Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Poster Paper: Evaluating the Impact of Statewide Supports for Focus Schools: A Mixed Methods Study

Saturday, November 14, 2015
Riverfront South/Central (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Monica P. Bhatt, University of Michigan
States have many policy levers at their disposal to spur gains in student achievement and attainment, including, but not limited to curricular mandates, professional licensing laws, and resource allocation (Yin and David, 2006).  However, in the era of standards-based reforms, assessment and accountability are undoubtedly the largest tools the state has to affect change.  Despite over a decade of prominence, questions remain as to whether these high-stakes accountability systems can drive school improvement, as measured both by overall achievement and equity.  Furthermore, researchers are just beginning to understand the mechanisms by which school improvement occurs within the context of statewide accountability systems. 

Though ESEA waivers, states have had to revise their accountability systems to identify a subset of schools as either high-performing, in-need of improvement, or inequitable and design and implement a system of supports to improve that subset of schools.  Under these waivers, Focus Schools are identified as the 10% of schools with the largest gap in student achievement between the top third and bottom third of students, as determined by a composite gap measure of student achievement on standardized tests. 

This study uses a regression discontinuity design to examine the causal impact of designating schools as Focus Schools in Michigan for the years 2010-2014.  The study also presents findings from a qualitative case study design of Focus Schools, drawing from interviews of district and school administrators, teachers, and state-level practitioners, to describe implementation of statewide supports that explain the results from the quantitative study.  Finally, this study discusses the implications of the results on school improvement efforts to reduce within-school inequality in lieu of improving average student achievement.