Evaluation of Level 4 School Turnaround Efforts in Massachusetts - Part 1: Implementation Study

Amelia Auchstetter
Karen Melchior

In April 2010, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted regulations to formalize the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s approach to engaging with all schools, and to the lowest-performing schools in particular, to improve student performance. Using a scale of 1 to 5, Level 4 represents the state's most struggling schools not under state control.

AIR conducted a mixed-methods evaluation of how Level 4 schools use School Redesign Grants (SRGs) and other supports to catalyze improvement and how SRGs, specifically, impact student achievement. This report summarizes findings from our qualitative analyses of how Level 4 schools implement key turnaround practices. (A separate report analyzes the impact of SRGs on school turnaround, using comparative interrupted time series analyses.)

Our current work builds upon previous efforts to understand how Level 4 schools use SRGs and other supports to catalyze rapid improvement and to understand the impact of SRGs on student achievement. The work extends previous efforts in the following key ways:

  • Highlights specific strategies implemented by both schools showing improvement and already exited schools and illustrates the connections between real strategies and the key turnaround practices and indicators codified in the Massachusetts Turnaround Practices Indicators and Continuum document
  • Identifies common challenges, or pitfalls, associated with implementing key turnaround practices
  • Considers how turnaround strategies can be sustained over time, after exiting Level 4 or after SRG funds have expired

The findings presented in the report are organized by the nine overarching areas that emerged as the key elements of turnaround work in these schools and serve as the organizing structure for the findings contained in this report:

  • Autonomy
  • Communication Culture
  • Instructional Foci and Expectations
  • Classroom Observation Feedback and Data Use
  • Multitiered Systems of Support
  • Nonacademic Student Supports
  • Schoolwide Student Behavior Plan
  • Expanded Learning Opportunities
  • Family Engagement