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

Poster Paper: A Successful School Turnaround: Policy Implications and Lessons Learned from a Mixed Method Evaluation

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

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Daniel Princiotta,
At the national, state, and local levels, education leaders are focused on identifying and turning around low-performing schools. Much rhetoric, but little hard evidence exists regarding what it takes to successfully turn around a school. This study presents policy implications and findings from a successful school turnaround effort in Washington, DC. The effort did not involve partnering with an external turnaround specialist. Rather, it involved a committed staff and long-standing community partners working to extend the school day, adopt new online learning tools and programs, and foster parent involvement. The school turnaround effort led to substantial gains in student mathematics achievement. In the post-intervention period, the school’s fourth and fifth graders showed annual growth in mathematics that was five months larger, on average, than those of comparison students matched on neighborhood, whether or not the student was attending an assigned school, prior student performance, and student characteristics.  Although the introduction of the package of interventions during the 2012-13 school year boosted students’ growth in math, it did not have any statistically significant effect on reading growth.

In order to mitigate selection bias at both neighborhood level and student level, we combined a two-level propensity score matching approach with a difference-in-differences analysis. A companion implementation evaluation helped explain the findings of the outcomes evaluation and highlighted the factors that seemed to explain how the package of interventions was effective in improving student outcomes.  Interview and focus group data were collected from a diverse and large number of informants, including school administrative staff, teachers, parents, students, and community partner program staff.  One of the key factors identified across all informants was increased access to online learning tools which engaged and motivated students and allowed teachers to provide more individualized and data-based instruction. We discuss the policy implications of our evaluation for local, state, and national leaders focused on turning around low-performing schools.