Assessment of Progress in MERIT Schools
In 2010, in an effort to improve education and educational opportunities across the nation, the federal government provided funding for School Improvement Grants (SIG) to support the lowest performing schools and districts. Schools and districts throughout the country applied for these grants, and the program now serves more than 730 schools nationally (Klein, 2011). Schools and districts accepting SIG money are required to adopt one of four federally defined school intervention models: Closure, Restart, Turnaround, or Transformation. The school Closure model refers to a district closing a school and enrolling the students who attended the school in to other higher-achieving schools in the district. The Restart model occurs when a district converts the school or closes and reopens it under management of an educational management organization (EMO). The Turnaround model includes replacing the principal and rehiring no more than 50% of the school’s staff, adopting a new governance structure, and implementing a research-based instructional program aligned to state standards. The Transformation model requires replacing the school principal and addressing four areas critical to transforming persistently low-achieving schools: developing teacher and principal leader effectiveness, implementing instructional reform strategies, extending learning time and creating community connections, and providing operating flexibility and sustained support.
Most states required eligible schools and districts to complete detailed grant applications with specific information regarding how they would implement one of the four intervention models. Along with this process, some states elected to perform an assessment of each school to determine their specific needs. As part of the application process in Washington State, The BERC Group, Inc. conducted School and Classroom Practices Studies (SCPS) at all of the eligible schools. These studies included: a) a review of district level practices and policies to identify potential supports and barriers that may impact the district’s ability to implement an intervention; b) classroom observation data focusing on instructional practices within the school (researchers conducted 380 classroom observations in the winter of 2010); c) qualitative interviews and focus groups focusing on the alignment of school structures and practices with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s (OSPI) Nine Characteristics of High Performing Schools (Shannon & Bylsma, 2007); and d) high school outcomes data (course-offering patterns, course-taking patterns and college eligibility, graduation rates, and college enrollment, college persistence, and college graduation rates). The BERC Group findings were used to complete the application for SIG support and were incorporated into the ongoing implementation of improvement goals and action plans at the school and district levels.
In Washington State, 17 schools from nine different districts received a grant under this program. These schools were named Models of Equity and Excellence through Rapid Improvement and Turnaround (MERIT) by OSPI and began working together on the implementation of their plans in the summer of 2010. In the spring of the 2010-2011 school year, BERC Group researchers visited each of the schools and districts again to conduct an Assessment of Progress, which provided the same data as mentioned above and allowed for measuring changes the schools and districts made over the course of the year. Additionally, staff, family, and student surveys aligned with the Nine Characteristics of High Performing Schools were administered, collected, and analyzed by The BERC Group. OSPI is also using other tools to monitor the success of the MERIT schools, such as benchmark data, leading indicator data required through the grant, and end-of-year reports, and each district is collecting data unique to their specific areas of focus. Approximately 762 people, including district and building administrators, union leaders, certificated and non-certificated staff members, counselors, parents, and students participated in interviews and focus groups. In addition, researchers conducted 417 observations in the spring of 2011 to determine the extent to which Powerful Teaching and Learning (R) was present in the school. These observations were compared to baseline observations (380) collected in the winter of 2011.
The BERC Group, Inc.
District and School Improvement and Accountability
6501 North 23rd Street Tacoma, WA 98406
Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction
Old Capitol Building
PO Box 47200
Olympia, WA 98504-7200
The BERC Group brings experience and an extensive knowledge base to any evaluation project.