Plans to improve low-performing schools receive mixed reviews

Idaho’s plans for improving low-performing schools has drawn praise from education consultants for using education coaches to help drive school improvement.

But, the same peer-reviewed report raised questions about whether Idaho is doing enough to direct school improvement funds to the most critically needed areas.

That’s according to a new report released Thursday through a partnership between HCM Strategists and the Collaborative for Student Success.

The report “Check State Plans: From Promise to Practice” focused on evaluating school improvement plans in Idaho and 16 other states.

In August, as part of Idaho’s new accountability plan, the state released a list of the 29 lowest-performing schools. As part of Idaho’s accountability plan, the lowest performing schools were assigned education improvement coaches called “capacity builders.” They are required to develop improvement and turnaround plans.

The “Check State Plans: From Promise to Practice” report evaluated eight different areas of Idaho’s plan. Overall, Idaho earned “strong” ratings in two of the categories and “needs improvement” ratings in three categories. The other three categories received scores of “adequate.”

“The peer reviewers believe Idaho is using a ‘partnership approach’ with districts, trying to walk the line acting as both a coach and a referee,” according to a news release from the Collaborative For Student Success.

“The peer reviewers praised Idaho, in particular, for creating structured, data-informed interactions between state and local teams that will likely help to drive substantive school improvement work at the local level.”

Doug Mesecar, a former assistant deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Education who examined Idaho’s plan, said the job of increasing achievement at low-performing schools and closing achievement gaps among low-income students or students of color is extremely important.

“We’re really focused on equity, diversity and accountability for underperforming, underprepared children, that’s a big part of ‘Promise to Practice,’” Mesecar told Idaho Education News. “We’re really looking at how states address schools identified for improvement.”

The “Promise to Practice” report was scored on a five-point scale, and states could earn scores of “weak,” “needs improvement,” “adequate,” “strong” or exemplary.

Idaho earned “strong” scores for:

  • Capacity builders and autonomy.
  • Engagement.

Idaho earned “needs improvement” scores for:

  • Coherent and aligned vision for improving outcomes.
  • Strategic use of funding and alignment of resources.
  • Continuous improvement, monitoring and evaluation.

Mesecar said he liked how Idaho offered resources such as the capacity builders, the State Technical Assistance Team and the superintendent’s network to schools in need of improvement. But Mesecar worried about Idaho’s use of a formula to drive a share of $2.1 million in new school improvement funds to the lowest-performing schools.

“I don’t know that the state has tied their funding decisions as closely to support school and districts that need the most support,” Mesecar said. “Not everybody needs the same thing.”

In the end, Mesecar said the purpose of reviewing state plans is to provide additional accountability to the school improvement plans, highlight best practices and make suggestions where states could tweak their plans.

Moving forward, areas he will watch closest are whether the lowest performing schools can boost student achievement and whether the same schools will continue to be identified as the lowest-performing schools in future accountability reports.

A copy of the full report is available to read online.


Clark Corbin

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