IN Blog #9: Where We’ve Been and Where We Are Going SEA

By The Indiana Department of Education Office of Early Learning and Intervention / April 18, 2016

In Indiana’s first cohort of SIG schools, new ideas for school turnaround were examined form multiple perspectives.  We considered  State take of over low-performing schools to transformation that occurred over a period of time. In our initial SIG cohorts, we observed that turnaround at the school level was implemented quickly without clear goals and timelines and did not include collaboration with the local school districts.  At the same time, schools that implemented the transformation model made significant investments in resources such as  digital technology tools and in human capital improvements -   instructional, data, and technology coaches.  In either case, improvement did not stick.  The implementation was either fast-paced and ill-conceived or involved lots of “band aid fixes” that were not sustainable.

In comparing data from the first cohort of SIG schools to the most recent one, cohort 5, (completed at least one year of SIG implementation,)  we feel that the SIG program is more successful.


From the first to the fifth cohort, which has completed one implementation year of SIG, the differences are significant.

Overall, Cohort 5 has shown strong growth during their first two years of SIG implementation.  From our ongoing review and examination, we feel the  schools have made greater improvement because IDOE:

  • Clarified the purpose of SIG through an updated  ands revised application, review and approval process and Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) guidance,
  • Created stronger guidance on how funding may be spent , including clarification  on what would be allowable and reasonable purchases,
  • Established clear expectations on SIG implementation,
  • Focused on sustainability.


In a comparison of the two cohorts above, the following changes were noted:

  • Having a dedicated central office staff member attend all IDOE visits and networking opportunities,
  • Developing strategic district initiatives that invest in schools across the district,
  • Supporting individual school models such as integrated arts, and project based learning.

The SEA created expectations for district participation during onsite visits and improved communication with district leadership through regular phone calls. The school districts that have Cohort 6 schools have demonstrated, collectively, the greatest district commitment to their SIG schools.

As a result of successful piloting in SIG schools, changes have been implemented district-wide.  For example, one Cohort 5 school that has a high teacher turnover rate used SIG funds to recruit staff to the school and create a cadre of substitute teachers.  This year, the district implemented a district-wide incentive policy to recruit teachers and has committed its resources to the development of substitute teachers. 


Much of the change with SIG happened at the state level.  We have learned from previous cohorts what has worked or not.  We responded with clearer expectations, additional guidance and targeted support.  Some changes that occurred include:

  • Application changes: The application was updated two years ago from its original version.   A sustainability section was added. Schools and districts had to show their commitment to sustain improvements in the SIG school after SIG funding ended by identifying local funding sources.  This was assessed on the rubric during the review and evaluation process. Schools that did not demonstrate commitment were not rated highly.
  • Application Guidance: IDOE implemented several steps to assist schools and districts prior to submission of the grant application.  This included revised guidance documents on the website, open calls where questions could be asked of the IDOE team, and one-to-one meetings with schools to review the application and provide feedback on the plan. More than one-half of the Cohort 6 schools that were awarded funding  collaborated with IDOE during the grant writing process.
  • A revised review and approval process: The new review process includes several layers of review for grant applications.  In the first round, a clearer evaluation rubric is used.  In a second round, a committee conducts a second review and phone interviews with the school and district teams.  Onsite visits may be conducted in the final round.  These layers include various IDOE members and always include school staff, district staff, board members, and other community stakeholders.  
  • Differentiated oversight and monitoring: After making final awards and beginning the SIG transformation process, IDOE provides support in two ways.  First, IDOE facilitate networking opportunities so that SIG schools can work together, share ideas and solutions, and build their own capacities to implement change. Secondly, schools provide data on a regular basis through a data dashboard that is reviewed and discussed regularly.  These data points provide opportunities for conversations about what is working or not. It provides IDOE a window into implementation so that support can be provided, as needed.  Finally, monitoring activities are conducted to ensure that schools are spending funds as intended, completing reports, and upholding the purpose and intent of the program.

Moving Forward

Indiana will continue to support struggling schools under ESSA.   Our transition planning is still in the beginning stages and we to incorporate  the effective practices we learned from the implementation of  SIG. For example, Tile I, Part A 1003(a) school improvement grants have included “SIG-like” elements in the past several years, such as highlighting allowable federal grant activities into menu of services fro Titler I schools. This  encourage schools to invest in sustainable practices, including intentional planning time for schools prior to implementation of the grant and building the capacity of leaders, staff, and families to support all students.

The Path to ESSA:

Indiana’s experience with SIG has helped our team identify three common elements of success school improvement: sustainability, planning, and building capacity.  These themes are not necessarily unique.  A comparison of the last three reauthorizations of the Elementary and Secondary School Act (ESEA) show that these threads were consistently woven into the statue and have gained more traction with each reauthorization. 

We will utilize these themes as we transition to ESSA to ensure that we maintain a focus on continuous school improvement  and sustainability in our lowest-performing schools.



Improving America’s School Act


No Child Left Behind


Every Student Succeeds Act



  • Accountability for Title I schools


  • Increased accountability for ALL schools, including
    • Focus on student subgroups
    • Focus on teacher quality 


  • Implementation of state accountability systems for ALL schools  that includes:
    • Focus on student subgroups
    • Focus on student outcomes



  • Use of schoolwide planning as whole school reform


  • Increase use of schoolwide planning by lowering the eligibility criteria and offering flexibility


  • Increase the flexibility within schoolwide planning and emphasize:
    • Early learning
    • Secondary
    • Behavioral supports



  • Implement school reform for struggling Title I schools with CSPR with additional funds available for multiple years through a competitive system (up to 3 implementation years)


  • Implement school reform for struggling Title I served with 1003(g) SIG with additional funds available for multiple years (up to 5 year including implementation, planning and sustainability years)


  • Implement school reform for struggling Title I schools with a revised school improvement reservation of additional funds available for multiple years, which can be designed by the SEA



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