Indiana has a strong plan to support its identified schools and should be a model for other states.
The plan includes specific state- and district-level roles and responsibilities, from needs assessment to planning to selection of interventions and supports. Indiana’s criteria for making grants for school improvement are also clear and rigorous, and the state’s strategy for supporting districts with multiple low-performing schools is particularly promising.
The state seems to have well-reasoned courses of action for comprehensive and targeted support and improvement schools.
The plan outlines the state’s efforts to help schools and districts, and it appears to be comprehensive and helpful (e.g., providing templates, outlining evidence-based approaches, providing models on how to use data to improve schools, offering targeted professional development, and facilitating technical assistance from partners). Additionally, the state has built in stakeholder engagement as a key element of the comprehensive needs assessment.
Indiana will first use its 7 percent of funds set aside for school improvement activities to award planning grants to all comprehensive support schools in their first year of identification.
The planning grant funds will be used to conduct a comprehensive needs assessment, develop a school improvement plan, and “ensure the required conditions (e.g., leadership at all levels, academic strategy, student supports) are in place to enable successful implementation” of the school improvement plan. The state will develop a model comprehensive needs assessment aligned to an evidence-based framework for school improvement; provide a recommended protocol for planning and conducting the comprehensive needs assessment, including strategies for stakeholder engagement; and define an optional menu of supports for districts and schools to support their planning and/or implementation of one or more sections of this recommended protocol.
After the initial year of identification, additional grant funds will be awarded on a competitive basis to applications using strong, evidence-based interventions. The state also will run a special school improvement grant competition for districts with four or more comprehensive support and improvement schools, which will help districts with particularly intense challenges.
For schools that continue to be identified for comprehensive support for four years, Indiana has a set of statutorily required steps directed by the state board.
The board will hold public hearings and hear testimony concerning the following options for school improvement: merging the school with a nearby school that is in a higher school performance category under Indiana’s school accountability model; assigning a special management team to operate all or part of the school; approving the school district’s plan to improve the school through the creation of a transformation zone; approving the school district’s plan to improve the school through the creation of an innovation network school; implementing the state department of education’s recommendations for improving the school; examining other options for school improvement expressed at the public hearing; and closing the school.
The board of education has the authority to decide which intervention a school must pursue and when it should pursue that intervention. It can delay for one year if students are making progress.
The state could strengthen its plan by indicating if and how it intends to provide direct student services using the optional 3 percent of funds set aside, which provides an additional opportunity for the state to align school improvement activities with its statewide goals.