Lessons Learned in Massachusetts High School Turnaround: A Resource for High School Leaders

Alexandra Marken
Karen Melchior

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) has an ongoing commitment to improve support provided to all schools, with an emphasis on the lowest performing schools. Prior work by the ESE revealed that successful turnaround schools in Massachusetts generally implement four key practices focused on leadership, collaboration, and professional responsibility; intentional practices for improving instruction for all students; student-specific supports and interventions; and school climate and culture. This report summarizes findings from AIR’s qualitative analyses of turnaround practices that appear challenging for low-performing high schools, as well as promising practices used by improving and higher performing high schools in the state.

The report analyzes a mixed-methods evaluation of how low-performing (Level 3 and 4) high schools use School Redesign Grants (SRGs) and other supports to catalyze improvement. Previous studies have shown that SRGs have a smaller impact on high school student achievement than on elementary and middle school achievement. ESE created a cross-agency team to examine what methods would be successful in turnaround for high schools.

The study relied heavily on interview and focus group data collected as part of ESE’s school monitoring processes. These data included school-level ratings for turnaround practice implementation, which enabled the study team to focus analyses on turnaround high schools with high and low implementation ratings. This report aims to contribute to the ability of high schools to focus on strategies most likely to impact student outcomes, as evidenced by other schools facing similar challenges. ESE also will continue to refine its approach to supporting the lowest performing high schools in the state, thus laying the groundwork for all schools to succeed.