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Defining and Measuring Progress in Improving Low-Performing Schools

Tennessee's 2010 "First to the Top" plan spurred an aggressive effort to turn around the state's most chronically underperforming schools. Stakeholders often ask whether these turnaround reforms have "worked." In this brief, we attempt to answer that question, but we first provide a framework of potential motivating rationales for engaging in turnaround work. We name three potential motivations for turnaround: excellence, equity, and efficiency. Each of these motivations comes with distinct definitions of "low-performing" and measures of progress. Then, under each rationale, we examine Tennessee's progress in driving improvement in low-performing schools over the last five years. 

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Motivating Rationales for Turnaround

turnaround progress


Key Findings
  • The number of schools falling below an absolute threshold for low-performance fluctuates with changes in assessments or assessment standards. However, we see progress in reducing the number of schools below 20 percent proficient during the period of stability in assessments. 

  • The size of the gap between the performance of the lowest-performing schools and the rest of the state has stayed relatively constant.

  • Non-proficient students in Tennessee are disproportionately concentrated in a shrinking proportion of schools.