Archive for State Actions

New Resources! Integrating Resources to Implement School and District Improvement Cycles

This set of resources, released by the Council of Chief State School Officers, is designed to help SEAs, LEAs, and schools through the school and district improvement cycle. The resources braid together some of the latest thinking on the improvement cycle, Strategic Performance Management, and needs assessments. The overview of the cycle includes a description of each step, coaching tips, and suggestions of tools that could be useful. The work was started by the state members at a School and District Improvement collaborative meeting, sponsored by CCSSO, in June 2017 (SDI SCASS). The resource was released by CCSSO, and staff/consultants from the Center on School Turnaround at WestEd, the Building State Capacity and Productivity Center, and several SEAs contributed to the final resources. The main document is a PDF, and 3 of the 4 tools are available as Word documents that can be downloaded and adapted by users.

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New! Tactical Guide for Needs Assessments

This tactical guide recently produced by the Center on School Turnaround and the Council of Chief State School Officers describes the core components for developing and administering needs assessments for improvement. Worksheets are included to aid users in designing and developing needs assessments for schools and/or districts. A companion document includes the worksheets in a format that can be completed (forthcoming).

The guide includes, for example, specific guidance and questions for SEAs and LEAs to consider as they develop an needs assessment or hire an external provider to complete one, and then utilize its results as part of their planning, implementation, and monitoring processes.

The guide also includes information on ESSA requirements, planning a needs assessment, designing a needs assessment, how a needs assessment is part of the improvement process, and key decision points.

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The Illusive 5th or “Other” Indicator

Under ESSA, states are required to have a 5th school quality or student success indicator. While many rejoiced in this requirement initially, it quickly became a challenge to figure out what type of indicators meet the proposed federal regulations, what type of indicator actually demonstrates school quality or success, and what data states already collect that could be used. One of the most challenging requirements is that the indicator must be able to be disaggregated by subgroups of students – so while teacher effectiveness might be a useful indicator, it would be difficult to disaggregate a teacher’s effectiveness by subgroup for middle or high schools – since students attend many different classrooms with different teachers each day. Such an indicator could be used for elementary school grades, since students often stay with one teacher for most of the day. The proposed regulations do allow different indicators to be selected for different grade levels – as long as it’s consistent across the state. The other major issue that states are running into is what data do they already have? And, is that data reliable and indicative of school quality or student success? Many districts collect additional data, but the same data may not be collected in the same way across the state.

This recent EdWeek article explains some of these issues, while also providing some initial thinking from a few states as they think through the implications of this 5th or “other” indicator. An important note is that states must use at least one “other” indicator, but they may use more than one as well. From what I’ve heard from states, many are leaning towards including chronic absenteeism, college or career readiness, and other school climate indicators as their “other” indicators. While states think through this new data source, it’s also uncertain if the Department of Education will make any modifications to the proposed rules/regulations. The final rules should be released in late August or September.

This 5th or “other” provides states an amazing opportunity to redefine what a successful school is, but the implementation requirements may make it difficult to actually implement the intention in the timeframe states have to do so.

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New publication on the use of external providers in turnaround released

The Center on School Turnaround recently released a guidebook entitled The State Role in School Turnaround: Emerging Best Practices, edited by Lauren Morando Rhim and Sam Redding. The publication addresses a variety of issues related to school turnaround from how ESEA waivers impact turnaround and the role of state chiefs, to utilizing technology and turning around rural schools. I authored one of the (many) chapters and facilitated a workshop on this topic at the most recent CST/SIG convening this past September. The chapter is available as part of the compilation (click on publication title above) or individually (Navigating the Market: How State Education Agencies Help Districts Develop Productive Relationships with External Providers).

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Analysis of GAO’s SIG report (part 3)

… and finally part 3. Click here for parts 1 and 2.

One of the most important recommendations in the GAO report (at least in my opinion) is that states should do a better job evaluating the partners, or at least requiring districts to evaluate the partners, that are helping implement the turnaround and transformation SIG models. To date, ED does not do this, and GAO found that the quality of partners varied greatly. In response to GAO’s recommendations, ED stated it does not agree with the recommendations for several reasons, including:

The Department has required that LEAs hold external partners under the restart model accountable for meeting the SIG requirements because they are engaged in whole-school reform and have considerable flexibility with respect to the school improvement activities they will undertake. External providers supporting the implementation of a turnaround or transformation model may require less provider-specific monitoring, as they generally work on specific, discrete activities to improve student academic achievement (GAO-23-383, pg 36).

While I respect and support many of ED’s SIG policies, such an answer allows partners (who are earning millions of dollars per school over the course of three years) to work without accountability for their actions (or inactions).

While it is true that restart partners do take on a significantly greater role in a restart, external partners working under the turnaround and transformation models also play a significant implementation role and their quality impacts student performance. External partners that take on a defined and specific role (i.e. data analysis or principal leadership) should not be monitored or evaluated to the same extent as a Lead Turnaround Partner that assists with multiple parts of improvement.

But, all partners, irrelevant of the size of their contract or scope of work, should be monitored and their performance should be evaluated. Too many mediocre partners have been able to continually receive contracts because they always have.

If we’re (finally) cracking down on teacher and leader performance, we must do the same with every person or entity working in a school building. Some states ensure the monitoring and evaluation of all partners, especially those acting in a Lead Turnaround Partner role, but a statement from ED requiring, or at least encouraging, such steps would be useful and would benefit the school improvement field as a whole.

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Fidelity, sustainability & accountability

As I dive into the new SIG research, several findings correspond with what I see and hear every day. The Center on Education Policy’s, State Implementation and Perceptions of Title I School Improvement Grants under the Recovery Act: One Year Later, publication reports:

  1. “Of the 45 survey states which reported that one or more of their schools were using the transformation model, 26 said this model was effective in improving achievement in these schools to a great extent or some extent. Nine states responded that the effectiveness of the transformation model varies from school to school, and 10 said it was too soon to tell about the model’s effectiveness.”
  2. “Although some state respondents (16) said that concentrating large amounts of federal funds on a small number of low-achieving schools is an effective means for improving these schools, many respondents (20) were unsure. … Two states said it was too soon to know for sure whether this is the case. One state noted that this is true to some extent, but only if schools can sustain the reforms funded by ARRA SIG once the money is gone. One state said the success of this strategy varies from school to school.”
  3. “Ten states reported that in one or two schools they did not renew the round 1 ARRA SIGs for a second year of funding. These states cited various criteria that these non-renewed schools had not met, including the following:
  • Fidelity in implementing the chosen intervention model
  • Fidelity in carrying out the activities proposed in the grant application
  • Progress on leading indicators
  • Progress toward annual district student achievement goals in reading and/or math”

These three excerpts directly relate to three challenges that I believe are needed to successfully implement SIG in a chronically low-performing school (or system).

  • Fidelity – The transformation, turnaround and restart models only work if they are implemented with fidelity. By fidelity of implementation I mean that simply providing teachers additional professional development workshops is not sufficient. Instead, that PD must be aligned with the school’s and teachers’ needs. In addition, once PD is provided, it must also be monitored to see if the new practices are making their way into classrooms.
  • Sustainability – In order to sustain any of the improvements made during the implementation of the SIG models, changes must be made at the district level. While the federal program is called the School Improvement Grant program, I cannot reiterate enough that it’s really about district improvement. District offices and practices are often outdated, bureaucratic, inefficient, and not helpful to schools. In addition to structural changes that might be necessary at the district level, the SIG schools must also be protected from “business as usual” (i.e. SIG schools should have priority in filling teacher vacancies or should be exempt from district-provided PD sessions if they’re not aligned with the school’s needs). In order to sustain results, practices at the school and district must become embedded into the system, and become the new status quo.
  • Accountability – While states must make tough decisions with potential political ramifications, it’s great (and exceedingly rare) to see that some State Education Agencies did not fund year 2 continuation grants to some schools. School Improvement has been tried before (in many of the current SIG schools), and the adults often think that this reform will blow over (like all the others before). But, SIG is different. State’s are now holding districts and schools accountable for how the money is spent, what results are achieved, and state’s have the ability (and support of the federal government) to enforce the requirements.

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Emerging SIG research

We’re starting to see some comprehensive research coming out of the federal School Improvement Grant Program.

I should note that the publications I’ve authored for the Center on Innovation & Improvement examine implementation of SIG and are “research,” but focus more on promising practices and case studies of a selected group of states or on a specific topic, such as Lead Turnaround Partners.

 

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