Statewide System of Support (SSoS)

Sustainable Improvement Planning Guidance

Official DESE Communications

District Prioritization Guidance

Sustainable Improvement Planning for MA Schools Requiring Assistance or Intervention

In the spirit of ensuring that the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) serves as much as a partner as possible to schools and districts, we have updated our guidance for the creation and submission of sustainable improvement plans. These changes reflect valuable feedback offered by educators in schools and districts. DESE guidance is intended to clarify for SY2019-2020 which schools must participate in a plan writing process, what that process must entail, and what resources will be available to schools and districts to support improvement efforts.

What are the requirements of the DESE plan writing process?

While schools engaged in the initial planning or annual renewal process are required to go through each identified stage, a new feature beginning in school year 2019-2020 is the flexibility in how to communicate each stage to DESE. Schools are no longer required to document the process in which they engaged via a large written document on a state-mandated template. However, some minimal writing is still required. School submissions to DESE must include a written executive summary that includes the school's strategies for improvement and an outline of goals and benchmarks. All other elements of the plan can be communicated flexibly, in ways outlined below, ranging from interviews with DESE, presentations, videos, etc.

We have generally referred to these as Turnaround Plans in the past, though here and moving forward we will be referring to them as Sustainable Improvement Plans. The reason for this change is to reflect that a school team's efforts to improve its service to students is not a momentary, fast, or easily completed effort, but a process that starts decisively and must be sustained over time.

Crucial values have motivated these changes. The revisions to this guidance are intended to maintain and encourage the best elements of planning and implementing improvement efforts that have been shown to drive improved practice. We have sought to make the process more meaningful for schools and districts by provisioning for schools to be able to explain their plan in various ways, rather than in a specific written template. This is also intended to ensure that schools and districts can submit their plans to DESE using the same materials they would create in their process as they see fit or that they would use to communicate to their own stakeholders.

We aim to embody the State as a Partner by shifting the effort away from schools to conform in their communication and towards assisting DESE in understanding improvement efforts. We also seek to ensure that any school expected to write a plan will receive substantive support from the Statewide System of Support team.

Which schools are required to engage in a planning process?

The Statewide System of Support (SSoS) in the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has created planning guidance for districts 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 the 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 student groups

*Schools with low participation

*Underperforming schools

*Chronically underperforming schools

Schools in the first through fifth percentiles are required to engage in this planning process. Schools in the sixth through tenth percentiles or have been identified only for a low performing student group will have the option of participating in this planning process. Those which participate in this process will likely receive financial support and will receive assistance from SSoS assistance staff.

Just as the new accountability system in Massachusetts was designed to meet federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requirements, this sustainable improvement planning guidance is 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. In addition to its alignment with state and federal planning requirements, this guidance promotes research-based evidence of best practice in high performing Massachusetts turnaround schools and the turnaround practices.

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

Important Note for Schools Identified for Low-Performing Student Groups Only

For schools above the 10th percentiles, but require assistance or intervention for having one or more student groups among the lowest performing five percent of student groups statewide (as measured by the student group percentile) we recommend that you use this full set of guidance in developing a plan and pay particular focus on analyzing data, selecting strategies, and monitoring progress towards improving academic outcomes for students in identified student groups.

Getting Started

Schools should reference the Official DESE Communications section above to determine what requirements for plan submission apply to your school. Next, schools and districts should reference the "Getting Started" section to effectively leverage the guidance for planning and implementation purposes.

Last Updated: June 22, 2022

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