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School Turnaround in Tennessee: Insights After Six Years of Reform

In 2012, Tennessee began a series of bold new initiatives to turn around its lowest-performing five percent of schools, known as Priority Schools. Building on previous research, this brief examines student achievement gains six years into the implementation of the Achievement School District (ASD) and Innovation Zones (iZones). Results indicate that while iZone schools showed positive growth in the early years, achievement in the iZone schools has become uneven in recent years. Additionally, ASD schools continue to perform no better or worse than comparison schools.

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school turnover six years  
  • Averaging across all subjects in all years of intervention, iZone interventions have positive and statistically significant effects in math and science. In reading, the average effect is smaller and borderline in terms of statistical significance. 
  • Moderate to large positive and statistically significant effects for iZone schools in the first two years of turnaround largely drive the overall effects. 

  • Overall, ASD schools perform no better or worse than comparison schools in any subject or any cohort throughout the six year period. 

  • The effects of individual cohorts of ASD and iZone schools vary considerably with positive effects for the first two cohorts of iZone schools, negative results for the fifth cohort, and negative results for the second cohort of ASD schools. Our descriptive evidence suggests that negative effects in the fifth cohort of iZone schools may be driven by decreased effectiveness among incoming teachers. 


This analysis uses a difference-in-difference (DID) approach to compare the changes in test scores from the baseline year in the ASD and iZone schools to the scores after they initiated reforms with the changes in test scores during the same period in the other Priority schools that did not receive a reform. The data include student- and teacher-level demographic characteristics, student test scores from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP), End of Course Exams (EOCs), and TNReady, and school enrollment data from 2006-2007 to 2017-2018. 


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