Massachusetts Turnaround Practices Research: Findings, Resources and Implications for Incorporating Evidence-Based Practices Under ESSA SEA

By Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education / January 30, 2017

In 2014, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) released research that examined common practices and conditions in turnaround schools that saw rapid improvements in student achievement, contrasting them with schools that did not see such gains.   Additional details about that research were discussed in an earlier blog post on STLC-CST, but in summary, the research showed that four key Turnaround Practices were essential to successful school turnaround efforts:

  1. Leadership, shared responsibility, and effective collaboration
  2. Intentional practices for improving instruction
  3. Student-specific supports and instruction to all students
  4. School climate and culture


In response to those findings, we aligned many of our processes and support structures for low-performing schools to the Turnaround Practices framework, in order to help schools implement these practices with fidelity. We revised and framed our statutorily-mandated school turnaround planning tools, School Improvement Grant (known as the School Redesign Grant, or SRG, in Massachusetts) application and renewal processes, turnaround school Monitoring Site Visit protocol, and many statewide assistance services for schools and districts, in order to help schools focus on and implement practices that have been shown to be effective.


These changes have shown evidence of progress. To date, 57% of our turnaround schools have exited turnaround status. Many schools and districts now use the Turnaround Practices as an anchor resource, and it has become a source of common language and consistent expectations statewide. In a further effort to assist a wider range of low performing schools, ESE is expanding our support in using the turnaround practices to schools which are not yet in turnaround status as defined by Massachusetts’ accountability system, but which are in the lowest 10th percentile of student performance statewide and could benefit from applying these evidence-based practices to their improvement efforts.


In keeping with ESE’s commitment to continuously evaluate school and district implementation of the turnaround practices and disseminating findings to the field, we continued our research on effective practices in turnaround throughout 2015 and 2016.  The subsequent research design included a comparative interrupted time-series (CITS) analysis of the impact of SRG receipt on student outcomes one, two, and three years after receiving the grant. CITS analysis compares pretreatment and post-treatment trends in student performance between SRG schools and non-SRG comparison schools. Findings showed that the impact of SRG receipt on student outcomes is statistically significant (at the p = .001 level) one, two, and three years after receipt, and the impact of SRG receipt on outcomes for English language learners specifically is even greater. These findings suggest that schools receiving SRG funds are accelerating student improvement overall, in both English language arts and mathematics. And while the funding itself is an important resource, this research also suggests that how schools use the funds matters: schools that use funds to carefully implement the research-based turnaround practices and to make the best use of autonomies and resources afforded to them under Massachusetts’ state turnaround law are those that show the greatest improvement.


Nationally, the impact of School Improvement Grants has been mixed, so we are excited to see the powerful positive impact of SRG on student outcomes in Massachusetts’ schools. The findings are discussed in detail in a recently released suite of policy, research and practice resources that deepen our understanding of effective turnaround practices, and which offer schools and districts new tools to help them implement the practices in their unique contexts.


  • Policy resource. A research brief, titled “How to Succeed in School Turnaround: Strategies That Characterize Successful Turnaround Schools in Massachusetts” summarizes key findings from the full study. The brief highlights the strategies described by successful schools as “essential” to the school’s turnaround efforts and ability to sustain improvements.


  • Research resources. The two-part technical research report includes the Implementation Study & Impact Study.
    • Part 1: Implementation Study – Summarizes findings of a qualitative analysis of school monitoring site visit data, and identifies specific strategies that characterize successful turnaround schools and keys to sustaining improvement efforts, including nine overarching areas that emerged as essential elements of turnaround.


  • Part 2: Impact Study –Summarizes findings from a quasi-experimental, comparative interrupted time series (CITs) analysis of SRG recipient schools, as compared to non-SRG schools.


  • Practice resources.
    • Turnaround Practices Field Guide – The Turnaround Practices Field Guide is designed for school- and district-level practitioners, and describes how successful turnaround schools implement the Massachusetts Turnaround Practices.


  • Turnaround Practices Video Series – An accompanying video series features an array of school leaders, teachers and students describing their schools’ turnaround journeys.


As we face the end of the SIG program and transition into supporting schools to implement evidence-based practices with Title I funding under ESSA, the lessons learned from this research are especially timely. This research gives Massachusetts confidence in the efficacy of continuing to support our lowest-performing schools in much the same way as we have done under our former School Redesign Grant structure. We’ll design our new competitive school improvement grant process under ESSA around the same critical elements that characterized our School Redesign Grant structure:

  • A rigorous set of expectations aligned to both evidence-based turnaround practices and to our state statute and regulations for low performing schools;
  • a grant application and interview process that holds districts and schools to a high bar, ensuring that funding is only allocated to schools that demonstrate strong capacity and commitment for turnaround,
  • an annual grant renewal and monitoring process, designed to provide formative feedback over the course of implementation;
  • and providing targeted assistance by our statewide system of support, in full alignment with the findings of our turnaround practices research.

We will be presenting more information about this research and how Massachusetts is responding to it at the National Association of State Title I Directors conference in February 2017. We welcome any colleagues and fellow STLC-CST community members who will be at the conference to join our session.


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