Evaluation Study of California’s High Priority Schools Grant Program Reports

Passed in 1999, the Public Schools Accountability Act (PSAA) established a results-based accountability system in California with specific performance targets for schools. The PSAA created a system of rewards and sanctions for meeting or not meeting those targets, and established assistance programs for low-performing schools. In 2001, the High Priority Schools Grant Program (HPSGP) was established as part of PSAA to provide additional funds to the lowest-performing schools in the state, taking the place of the prior Immediate Intervention/Underperforming Schools Program (II/USP).  

Overall, performance of low-performing schools (both those participating and not participating in the HPSGP) is improving in an era in which state and federal accountability systems have been introduced. The accountability movement, including interventions like the HPSGP, has cast an important spotlight on chronically underperforming schools. An expectation is being conveyed to state, district, and school administrators that the status quo for these schools is no longer acceptable. This increased attention paid to the state’s lowest-performing schools is laudable, and has yielded some positive results for these schools on average as well as for all schools statewide. State and federal accountability efforts have likely made a substantial contribution to this improved performance, and it seems likely that in a generic sense, the HPSGP has contributed to these overall gains as well.  At the same time, analyses of school- and student-level achievement for this evaluation show no meaningful difference between schools participating in the HPSGP and comparison schools. 

Likewise, two prior evaluations of the II/USP (which was similar in many ways to the HPSGP) found that while the program focused attention on student achievement and low-performing schools, there appeared to be negligible overall impact on student achievement in participating schools.