Description of Massachusetts Support for Turnaround Efforts

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1 Technical Assistance Response Date: June 8, 2015 To: Michigan Department of Education From: Re: Bersheril Bailey, State Manager, and Beverly Mattson, Contributing Author, Great Lakes Comprehensive Center Massachusetts Support for Turnaround Efforts Description of Massachusetts Support for Turnaround Efforts The Michigan Department of Education requested assistance from the Great Lakes Comprehensive Center (GLCC) in gaining information on how the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Massachusetts ESE) is implementing school turnaround efforts. Michigan identified five questions that it would like answered about Massachusetts efforts: 1. What are the organization and the composition of Massachusetts ESE s Office of District and School Turnaround? 2. What are the funding strategies for the state-level offices for turnaround efforts? 3. What are the legal frameworks and turnaround delivery systems (from initiation to their current state) that drive district and school turnaround in Massachusetts? 4. What is the statewide system of support for turnaround schools in Massachusetts? 5. How does Massachusetts implement state efforts in the areas of district and school turnaround (including implementation, intervention, progress monitoring, and performance outcomes for gain and nongain schools)? To address this request for information, GLCC conducted a review of the Massachusetts ESE s website, relevant state and federal documents, presentations by Massachusetts ESE, and conference calls and site visits facilitated by GLCC and the Northeast Comprehensive Center. This report presents brief background information on Massachusetts demographics before presenting information in response to the five questions. Background Information on Massachusetts Demographics As of the school year, Massachusetts had 408 public school districts, 81 public charter schools (Commonwealth, 71; Horace Mann, 10), one Commonwealth virtual school, and 26 Technical Assistance Response 1

2 educational collaboratives (a statewide network of educational service agencies that work with districts and schools) (Massachusetts ESE, 2015b; website of Massachusetts Organization of Educational Collaboratives ) School Year Student Enrollment Data Total student enrollment in the state is 955,844 students (Massachusetts ESE, 2015c). Table 1. Massachusetts Student Enrollment by Race/Ethnicity Group Percentage of State African American 8.7% Asian 6.3% Hispanic 17.9% Native American 0.2% White 63.7% Multirace/Non-Hispanic 3.1% Source: Massachusetts ESE. (2015c). Student Enrollment Data. Responses to Michigan s Questions 1. What are the organization and the composition of Massachusetts ESE s Office of District and School Turnaround? To view the general Massachusetts ESE organizational chart, please visit Within the above organizational chart, a Senior Associate Commissioner is assigned to the Center for Accountability, Partnerships, and Targeted Assistance. The center includes: the Office of District and School Turnaround (ODST), the Office of Tiered System of Support, District and School Assistance Centers, the School Improvement Grant Programs, the Office of Special Education Planning and Policy, and Special Education in Institutional Settings. An Associate Commissioner oversees the Statewide System of Support which includes the: ODST, Tiered System of Support, and District and School Assistance Centers. The ODST coordinates Massachusetts ESE s work in building partnerships with the lowest performing districts and schools to turn around student performance. ODST has 10 staff members whose backgrounds and skills vary. Project coordinators include former principals, teachers, and social workers (, 2014). Technical Assistance Response 2

3 2. What are the funding strategies for the state-level offices for turnaround efforts? Massachusetts ESE applies funds from the Targeted Assistance to Schools and Districts account (state budget line) to support key interventions in the lowest performing districts and schools (Levels 3, 4, and 5 districts and schools). In fiscal year 2013, the state allocated $8,066,518 during the school year from September 2012 June 2013 (Massachusetts ESE, 2014e). Although federal funds are of help in enhancing some initiatives and expanding their reach, state funding from the Targeted Assistance line is the main source of funds for the state education agency (SEA) to fulfill its obligations. According to the Massachusetts ESE 2013 School Improvement Grant (SIG) 1003(g) grant application, the SEA reservation helps support state administration, oversight, and evaluation of grant-funded activities. The funds support a portion of school improvement grant program staff salaries, administrative costs, and state-level school intervention activities (technical assistance). These funds, along with state appropriations for targeted assistance to low-performing schools, provide for program expenses associated with state-level coordination and participant networking activities. Massachusetts ESE has a prioritized state system, so that the lowest performing schools with the greatest needs receive the SIG funds. Funding is aligned to the Massachusetts ESE turnaround plan (, 2014). 3. What are the legal frameworks and turnaround delivery systems (from initiation to their current state) that drive district and school turnaround in Massachusetts? District Accountability and Assistance The Massachusetts accountability system measures each school s and each district s progress toward the goal of reducing proficiency gaps by half between the and school years. The state uses the Progress and Performance Index (PPI) and school percentiles to classify schools. The Massachusetts ESE Framework for District Accountability and Assistance classifies schools and districts on a five-level scale, with the highest performing in Level 1 and the lowest performing in Level 5. With the exception of Level 5, each district is classified into the level of its lowest performing school(s) (Massachusetts ESE, 2014a). Table 2 includes the five levels and a brief description of each level. Table 2. Massachusetts Classification of Schools and Districts Level Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Description Meeting gap-narrowing goals Not meeting gap-narrowing goals Focus: Lowest performing 20 percent of schools Technical Assistance Response 3

4 Level Level 4 Level 5 Description (including schools with the largest gaps) Priority: Lowest performing schools Priority: Chronically underperforming schools Source: Massachusetts ESE. (2014d). Massachusetts ESEA Flexibility Request. Approximately 80 percent of schools are classified in Level 1 or 2 based on the cumulative PPI for the all students and high-needs groups. For a school to be classified into Level 1, the cumulative PPI for both the all-students group and high-needs students must be 75 or higher. Massachusetts ESE classifies a school in Level 3 if: (a) it is among the lowest 20 percent relative to other schools in the same school-type category statewide; (b) one or more subgroups in the school are among the lowest performing 20 percent of subgroups relative to all subgroups statewide; (c) it has persistently low graduation rates (less than 60 percent for any subgroup over a four-year period); or (d) it has very low Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) participation rates for any group (less than 90 percent). Massachusetts schools meeting the federal definition of focus schools are classified into Level 3 (Massachusetts ESE, 2014c). Districts with schools in the lowest 20 percent of performance in their grade span are classified in Level 3. The lowest performing, least improving schools among this lowest 20 percent are candidates for Levels 4 and 5 (Massachusetts ESE, 2014a). For school year , there were 70 Massachusetts districts in Levels 3, 4, or 5. More than 408,000 students or 43 percent of the state s student population attend schools in these districts. Aggregating the data in these 70 districts, 62 percent of the students are low income, 18 percent are students with disabilities, and 15 percent are English language learners (Massachusetts ESE, 2014a) Act Relative to the Achievement Gap In 2010, the governor of Massachusetts signed education-reform legislation, the Act Relative to the Achievement Gap, which had the following main provisions: The state is responsible for identifying schools that are underperforming and for assisting them to take the actions they need to rapidly improve student performance. The Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education is authorized to designate up to 72 schools, or no more than 4 percent of all schools, as either underperforming (Level 4) or chronically underperforming (Level 5) based on student achievement and improvement measures. Massachusetts ESE will provide tools and supports for district leaders to turn around schools and districts designated as underperforming or chronically underperforming. Higher caps were placed on the number of charter schools in the lowest performing districts. Technical Assistance Response 4

5 The legislation provided locally controlled options for the creation of Innovation Schools (a new type of in-district charter schools that operate with autonomy and flexibility in key areas: curriculum, budget, school schedule and calendar, staffing, professional development, and school district policies) (, 2014; Massachusetts ESE, 2014d). The act required districts with schools designated as underperforming (Level 4) to begin a process for school turnaround designed to support the accelerated improvement of student achievement and a high-functioning learning environment for students within three years. The Commissioner may place a Level 4 school in Level 5 at the expiration of its redesign plan if the school has failed to improve as required by the goals, benchmarks, or timetable of its redesign plan, or if district conditions make it unlikely that the school will make significant improvement without a Level 5 designation (Massachusetts ESE, 2014d). When a district is placed in Level 5, the Commissioner appoints a receiver for the district. The receiver (according to state law M.G.L. c. 69, 1K) retains all of the powers of the superintendent and school committee, as well as full managerial and operational control of the district. Twenty-five percent of the district s Title I, Part A application may be used to fund interventions and supports at Massachusetts ESE s discretion (Massachusetts ESE, 2014d). In 2010, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted regulations to support the above Act Relative to the Achievement Gap. These regulations included two sets of standards for schools and districts: (1) Conditions for School Effectiveness and (2) District Standards and Indicators. Massachusetts Conditions for School Effectiveness The conditions identify the research-based practices that all schools, especially the most struggling schools, require to effectively meet the learning needs of all students. This tool also defines what each condition looks like when implemented purposefully and with fidelity. Massachusetts ESE approved the following 11 Conditions for School Effectiveness in 2010: 1. Effective district systems for school support and intervention. The district has systems and processes for anticipating and addressing school staffing, instructional, and operational needs in timely, efficient, and effective ways, especially for its lowest performing schools. 2. Effective school leadership. The district and school take action to attract, develop, and retain an effective school leadership team that obtains staff commitment to improving student learning and implements a clearly defined mission and set of goals. 3. Aligned curriculum. The school s taught curricula are aligned to state curriculum frameworks and the MCAS performance level descriptions, and are also aligned vertically between grades and horizontally across classrooms at the same grade level and across sections of the same course. 4. Effective instruction. Instructional practices are based on evidence from a body of highquality research and on high expectations for all students, and include the use of appropriate, research-based reading and mathematics programs. The school staff has a Technical Assistance Response 5

6 common understanding of high-quality, evidence-based instruction and a system for monitoring instructional practice. 5. Student assessment. The school uses a balanced system of formative and benchmark assessments. 6. Principal s staffing authority. The principal has the authority to make staffing decisions based on the School Improvement Plan and student needs, subject to district personnel policies, budgetary restrictions, and the approval of the superintendent. 7. Professional development and structures for collaboration. Professional development for school staff includes both individually pursued activities and school-based, jobembedded approaches such as instructional coaching. It also includes content-oriented learning. The school has structures for regular, frequent collaboration to improve implementation of the curriculum and instructional practice. Professional development and structures for collaboration are evaluated for their effect on raising student achievement. 8. Tiered instruction and adequate learning time. The school schedule is designed to provide adequate learning time for all students in core subjects. For students not yet on track to proficiency in English language arts or mathematics, the school provides additional time and support for individualized instruction through tiered instruction, a data-driven approach to prevention, early detection, and support for students who experience learning or behavioral challenges, including but not limited to students with disabilities and English language learners. 9. Students social, emotional, and health needs. The school creates a safe school environment and makes effective use of a system for addressing the social, emotional, and health needs of its students that reflects the behavioral health and public schools framework. 10. Family-school engagement. The school develops strong working relationships with families and appropriate community partners and providers in order to support students academic progress and social and emotional well-being. 11. Strategic use of resources and adequate budget authority. The principal makes effective and strategic use of district and school resources and has sufficient budget authority to do so. (Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 2011a) Massachusetts District Standards and Indicators The standards and indicators identify the characteristics of effective districts in supporting and sustaining school improvement. They include the following: Leadership and Governance Focused school committee governance Effective district and school leadership District and school improvement planning Technical Assistance Response 6

7 Educationally sound budget development Effective district systems for school support and intervention Curriculum and Instruction Aligned, consistently delivered, and continuously improving curriculum Strong instructional leadership and effective instruction Sufficient instructional time Assessment Data collection and dissemination Data-based decision making Student assessment Human Resources and Professional Development Staff recruitment, selection, assignment Supervision and evaluation Professional development Student Support Academic support Access and equity Educational continuity and student participation Services and partnerships to support learning Safety Financial and Asset Management Comprehensive and transparent budget process Adequate budget Financial tracking, forecasting, controls, and audits Cost-effective resource management Capital planning and facility maintenance (Massachusetts ESE, 2011c) Technical Assistance Response 7

8 4. What is the statewide system of support for turnaround schools in Massachusetts? The Massachusetts statewide system of support (SSOS) is structured to deliver the assistance required under the Massachusetts ESE Framework for District Accountability and Assistance for those districts in Levels 3, 4, and 5. SSOS tiers its support on the basis of the accountability level of the district (Massachusetts ESE, 2014a). Within Massachusetts SSOS, the ODST focuses its support on 10 Commissioner's Districts and the District and School Assistance Centers (DSACs) focus support on small and medium sized districts in Levels 3 and 4. In addition, the SSOS within MA ESE houses the Office of Tiered Systems of Support, which supports districts statewide by developing policies, practices and procedures around the Massachusetts Tiered System of Support ( Office of District and School Turnaround Support ODST supports the 10 largest highest poverty districts and their schools. These 10 districts (often known as the Commissioner s Districts) designated in Levels 3, 4, and 5 are Boston, Brockton, Fall River, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, New Bedford, Springfield, and Worcester (Massachusetts ESE, 2014a). ODST meets with high-needs urban district leaders every month, and the meetings focus on creating partnerships to provide assistance (Great Lakes Comprehensive Center, 2014). Massachusetts ESE provides assistance through ODST-deployed liaisons and program coordinators, who also coordinate within Massachusetts ESE with Curriculum and Instruction, Educator Effectiveness, College and Career Readiness, and Language Acquisition and Academic Achievement (Massachusetts ESE, 2014a). Theory of Action ODST operates according to a theory of action purporting that, if a district uses a continuous cycle of improvement to turn around its lowest performing schools, the district will strengthen its systems of support necessary to continuously improve district and school performance (Massachusetts ESE, ODST, n.d.). Figure 1. Office of District and School Turnaround: Theory of Action IF ODST supports districts to use a continuous cycle of improvement to turn around their lowest performing schools, THEN districts will strengthen the district systems of support necessary to continuously improve district and school performance. For a detailed diagram of the ODST Continuous Cycle of Improvement, please visit Technical Assistance Response 8

9 District and School Assistance Centers The District and School Assistance Centers (DSACs) focus support on small and medium-sized districts in Levels 3 and 4 (Massachusetts ESE, 2014a). These virtual regional assistance centers geographically divide the state into six DSAC regions: Berkshires, Central, Greater Boston, Northeast, Pioneer Valley, and Southeast. DSAC staff include part-time former superintendents (known as Regional Assistance Directors) and principals (known as Support Facilitators), as well as specialists in mathematics, literacy, data, and vocational technical education. DSACs collaborate with districts to assess their strengths and needs, facilitate access to resources and professional development, establish partnerships and networks, and deliver individualized assistance for a region s districts. DSAC team members are expected to work collaboratively with districts and schools, serving as thought partners (Massachusetts ESE, 2014a). Massachusetts ESE s Conditions for School Effectiveness and its District Standards and Indicators are the frameworks around which the work is organized. DSAC Foundational Services include support in the following areas: Planning and implementation strategies Enhancing capacity to implement and sustain effective practices Professional learning networks and professional development Funding and resource allocation (Massachusetts ESE, District and School Assistance Center, n.d.) In addition, each DSAC serves as a forum for regional networks of school and district teams on various topics, especially the education of English language learners and students with disabilities, and for developing strong instructional leaders. In school year , DSACs offer services to more than 60 districts that serve more than 216,000 students or 22 percent of the students in the state (Massachusetts ESE, 2014a). Turnaround Partners Districts could also arrange for assistance from turnaround partners and consultants who are recruited by Massachusetts ESE. These partners and consultants have track records in improving outcomes for high-needs and urban students in a variety of areas essential to school and district turnaround and improvement (Massachusetts ESE, 2011b). Priority Partners for Turnaround (Priority Partners) was a Race to the Top (RTTT) initiative aimed at qualifying organizations from a preapproved list of Massachusetts ESE vendors to support district and school turnaround in Levels 3, 4, and 5 districts. Having been vetted through a rigorous review process as having a demonstrated record of effectiveness in accelerating school improvement, Priority Partners were familiar with the context and requirements of Massachusetts school turnaround work, understood the Massachusetts Conditions for School Effectiveness, and were part of a Priority Partners Network to facilitate collaboration and alignment. Districts participating in RTTT could use RTTT dollars to help fund partnerships with Priority Partners (Massachusetts ESE, 2014b). Technical Assistance Response 9

10 Tools and Resources Other available tools and resources include the following: District Analysis and Review Tools (DARTs). DARTS report on more than 40 quantitative indicators to allow all stakeholders to gauge the overall health of a school or district. Users can track pertinent data elements over time and make sound, meaningful comparisons with the Commonwealth or with comparable districts. DARTs provide a snapshot of school and district trends and allow users to examine trends over the most recent five years of available data, view school- and district-level data on easily accessible graphical displays, reflect and self-evaluate, locate comparable schools and districts elsewhere in the state based on student characteristics, and make comparisons to enable a district to collaborate with a similar district that has shown promising trends (Massachusetts ESE, 2011b). Case study documents: Guidance and Promising Practices and Exploring Best Practices in Redesign. Originally developed to support implementation of the Massachusetts Conditions for School Effectiveness in Level 4/Priority schools, these documents provide valuable case studies of successful school turnaround efforts in Massachusetts and nationally. Each resource (1) identifies key practices and interventions used by the districts and schools profiled in the case studies to achieve their reform goals, (2) highlights existing connections between these practices and the Conditions for School Effectiveness, and (3) provides links to additional aligned resources to help facilitate redesign and reform efforts (Massachusetts ESE, 2014e). Online models and self-assessment tools for district and school improvement. These models and tools align with Massachusetts ESE s Conditions for School Effectiveness and District Standards and Indicators. Early Warning Indicator Index System. This data-driven system identifies high school students who are at risk of not graduating on time. Massachusetts ESE used federal Longitudinal Data System Grant Program funding to expand the system to identify K 12 students who are potentially off track for their grade level or developmental age, including those students who are not on track to graduate with their peers and are identified as potential dropouts (Massachusetts ESE, 2014d). 5. How does Massachusetts implement state efforts in the areas of district and school turnaround (including implementation, intervention, progress monitoring, and performance outcomes for gain and nongain schools)? 5.a. Implementation (by Priority and Focus Schools) Priority Schools Priority schools are those schools classified as Level 4 or Level 5 by Massachusetts ESE. When a school is placed in Level 4, Massachusetts ESE must notify the district s school committee, superintendent, local teachers union or association president, the school s principal, and the school s parent organization. The notifications begin a purposefully detailed, inclusive process Technical Assistance Response 10

11 designed to involve the community in the turnaround of the Level 4 school, resulting in a redesign plan that must be approved by the Commissioner (Massachusetts ESE, 2014d). State law (M.G.L. Chapter 69, Section 1J) requires that the redesign plan be designed only after soliciting the recommendations of a local stakeholder group, convened by the superintendent. The stakeholder group includes representatives from the district s school committee; the school s administration and faculty; local social service, health, and child welfare agencies; local workforce development agencies; parents; community members; Massachusetts ESE; and other stakeholders (Massachusetts ESE, 2014d). Yearly Redesign Plan. Massachusetts ESE requires districts with Level 4 schools to develop a redesign plan to rapidly implement interventions aligned to each of the Conditions for School Effectiveness. These conditions identify research-based interventions that all schools, especially those that are struggling the most, need to implement to effectively meet the learning needs of every student in every student subgroup. The superintendent must submit the redesign plan to the local stakeholder group, local school committee, and lastly to the Commissioner for approval (Massachusetts ESE, 2014d). District Requirements. In addition, the district must describe the following: 1. What its approach will be to result in rapid, systemic change in its Level 4 schools within three years. This must include a theory of action guiding the district s strategies and school-level interventions. 2. Its redesign and planning process, including descriptions of teams, working groups, and stakeholder groups involved in the planning process, especially the process used by district- and school-level redesign teams to identify the interventions selected for each Level 4 school 3. How the district will recruit, screen, and select any external providers to provide the expertise, support, and assistance to the district or to schools 4. Its systems and processes for ongoing planning, supporting, and monitoring the implementation of planned redesign efforts, including the teaming structures or other processes, such as the use of liaisons, coaches, or networks, that will be used to support and monitor implementation of school-level redesign efforts 5. Which district policies and practices currently exist that may promote or serve as barriers to the implementation of the proposed plans and the actions the district has taken or will take to modify policies and practices to enable schools to implement the interventions fully and effectively 6. How the district will ensure that the identified school(s) receive ongoing, intensive technical assistance and related support from the state, district, or designated external partner organizations 7. How the district will monitor the implementation of the selected intervention at each identified school and how the district will know that planned interventions and strategies are working (Massachusetts ESE, 2014d). Technical Assistance Response 11

12 Massachusetts ESE does the following: (1) defines exit criteria, including measurable annual goals tailored to each school and based on empirical data; (2) assesses fidelity to the federal turnaround principles as well as district capacity to implement of one of four federally required implementation models; and (3) provides targeted assistance via partner providers, tools, templates, and other resources (Massachusetts ESE, 2014d). Focus Schools Massachusetts schools meeting the federal definition of focus schools are classified as Level 3 by Massachusetts ESE. Districts with one or more focus schools are placed in Level 3. Designation as a Level 3/Focus school serves as a clear sign that current practices are not working in a way that serves all students and that urgent and dramatic change is needed for, at a minimum, the focus population (Massachusetts ESE, 2014d). Self-Assessment. All Level 3 districts must use the Conditions for School Effectiveness Self- Assessment to identify unmet conditions and revise their District Improvement Plan and School Improvement Plans to meet them. Following the designation as a Level 3/Focus school, the school must use the Conditions for School Effectiveness Self-Assessment to determine which interventions should be considered the highest priority. This self-assessment is a rigorous statedeveloped instrument designed to enable districts and schools to gauge their development of each condition and related interventions along a continuum. The conditions are aligned with the Massachusetts ESE District Standards and Indicators, a set of key indicators of the district s ability to effectively support all of its schools while intervening aggressively in its most struggling schools. In implementing the needs assessment, a district may discover that more systemic change is needed in its systems and structures, such as how a school is governed, staffed, or funded (Massachusetts ESE, 2014d). District Plan. Districts must create a plan for implementing the interventions they have identified. In addition, Massachusetts ESE requires districts to evaluate the extent to which their own systems and processes anticipate and address issues, including school staffing and instructional and operational needs, especially at their lowest performing schools (Massachusetts ESE, 2014d). Massachusetts ESE staff work collaboratively with district and school staff to ensure that the plans to support identified student groups are appropriate. Massachusetts ESE may require districts to implement specific interventions based on its interpretation of the needs assessment, student performance data including annual measurable objectives/progress and Performance Index (AMO/PPI) determinations for all student groups or other information such as findings from a review of the district and its schools by the accountability office (Massachusetts ESE, 2014d). Reservation of Title I Funds. In addition, a district with one or more Level 3/Focus schools is required to reserve up to 25 percent of its Title I, Part A funds to support the implementation of interventions aligned with the Conditions for School Effectiveness (Massachusetts ESE, 2014c). Technical Assistance Response 12

13 5.b. Intervention (Technical Assistance and Support From SSOS) Interventions With Priority Schools Schools and districts in Level 4 must collaborate with Massachusetts ESE to develop and implement clear and coherent plans to rapidly accelerate student performance (Massachusetts ESE, 2014a). Each district with priority schools is provided a Massachusetts ESE liaison (Massachusetts ESE, 2013). The liaisons are charged with working closely with each district s priority schools, and through that work they identify and triage Redesign Plan implementation challenges with both school and district leadership. In addition, districts work with the DSAC regional teams. They analyze data from a variety of sources, collaborate with district and school leaders to identify and focus on leveraging high needs, and develop annual plans that will promote and stimulate rapid and sustained student performance gains (Massachusetts ESE, 2014a). Interventions With Focus Schools Any district with one or more Level 3/Focus schools will receive priority assistance from the regional DSAC or the Massachusetts ESE district liaison, and will seek their counsel in using the Conditions for School Effectiveness Self-Assessment to identify priorities and interventions. Massachusetts ESE staff will work collaboratively with district and school staff to ensure that the plans to support identified student groups are appropriate. Massachusetts ESE may require districts to implement specific interventions based on its interpretation of the needs assessment; student performance data, including AMO/PPI determinations for all student groups; or other information, such as findings from a review of the district and its schools (Massachusetts ESE, 2014d). In addition, the DSAC team periodically meets with the district and reviews the implementation and progress of the schools/districts identified in Level 3. For any school (elementary, middle, or high school) identified in Level 3, a district also may identify one or more Massachusetts ESE-approved partner(s) to add value and capacity to the district and school in implementing the chosen interventions (Massachusetts ESE, 2014d). 5.c. Progress Monitoring The Massachusetts ESE s Center for District and School Accountability reviews and reports on the efforts of all schools and districts, including those placed in Levels 3 and 4, to improve the academic achievement of their students ( ). The Massachusetts ESE implements comprehensive, on-site district reviews, which include detailed examinations of student performance; school and district management; and overall district governance, including programmatic and fiscal audits of district and school improvement plans and other documentation, to ensure alignment of resources with identified priorities. The MA ESE also oversees the work of Plan Monitors in some Level 4 districts (Massachusetts ESE, 2014d). Technical Assistance Response 13

14 Monitoring of Priority Schools. Massachusetts ESE conducts significant monitoring of Level 4 and Level 5 schools as well as schools receiving SIG grants (Great Lakes Comprehensive Center, 2014). The Department s monitoring includes the following: Data collection Annual school visit from Massachusetts ESE in late winter or early spring A team of reviewers examines data and reviews progress and trend data. The team examines the school s conditions, its success in meeting goals, and its plans to meet any goals not yet achieved. Results of the visit are shared with the Massachusetts ESE Commissioner. All Level 4 schools receive an annual monitoring site visit conducted by an accountability team assigned by Massachusetts ESE. The team collects information on district and school improvement efforts, holds the district and school accountable for implementing interventions, and provides feedback to Massachusetts ESE and to the district on the efficacy and impact of those interventions (Massachusetts ESE, 2014d). The Massachusetts ESE Commissioner may place a Level 4 school in Level 5 (i.e., in state receivership) after three years if the school does not improve after implementing the redesign plan or if district conditions appear to make it unlikely that the school will make significant improvement. Massachusetts ESE has identified individuals or nonprofit organizations who offer statewide education improvement services to manage and operate chronically underperforming (Level 5) districts. The Commissioner must approve the turnaround plans for Level 5 schools (Massachusetts ESE, 2014d). Monitoring of Focus Schools. Each Title I focus school is required to provide more explicit information about the targeted supports and interventions it has put in place to address the needs of students in identified subgroups. This information informs Massachusetts ESE s support and monitoring activities. Massachusetts ESE meets with district leaders in each district that has a focus school. The meetings are held at the beginning of the school year, midyear, and at the end of the school year. The meetings focus on the supports and interventions implemented for each school; the population, resources, and partners engaged in the work; progress attained to date; and any additional data acquired through the monitoring system in place (Massachusetts ESE, 2014d). State Receivership of Schools and Districts The requirements for districts and schools designated in Level 5 are under 603 Code of Massachusetts Regulations (CMR) 2:00 Accountability and Assistance for School Districts and Schools, Section 2.06, Accountability and Assistance for Districts and Schools in Level 5 ( The requirements address several items: the placement of districts and schools in Level 5, the appointment and powers of a receiver in a district or school, turnaround plans, quarterly reports, removal of a school or district Technical Assistance Response 14

15 from Level 5, termination of receivership and removal of district, and petition by school committee of a Level 5 district. Schools in Receivership. When a school receives a Level 5 designation, the Massachusetts ESE Commissioner selects one of the following three options for implementing a school turnaround plan: Send a targeted assistance team to the school to assist with the implementation of the turnaround plan. Require the superintendent of the district to implement the turnaround plan. Select an external reviewer to operate the school and implement the turnaround plan. Within 30 days of designation as a Level 5 school, the Massachusetts ESE Commissioner convenes a local stakeholder group for the school, which meets and provides recommendations for the Level 5 school plan. After receiving the group s recommendations, the Massachusetts ESE Commissioner creates a turnaround plan and decides if the district will be led by the superintendent or a receiver (nonprofit entity or an individual with a demonstrated record of success in improving low performing schools or the academic performance of disadvantaged students) (Massachusetts ESE, 2014d). On October 30, 2013, the Massachusetts ESE Commissioner designated four Level 5 schools (Massachusetts ESE, SSOS, n.d.): Morgan Full Service Community School (Holyoke) John Avery Parker Elementary School (New Bedford) Dever Elementary School (Boston) Holland Elementary School (Boston) To views the schools turnaround plans, the appeals, the Massachusetts ESE Commissioner s memos to the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and updated financial information, please visit In January 2014, the Massachusetts ESE Commissioner announced the following: Project GRAD would serve as the receiver and turnaround operator for Morgan Full Service Community School. New Bedford s superintendent would implement the turnaround plan at Parker Elementary School. Blueprint Network Schools would serve as the receiver for Dever Elementary School. Up Education Network would serve as receiver for Holland Elementary School. If a school is in a district designated Level 5, the school retains its Level 5 status (Massachusetts ESE, 2014d). The Massachusetts ESE Commissioner may decide that the school is managed by its own receiver or incorporated into the work of the district receiver. Technical Assistance Response 15

16 Districts in Receivership. A Level 5 or chronically underperforming district is both low performing and not showing signs of substantial improvement over time. Districts are independently eligible for placement in Level 5 on the basis of a district review, the report of an appointed accountability monitor, a follow-up review report, quantitative indicators set out in state regulations, or failure of a Level 4 district to meet the Massachusetts ESE-approved benchmarks or goals in its improvement plan in a timely manner (Massachusetts ESE, 2014d). The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education designates the district as Level 5. For more details on Level 5 districts, visit the SSOS Frequently Asked Questions page at Under state law, the Massachusetts ESE Commissioner and the district receiver create a threeyear Level 5 District Plan that includes district priorities and strategies to accelerate achievement with measurable benchmarks of progress that connect directly to accelerated improvement of outcomes for students in all schools. The receiver implements the Level 5 District Plan and provides a monthly highlight report of progress toward measurable benchmarks of progress that connect directly to accelerated improvement of outcomes for students in all schools (Massachusetts ESE, 2014d). Among the actions the Massachusetts ESE Commissioner and the receiver may take are the following: Reallocate the uses of the district s existing budget. Provide funds to increase the salary of an administrator or teacher working in an underperforming school in order to attract or retain highly qualified administrators or teachers, or to reward administrators or teachers who work in chronically underperforming districts that have achieved the annual goals in the turnaround plan. Expand the district s schools school day, school year, or both. Limit, suspend, or change one or more provisions of any contract or collective bargaining agreement in the district. Limit, suspend, or change one or more school district policies or practices, as such policies or practices relate to the underperforming schools in the district. Provide job-embedded professional development for teachers in the district. Provide for increased opportunities for teacher planning time and collaboration focused on improving student instruction. Establish steps to ensure a continuum of high-expertise teachers by aligning: hiring, induction, teacher evaluation, professional development, teacher advancement, school culture, and organizational structure with the common core of professional knowledge and skills. (Lawrence Public Schools & Massachusetts ESE, 2015). If a district does not improve sufficiently to remove the designation as chronically underperforming, the Massachusetts ESE Commissioner may: (1) jointly determine subsequent annual goals for each component of the turnaround plan with the receiver and renew the turnaround plan for an additional period of not more than three years, or (2) create a new Technical Assistance Response 16

17 turnaround plan, consistent with the requirements of the general law. The Massachusetts ESE Commissioner and the receiver may develop additional components of the plan or amend the plan, as appropriate (Massachusetts ESE, 2014d). Lawrence School District. Massachusetts designated the Lawrence School District as Level 5 in November Three fourths of the Lawrence schools declined in student achievement from 2010 to 2011, and five of 28 Lawrence schools were in Level 4. Fewer than half of Lawrence s students graduated from high school within four years. Massachusetts ESE released the district review report in 2011, which reported on the district s underperformance and the prospects for improvement. The Massachusetts ESE Commissioner designated Jeffrey Riley as receiver for the Lawrence School District in 2012, and the first district turnaround plan was approved that year. In 2013, the district created the district-level Redesign Office to improve the efficiency, delivery, and quality of services to school (Lawrence Public Schools & Massachusetts ESE, 2015). Massachusetts renewed the district s turnaround plan in The 2015 Lawrence Level 5 Renewed District Turnaround Plan noted that Lawrence had made the following progress over the last three years: Exceeded the first-year turnaround plan goal to double the number of schools with a median Student Growth Percentile (SGP) above 50 on both English language arts (ELA) and math MCAS (state assessment). Lawrence more than doubled this number in the first year. Increased the median SGP in ELA from 43 to 52 and the median SGP in math from 40 to 57 after two years of MCAS results (2013 and 2014). Achieved a 13 percentage point increase in MCAS math proficiency from 2011 to 2014 (from 28 percent to 41 percent), a 3 percentage point increase in ELA proficiency (from 41 percent to 44 percent), and an 8 percentage point increase in science proficiency (from 13 percent to 21 percent), after three years of results. Achieved a 14.6 percentage point increase in the four-year cohort graduation rate (from 52.3 percent in 2011 to 66.9 percent in 2014), and a 4 percentage point decrease in the annual dropout rate (from 8.6 percent to 4.6 percent), after three years of results. The 2015 Lawrence Level 5 Renewed District Turnaround Plan identified the following performance benchmarks for the next three years: Achieve a districtwide median SGP of 55 in ELA and math. Increase district proficiency rates to at least 50 percent in both ELA and math (up 9 percentage points in math and 6 percentage points in ELA). Add three schools to those achieving proficiency rates at or above the state average for ELA (increasing from 0 to 3), and double the number of schools achieving at or above the state average for math (increasing from 3 to 6). Increase the district s four-year graduation rate to 80 percent (a 13 percentage point increase from the current rate). Technical Assistance Response 17

18 For additional information on Lawrence Public Schools turnaround plans and related documents, please visit Holyoke Public Schools. Massachusetts placed the Holyoke Public Schools in receivership in April At that time, student achievement and growth in the Holyoke Public Schools were among the lowest in the state overall and for student subgroups, including students with disabilities and English language learners. The highest performing school in the district was at the 21st percentile among schools in its grade span, and many were in the bottom 10 percent of schools statewide. From 2011 to 2014, student academic achievement and growth declined in many grades and subjects, contributing to a widening proficiency gap. The Massachusetts ESE Commissioner had designated Holyoke s Morgan Full Service Community School as a Level 5 school in fall The district s on-time graduation rate was the lowest of any K 12 district in the state, and the dropout rate was one of the highest. For further information on district Level 5 designations, please visit the SSOS Frequently Asked Questions page at The Massachusetts ESE Commissioner is expected to name a receiver for Holyoke Public Schools soon. For additional information on Holyoke Public Schools designation and related documents, please visit 5.d. Performance Outcomes As shown in Table 3, Massachusetts ESE reported summary data for Table 3. Summary of District Accountability and Assistance Status Levels, District Totals by Level No. % No. % No. % Level 5 1 0% 1 0% 1 0% Level % 10 3% 10 3% Level % 61 16% 65 17% Level % % % Level % 91 24% 73 19% Total % % % Insufficient Data a a Schools and single-school districts with insufficient data to be eligible for a level are schools ending in grade PK, K, 1, or 2, very small schools, and schools without four full years of data. Source: Technical Assistance Response 18

19 According to its FY 2014 Annual Report (Massachusetts ESE, 2015a) to the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Massachusetts ESE reported the data shown in Table 4. Table 4. District and School Improvement Rating Summary, 2014 Statewide Totals by Level Districts Schools No. % No. % Level 5 1 0% 4 0% Level % 36 2% Level % % Level % % Level % % Total % 1, % Insufficient Data a a Schools and single school districts with insufficient data to be eligible for a level are schools ending in prekindergarten; Grades K, 1, or 2; very small schools; and schools without four full years of data. Source: Among the first cohort of 35 identified Level 4 schools, the following occurred: Fourteen qualified to exit to Levels 3, 2 or 1. Fifteen remained in Level 4. Two schools were closed by their districts. Four were designated as Level 5 (or chronically underperforming). (Massachusetts ESE, 2015a) For the four schools designated Level 5 (or chronically underperforming), the Commissioner appointed three receivers and one superintendent to work with the Commissioner to implement the turnaround plans. OSDT, in partnership with Massachusetts ESE s Office of Strategic Planning, Research, and Evaluation, consults with external evaluators to conduct comprehensive evaluations of the implementation, impact, and outcomes of local-education-agency school intervention activities, efforts, and models in Tier I, Tier II, and priority schools that are awarded SIG grant funds (Massachusetts ESE, 2013). A 2014 external evaluation of turnaround practices by Level 4 schools that improved and did not improve reported the following: The 14 schools that exited Level 4 made substantial progress in closing the achievement gap, were designated as Achievement Gain schools. Ten of the schools identified as Technical Assistance Response 19

20 making rapid gains in (their first year as a Level 4 school) continued to make progress and exited Level 4 status in (Lane, Unger, & Souvanna, 2014) Schools that exited Level 4 did the following: Had strong individual and distributed leadership that cultivates collective responsibility among all staff. Provided targeted instructional interventions and support for all students needing additional support. Implemented ongoing systems to establish, monitor, and improve instructional quality among all teachers and classrooms. (Lane et al., 2014) Almost all of the districts with Level 4 schools did the following: Formed a high-level district office or established teams responsible for monitoring and supporting the Level 4 work. Assigned dedicated district-level staff to work directly with Level 4 schools and principals, responsible for monitoring schools and coordinating support to and with schools. Developed a specific process for monitoring the progress of Level 4 schools that allowed for quick, real-time response. (Lane et al., 2014) Technical Assistance Response 20

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