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DC Public Schools
Context for Change: The Targeted Assistance Program, Selection Criteria for “Children First Schools,” and Labor/Management Relations
June 2001




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Context for Change:
The Targeted Assistance Program, Selection Criteria For "Children First Schools," and Labor/Management Relations

History of the Targeted Assistance Program

During the 1996-97 school year, the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) embarked on a plan to identify and reform its lowest performing schools. The "Targeted Assistance Program" used aggregated student achievement scores on standardized tests to appraise and categorize individual school performance. Schools that produced a "negative achievement trend" over a three-year period were "targeted" for assistance and became eligible to receive substantial amounts of additional funds and resources. The targeting was intended to increase each school's capacity to improve student performance and focus added resources on school-based educational reform. Each targeted school adopted one of seventeen nationally recognized comprehensive school reform models, was assigned a fulltime instructional facilitator (now called "change facilitator") to assist with the model's implementation, received extra professional development and literacy training, and participated in a summer literacy program. Those schools with the most significant multi-year decline in performance received $10,000 in additional funding and were provided consultative services by the US Department of Education's Mid-Atlantic Regional Educational Laboratory, also known as, "The Laboratory for Student Success at Temple University." In subsequent years, targeted schools received $36,000 in additional funding (in school year 1998 and/or 2000) to support school-determined improvement programs.

Twenty-three elementary schools (two have since been closed) were identified as "Targeted Assisted Schools" (TAS) and were required to improve student performance by "no less than 10%" on the April 1998 administration of the SAT-9. Targeted schools that failed to meet this goal were to be automatically considered for closure and redesign, while those that made at least an 8% gain were to be given, based on "extreme, extenuating circumstances," the opportunity to remain intact for one additional year under "corrective action status." Schools designated for this status in 1998 have remained so designated since then and continue receiving the additional resources and professional development originally earmarked for them. No new schools were added to the TAS list in the 1998 school year; 32 schools at all levels (11 senior high schools, 10 middle/junior high schools, and 11 elementary schools) were added to the TAS list in 1999. At present, 52 schools have been identified for targeted assistance and only one school has been "closed and redesigned" according to the plan established in 1997.

Selection Criteria

Although the Targeted Assistance Program has remained static for the past four years, the criteria for identifying schools changed during school year 1098. Both are summarized below.

1996-97 Criteria. A three-level system was used to identify the original 23 schools. Level I identified schools that demonstrated poor student performance over a three-year period and were in a continuous, annual, downward trend of decline. Level II identified schools that demonstrated an inconsistent pattern of achievement over three consecutive years that suggested significant risk of substantial future decline. While these schools may have shown some improvement in a given year, the trend in performance was uneven and not reflective of a clear path to improvement. Level III were schools that demonstrated clear evidence of academic improvement, yet overall academic performance was still unacceptably low over the three-year period compared to other schools in the school system.

1997-98 Criteria. In order to more accurately benchmark student and school performance across all schools and to compare performance against national norms, a different process was established in 1997-98. This converted all actual, or raw, student scores from the SAT-9 to the same scale and calculated the mean or average score, for each school. These "normal curve equivalency" scores, or NCEs, enabled DCPS to compare scores on a simple range from 1.0 to 99.0. This also permitted the school system to compare performance across all schools who took the SAT-9 anywhere in the nation. For example, a school with a mean NCE score of 54.7 indicates that the school performed equal to or better than 54.7 percent of all schools that took this same test nationally. Higher NCE scores represent stronger overall performance on the standardized test. In 1998, DCPS determined that all schools, at all levels, with an average school-wide NCE score of 44.1 or less would be eligible for targeted assistance.

2001-02 Selection Criteria for Low Performing Schools

While both measurement systems described above have merit, I have accepted staffs recommendation to combine the strongest elements of both approaches. In addition, I have asked staff to examine other indicators of school effectiveness including attendance, tardiness, suspension/expulsion rates, substantiated corporal punishment reports, enrollment patterns, satisfaction rates, and budget and staffing decisions. This establishes criteria for school identification that is consonant with past practice, comprehensive in scope, and congruent with generally accepted accountability practices across the nation's school districts. In addition, I will add a new dimension that assesses schools on their effectiveness in addressing student, parent and community needs. This is especially important in view of the growing diversity across the District of Columbia and my desire to build high performing learning communities within all our schools. I will, nonetheless, conduct an extensive review of these criteria to determine what standards will be most appropriate for our future needs and most useful for the Board's oversight responsibility. Before the spring of the next school year, I will implement a new, multidimensional measurement system for school effectiveness, support and transformation.

School Transformation and Labor/Management Relations

In November 1997, an agreement was reached between Ms. Arlene Ackerman, chief academic officer/deputy superintendent, and Ms. Barbara Bullock, president, Washington Teachers' Union. This agreement set forth a process for determining how "reconstituted" schools that were part of the TAS program would be staffed. I have reviewed this agreement carefully and I will work collaboratively with Ms. Bullock to assure that the contractual rights of WTU members are protected. Once decisions are finalized, we will work closely with all union leadership to assure that their collective memberships are treated fairly and within the bounds of our signed contracts with all.

Business Plan for Strategic Reform

The complete Business Plan for Strategic Reform, which will include all major strategic initiatives for the next three to five years, will be ready for the Board's review in mid-June.

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