GOSA Releases Evaluation of Race to the Top Lowest-Achieving Schools Implementation

December 12, 2012

The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA) today released a publication evaluating implementation of the Turning Around Lowest-Achieving Schools reform area in Georgia’s Race to the Top (RT3) plan. The report, entitled Turning Around Lowest-Achieving Schools: A Qualitative Report on Early Stage Implementation, provides the Georgia Department of Education and other stakeholders with a formative evaluation of how school turnaround efforts have been perceived and implemented in a sample of schools receiving grants.

What is the Turning Around Lowest-Achieving Schools Reform Area?

As a part of its RT3 plan, in fall 2010 the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) identified 40 “persistently lowest-achieving” schools within the 26 RT3 partner districts. Each school adopted one of four reform models prescribed by the U.S. Department of Education—turnaround, restart, school closure, or transformation—and developed aggressive reform plans that would result in drastic improvement in student performance within three years. Thirty-six schools chose the transformation model.

Twenty-six of these schools are receiving federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) while the other 14 schools are using district Race to the Top funding to implement the reform model. Half of the schools began implementing the grant during the 2010-11 year, and the remaining 20 schools implemented it the following year.

The GaDOE selected ten of the 40 lowest-achieving schools for the evaluation, representing urban and rural areas and various district sizes. GOSA interviewed teachers, instructional coaches, assistant principal(s), the principal, and the state school improvement specialist at each school.  In addition, GOSA interviewed senior-level district and GaDOE personnel who have been involved in school turnaround implementation. Based upon the interviews, GOSA discovered the following findings:

Major Findings

Early Stages

  • Changes in state leadership inhibited the GaDOE’s ability to support model selection.
  • Most districts chose to implement the transformation model in their schools.
  • Districts struggled to change principals prior to grant implementation.
  • Seven of ten schools changed principals in the middle of the grant.

Implementation

  • School-level staff generally felt underappreciated, undervalued, and uninformed.
  • School-level staff questioned the sustainability of turnaround efforts.
  • Negative perceptions and doubts about sustainability undermined buy-in to the turnaround plan.
  • Job-embedded professional development increased and improved in perceived quality.
  • Instructional coaches were one of the most valued additions from the grant.
  • School and district staff believed that increased time for remediation, tutoring, enrichment, and collaborative planning were improving student achievement.
  • Schools did not have sufficient operating flexibility in staffing and budget decisions.
  • For the most part, the State Office of School Turnaround supported lowest-achieving schools with the same practices the Office of School Improvement used prior to Race to the Top.
  • Schools were less satisfied with support and communication from the district than from the GaDOE.
Recommendations

Each interview concluded with a question asking what could be done to improve implementation for the remainder of the grant. The following recommendations are based upon interview responses and GOSA’s comparison of implementation with best practices in school turnaround.

  • Increase operating flexibility for school leaders.
  • Increase direct communication between GaDOE and the school.
  • Lengthen school turnaround time beyond three years or provide a plan to support schools after grant ends.
  • Improve the stability of grant expectations and compliance guidelines.
  • Provide training for local board members and new district leadership about grant requirements.
  • Increase training and support for upcoming statewide initiatives.
  • Make the RT3 and/or the district federal grant coordinator a cabinet level position, or create a district turnaround office.
  • For future grants, offer a planning grant to precede the actual grant application.

Georgia’s Race to the Top plan charges GOSA with the statewide evaluation of Race to the Top implementation. This report is the first evaluation of implementation in the Turning Around Lowest-Achieving Schools reform area. GOSA plans to conduct ongoing qualitative and quantitative evaluations through 2013-14, the final year of the grants. For more information on this work, follow this link.

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