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“A SMALL PIECE OF THE STORY”: Schools Receiving School Improvement Grants Show “Positive Momentum and Progress,” New Education Department Data Reveals

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“There’s dramatic change happening in these schools, and in the long-term process of turning around the nation’s lowest-performing schools, one year of test scores only tells a small piece of the story,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

While acknowledging that it is too soon to establish a clear connection between School Improvement Grants (SIG) and school performance, new data released on November 19 from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) shows “positive momentum and progress” in many schools that received funds through the SIG program.

“There’s dramatic change happening in these schools, and in the long-term process of turning around the nation’s lowest-performing schools, one year of test scores only tells a small piece of the story,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “But what’s clear already is that almost without exception, schools moving in the right direction have two things in common: a dynamic principal with a clear vision for establishing a culture of high expectations and talented teachers who share that vision, with a relentless commitment to improving instruction.”

Under the Obama administration, the SIG program, which targets the nation’s lowest-performing schools, has allocated up to $2 million per school at more than 1,300 schools, approximately 40 percent of which are high schools. The data released earlier this month provides the first overview of performance for the first group of schools after one year of implementing the SIG program. The data focuses on proficiency rate changes from School Year (SY) 2009–10 to SY 2010–11, the first year schools received SIG funds.

Based on this first year of data, 65 percent of schools made gains in math while 64 percent showed gains in reading. When broken down further, the data indicates that 25 percent of schools made double-digit gains in math and 15 percent of schools did so in reading. On the other end of the spectrum, 34 percent of schools saw decreases in math and 37 percent experienced drops in reading. In its press release accompanying the data, ED says the decline in achievement at these schools was “not a surprising finding given the steep institutional challenges that these schools face.”

a small piece of the story

When broken down by school level, the data shows slightly larger gains in elementary schools compared to middle and high schools. Still, as shown in the graph to the right, the SIG data shows that a substantial portion of high schools implanting SIG grants saw improvements in math (65 percent) and reading (62 percent), even though high school reform can be especially challenging in comparison with improvements in elementary and middle schools.

In January, ED plans to publicly release all school-level assessment data, including state-by-state SIG assessment data, once protections to ensure privacy of students are finalized and put in place. This public file will be posted on ED’s website. ED is also collecting data on other leading indicators such as student attendance, teacher attendance, and enrollment to give a more complete picture of performance in SIG schools; it intends to publish that data early in 2013.

ED’s press release announcing the results, as well as the PowerPoint presentation that accompanied it, are available at http://1.usa.gov/V6hKtz.

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