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Over the last three decades, State Education Agencies and State legislatures have taken more active roles in creating policies to measure and define school performance. Guided by federal policy inducements, states have developed policies to evaluate school-level performance and define schools in need of improvement as well as the lowest performing schools in need of turnaround. In this chapter, we provide an analysis of 52 state plans submitted and approved under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015.

ESSA called on all 52 states educational agencies to detail specific turnaround plans for struggling schools. Some states submitted their plans as early as March of 2017, while others needed until February 2019 to finish their first submission. Many states had their initial plans approved, while others had multiple revisions-including Virginia, which submitted seven revisions before garnering final approval. In our review of ESSA plans, we found that submissions averaged 1.82 per state.

Our analysis of state plans focuses on variations in state-level definition and framing of three categories of school status determinations for schools in need of improvement: TSI-Targeted Support and Intervention; CSI-Comprehensive Support and Intervention; and MRI-More Rigorous Intervention. We conducted a content analysis of the approved plans from the 52 state agencies. After an initial inductive review, we found that states’ approaches to the three categories of TSI, CSI, and MRI were central to turnaround school policy. We created a spreadsheet with the following information: date of submission of plan; years of low performance required to be designated for TSI, CSI, and MRI, and the number of years of increasing performance required to exit TSI, CSI, and MRI. In addition, we captured the language of criteria for entering and exiting each of the categories, as well as the factors utilized to determine the categories, including indicators and weights provided as markers of performance in the elementary, middle, and high school levels. We captured proficiency goals for each state plan and described how each defined subgroup categories and size. Finally, we listed options provided to districts for MRI strategies and turnaround options for school districts.

Given the enormously disproportionate percentage of low income and students of color attending schools in TSI, CSI, and MRI status, it can be argued that state-level plans for turnaround interventions represent a de facto state level policy lever for more equitable outcomes. While ESSA was designed to provide greater flexibility to states, and state-level and contextually sensitive flexibility is desirable, our analysis reveals a significant and wide variation in categorical definitions and identification of turnaround schools.

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