Education Week - June 12, 2013 - (Page 12)
JUNE 12, 2013 www.edweek.org
After Early Progress, SIG School Struggles to Improve
Low scores mean future
uncertain for Shawnee
By Alyson Klein
After three years, a $1.5 million invest-
ment, a huge staffing shake-up, and an assist
from some of the state’s veteran educators,
the long-troubled former Shawnee High
School here remains on tenuous ground.
The school, now called the Academy @
Shawnee, looked like an early success story
for the newly supercharged—and controversial—School
Improvement Grant program.
Just one year after joining the high-profile,
federally financed effort to turn around the
nation’s lowest-performing schools, Shawnee
posted double-digit gains in reading and math.
But then, the landscape changed. Ken-
tucky—a leader in the national effort to implement
uniform, rigorous standards—put
in place a new curriculum and assessments
that demanded much more of Shawnee’s students,
many of whom entered ill-prepared for
The school was pulled back into the academic
doldrums, placing among the bottom
1 percent in the state.
Principal Keith Look, who left one of the
highest-performing middle schools in the Jefferson
County school district to lead Shawnee
five years ago, is worried he
will lose his job. State guidelines
call for leaders at struggling
schools to be carefully
reassessed—and even removed—if
a school remains
among the worst performers
for an extended period.
“Based on the way I read
policy, my clock is ticking,”
Mr. Look said last month. He
expects the school to show
significant growth in the second
year of the new assessment
system, but he doesn’t
expect Shawnee to climb out
of “priority status,” the federal
term for a state’s lowestperforming
“We will make gains,” he said, “but they will
not be enough to get us out of the bottom 5
percent” next year.
What’s more, Shawnee and other lowperforming
schools in the 100,000-student
Jefferson County district are caught in a
political tug of war between the district and
Terry Holliday, Kentucky’s commissioner of
education. The state chief is considering taking
over turnaround operations at a number
of Jefferson County schools that he believes
aren’t making progress fast enough.
Sufficient Time for Change?
Shawnee’s three-year roller coaster ride underscores
some of the crucial questions facing
policymakers as the first cohort of schools in
the federal SIG program winds up its grants.
Is three years enough time to expect major
changes in student outcomes? And how do
much tougher standards and new tests—
which nearly all states are beginning to
embrace—throw a monkey wrench into the
works when it comes to holding the lowestperforming
schools accountable for change?
Already, the Council of Chief State School
Officers is calling for the federal government
to allow states the flexibility to freeze the
lists of struggling schools—under a series of
waivers put out by the U.S. Department of
Education. That would give educators time
to adjust to higher expectations, the CCSSO
argues. (See related story, Page 1.)
ABOVE: Liz Cox, left, an
administrator at the
Academy @ Shawnee, helps
senior T’uana Hanley with
her gown for the school’s
upcoming graduation day,
as librarian Stephanie
Clare Sievers, who
interventions at Shawnee,
works with junior Javonte
Richie. The Louisville
school is struggling
to overcome decades
of low achievement.
Turnaround schools like Shawnee are in a
particularly precarious position during the
transition to new common-core standards
and tests, said Diane Stark Rentner, the
deputy director of the Center on Education
Policy, a Washington-based group that has
done extensive research on the SIG program.
State and district officials in Kentucky and
elsewhere should be cautious in drawing
hard and fast conclusions from just one year
of data, particularly right after big changes in
standards and assessments, she added.
“It’s probably not fair to make high-stakes
[personnel] decisions after you’ve changed the
standards and changed the tests,” she said.
Ms. Rentner expects to see a broader discussion
of the issue as more long-foundering
schools move to implement the Common
Core State Standards and new tests.
“Kentucky is a leader, so they’re confronting
it now, ahead of everyone else,” she said.
When the SIG program was first expanded
as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment
Act in 2009, Shawnee High, which
had seen stagnant student achievement for
decades, was an obvious candidate for a piece
of the $3.5 billion fund.
The program calls for state and other offi-
cials to choose from a menu of widely debated
improvement models, including conversion to
charter status, a complete shutdown, or use
of a basket of strategies that includes merit
pay and extended learning time. In nearly all
cases, the principal must be replaced unless
that person has been on the job for less than
In the first year of the program, Shawnee
and other low-performing Jefferson County
schools chose the “turnaround” option, which
meant roughly half their teachers were
moved to other schools in the district and
other teachers were hired to replace them.
Mr. Look had wide latitude to recruit the
best replacements he could find. He was able
to persuade some high fliers to switch to his
campus, including more than half a dozen
teachers who had previously held leadership
and professional-development roles in the
district. He wound up with what he described
as a “team of Michael Jordans.”
The strategy paid off at first: The school
made adequate yearly progress, or AYP, under
the No Child Left Behind Act for the first
time in its history, through the federal law’s
“safe harbor” provision.
Shawnee even scored a visit from U.S. Secretary
of Education Arne Duncan in November
2011. Afterward, Mr. Duncan occasionally
weaved the school into public remarks
to illustrate the power of the SIG program,
which is on thin political ice in Congress. He
quoted students by name who had told him
that more of their friends would have made it
to graduation if only the school’s turnaround
had gotten started earlier.
Last year’s test results came as “a real
sucker punch,” said Imogen Herrick, a science
teacher who has been at the school
since before the start of the turnaround. “We
had adapted to the original assessments and
started to make gains,” she said. “All of a
sudden, this brand-new assessment system
came in, and we were right back at the bottom
Still, Ms. Herrick feels her students will
benefit from the new curriculum, which generally
uses tests developed by ACT, Inc. and is
tied to the common core. And she pointed out
that the school has inched up on the one measure
that has remained constant from year
to year: ACT scores. Shawnee students also
made small gains—1.9 composite points—between
the EXPLORE test, taken by 8th graders,
and the PLAN test, taken by 10th graders.
Ms. Herrick, has signed on for another year
at the school, despite interest from other
places in the district.
“We’ve put a lot of heart into this place,” she
said of Shawnee’s staff.
For the most part, the teaching force has
remained relatively stable throughout the
turnaround effort, with about a dozen teachers
electing to leave over a three-year period.
The same can’t be said for Mr. Look’s administrative
staff, which has turned over every
year, in part because of promotions.
But Ms. Herrick and other teachers say
they feel as if they’re under a powerful microscope.
Part of the reason: Jefferson County
officials don’t think the school is making
progress fast enough. And the district itself
was stung by state Commissioner Holliday’s
contention that turnarounds had been more
successful at schools in which the state led
Dewey Hensley, the district’s chief academic
officer, is worried that test scores will remain
so low at Shawnee, particularly after all the
resources that have been poured into the
school. And he’s concerned about Shawnee’s
suspension rate. It has gone down 20 percent
over the past year, according to Mr. Look, but
remains among the highest in the district.
“There is a new accountability system that
Photos by Pat McDonogh for Education Week
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - June 12, 2013
Education Week - June 12, 2013
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Obama Plan Champions E-Rate Fixes
States Seek Flexibility on Testing
FOCUS ON: SCHOOL LEADERS: Chicago Initiative Aims to Upgrade Principal Pipeline
Questions Arise About Algebra 2 For All Students
Year-End Exams Add Urgency to Teaching
News in Brief
Race on to Ready N.Y.C. Teacher Reviews
Districts Turning Summer School Into Learning Labs
Preschools Aim to Better Equip Low-Income Parents
After Early Progress, SIG School Struggles To Improve
Progress, Persistence Seen in Latest Data on Bullying
INDUSTRY & INNOVATION: ‘MOOC’ Plan Could Spawn Dual-Enrollment Courses
Virginia Joins Ranks of States Creating State-Run Districts
Blogs of the Week
NCLB Bills Split Over Federal Role in K-12
States Fold Teaching Into Preschool Rating Factors
Peer Review Quietly Put On Hold For State Assessment Systems
State Opposition Jeopardizes Common-Core Future
OP EDUCATION: Are New Teachers Ready to Teach?
EDWARD CROWE, MICHAEL ALLEN, & CHARLES COBLE: A Good Time for Progress in Teacher Prep
JULIE GORLEWSKI: Teaching Toward Utopia
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
OTIS KRIEGEL: ‘You’ll Get the Hang of It’
Education Week - June 12, 2013