, share promising practices for successful turnaround, and network the districts as they develop the conditions for their Level 4 schools to improve rapidly.

Year 2 Results for 2010 Level 4 Schools

After the second year of turnaround efforts, 24 of the 34 Level 4 schools (one of the original 35 closed) made combined gains in English language arts (ELA) or Math of 10 percentage points or higher on their Composite Performance Index between 2010 and 2012 (see Attachment 1 for a full list of the 2010 Level 4 schools and their results so far). The following are highlights from 10 of those schools, identifying increases in the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced:

Last year, we commissioned an analysis of the strategies being used in the fastest improving Level 4 schools and presented the report to the Board. We are following up on that analysis and expect to have updated results this winter.

Thirty-three of these original 34 Level 4 schools received School Redesign Grants last year.

Next Steps for 2010 Level 4 Schools

DESE will continue prioritizing districts with Level 4 schools for targeted assistance to ensure that the gains achieved in these schools continue, and to assist the less successful Level 4 schools in producing stronger gains. The 2012-13 school year marks the third year of their state-approved turnaround plans, and I am required by law to make determinations for each school as follows:

In November, we will provide the Board with an in-depth presentation on this process.

For 11 of the 34 schools, their School Redesign Grant funding will expire at the end of this school year (2012-13). DESE's Office of District and School Turnaround is currently developing planning tools and resources to build district and school capacity to sustain turnaround efforts after the federal grant concludes. A key component of sustainability involves the set-aside by districts of federal Title I dollars to support ongoing improvement in the lowest performing schools - which is a feature of the No Child Left Behind waiver that we secured from the U.S. Department of Education.

2011 Level 4 Schools

As noted previously, on November 15, 2011, DESE identified the following six additional Level 4 schools:

The 2011 Level 4 schools were given priority for DESE targeted assistance, and were able to access key Race to the Top initiatives including Priority Partners for Turnaround, Turnaround Teacher and Leader Teams, and Wraparound Zones. Five of the six schools successfully applied for federal School Redesign Grant funding, and have begun their first year of implementing state-approved Turnaround Plans in the 2012-13 school year.

2012 Level 4 Schools

On September 19, 2012, DESE identified the following additional Level 4 schools:

These new Level 4 schools were identified on the basis of four-year trends in student performance and growth measures as well as graduation and dropout rates for high schools (See Attachment 2 for the Level 4 Schools Methodology.) The 2012 Level 4 Schools will receive support in the development of their turnaround plans, and will be given priority to apply for competitive federal School Redesign Grant funding later this year. Year 1 of their state-approved turnaround plans will begin during the 2013-14 school year.

Senior Associate Commissioner Lynda Foisy and Jesse Dixon will be at the October 23 Board meeting to answer your questions about this update on the Level 4 schools.

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Attachment 1: Cohort 1 of Level 4 schools - progress from 2009 baseline