Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Logo
For Immediate Release
Thursday, October 22, 2015
Contact:Jacqueline Reis at ESE 781-338-3115 and Andrew Brownstein at AIR 202-403-6043

Research Links Grants to Improvement at Low-Performing Massachusetts Schools

Washington, D.C. - Recent reports from the American Institutes for Research (AIR) have found that students in Massachusetts schools that received money for Wraparound Zones and through School Redesign Grants made significant improvements, particularly in the case of limited English proficient students. The evaluations, conducted for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, examined two federally-funded initiatives: Massachusetts Wraparound Zones (WAZ) — an initiative that factors such non-academic issues as mental health and school climate into school improvements — and the impact of state School Redesign Grants (SRGs) intended to fuel sustainable turnaround efforts at low-performing schools. "We anticipated that these grants would help improve achievement in the most underperforming schools, and I am pleased to have evidence that these investments worked," said Mitchell D. Chester, Massachusetts commissioner of elementary and secondary education. "This research will inform state policy and also help to guide districts' practices." The wraparound zones study underscores growing attention to how addressing non-academic factors can help transform low-performing schools. "When students struggle academically, often it is because they have outside stressors that act as barriers to learning," said Allison Gandhi, an AIR principal researcher and lead author of the report. "If schools do not address such non-academic factors, they are unlikely to see large-scale improvement in academics. The promising results from the Massachusetts Wraparound Zones initiative show that academic and non-academic work can be interwoven to produce improved academic achievement. This mix should be integral to any school turnaround strategy." The wraparound zones evaluation studied 29 schools in five districts (Fall River, Holyoke, Lynn, Springfield, and Worcester). The goal of the initiative, in place from 2011-2014, was to enhance school climate, implement systems to identify and address students' needs, integrate social service resources, and create a system for district-level feedback and improvement on these issues. While school programs differed, they typically included family engagement efforts, partnerships with local mental health clinics and other community providers, and an emphasis on positive school climate. According to the study, students in wraparound zone schools experienced greater gains in English language arts and math than students in similar schools that did not receive the grant. These effects were significant after two and three years of implementation for English language arts and after two years of implementation for math. Gains were particularly strong in grades 3 and 4 for limited English proficient students and were equivalent to nearly a full year of the achievement gains one would expect to see for a typical fourth grade student, according to AIR's evaluation. Wraparound zone schools also fared well compared to other schools in Massachusetts, according to state data. Students attending wraparound zone schools gained 5.8 percentage points on state English language arts tests (compared to a 0.4 percentage point drop statewide) and 7.9 percentage points on state mathematics tests (compared to a 1.4 percentage point gain statewide). The program also appears to have played a role in school turnaround. Among wraparound zone schools, those that started 2010 in Level 4 status — the designation the state gives to some of its most struggling schools — 66 percent had exited that status by 2014, compared to 40 percent among non-wraparound zone schools. School turnaround was the primary focus of the School Redesign Grants, through which Massachusetts leverages federal School Improvement Grants (SIG). Competitive School Redesign Grant funds are targeted to the state's Level 4 schools to support key practices in leadership, culture and climate, and instructional practices that research has shown improve academic performance. School Redesign Grants had a positive impact. District personnel reported that that the funding allowed schools to develop individualized solutions to meet their specific needs, often using the funds to expand the school day or year for increased instructional time, provide teachers with opportunities to collaborate, hire key staff positions such as instructional coaches or parent liaisons, and build capacity to sustain improvement efforts beyond the grant. The research from AIR focused on student achievement and attendance beginning in the 2010-11 school year in 31 schools in eight districts (Boston, Chelsea, Fall River, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lynn, Springfield, and Worcester). Findings include:
  • Students in schools with School Redesign Grants performed better in both math and English language arts than students in similar comparison schools. The effects were significant after the first, second and third years of implementation.
  • The grants were associated with a narrowing of the achievement gap between limited English proficient students and their peers in math and English language arts across all three years.
"The disbursement of SIG grants had consistently positive effects on student academic achievement, particularly among limited English proficient students," said Christina LiCalsi, a senior researcher at AIR who led the study. "The academic results are robust across districts and school levels." Both "Focusing on the Whole Student: Final Report on the Massachusetts Wraparound Zones" and "Evaluation of Massachusetts Office of District and School Turnaround Assistance to Commissioner's Districts and Schools: Impact of School Redesign Grants" are available online. ###

Last Updated: October 22, 2015

Contact Us

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
135 Santilli Highway, Everett, MA 02149

Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370


Disclaimer: A reference in this website to any specific commercial products, processes, or services, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporation name is for the information and convenience of the public and does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.