Title I Focus Schools: Frequently Asked Questions

Title I Focus Schools: Frequently Asked Questions


Overview

 

Why is Wisconsin's system of accountability changing?

The United States Department of Education (USDE) offered all states flexibility to waive elements of the accountability provisions in No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI), along with approximately 40 other state educational agencies, took this opportunity to design a new statewide system of accountability and support.

 

Why did Wisconsin choose to apply for the waiver instead of maintaining the current system set forth in NCLB?

Wisconsin has raised expectations for its students and expects schools to graduate students ready for college and career. As such, schools, districts, and the state must have a better understanding of how students and schools perform, as well as better information to support instructional decisions in order to improve student and school outcomes. NCLB, a pass-fail system based solely on statewide standardized test scores, did not provide this information. Additionally, the universal sanctions applied to all low-performing schools did not support school or student improvement. The ESEA flexibility request enabled Wisconsin to design a system based on multiple measures aligned to college and career readiness to provide a more comprehensive, detailed understanding of student performance within and across schools.

 

What is a Title I Focus School?

Wisconsin identified ten percent of Title I schools statewide which would benefit from additional training, professional development, and resources designed to improve student outcomes for a portion of their student population. The state identified Focus Schools based on

  • the performance of student subgroups on state math or reading tests, or graduation rates, compared to student subgroups statewide.
  • OR if the school has large achievement gaps among its own student subgroups in math, reading, or graduation rates.

 

Why did Wisconsin include Focus Schools in its new system of accountability?

As a requirement of waiver submission and USDE approval, states must identify Focus Schools, or 10 percent of Title I schools contributing to the state achievement gap. This federal requirement will be an opportunity to address the large statewide achievement gap and ensure all students graduate college and career ready.

 

Does being identified as a Title I Focus School mean the school is failing?

Being identified as a Focus School does not mean that the school is performing poorly school-wide. It does mean that the school must focus on, or devote time and effort to, supporting subgroups of students. The subgroups of students may not be performing as well as other students in the school or state. Focus Schools may also have high rates of students who graduate and who do well on state math and reading tests. The goal is for Title I Focus Schools to establish building-wide systems of support that help all students achieve.


Identification

 

Will DPI identify non-Title I schools as Focus Schools?

No. USDE only required states to identify Title I schools as Focus Schools. Wisconsin will use its new statewide accountability index and report cards to illustrate school performance statewide.

 

How often will the state identify new Title I Focus Schools?

DPI will identify a new cohort, or group, of Title I Focus Schools once every four years and new schools will not be identified during this time. The state recognizes significant instructional change takes time and has committed to giving school staff the time necessary to implement new practices and improve student outcomes. After four years, schools will either exit the Focus Schools list by improving or will receive greater state assistance.

 

What is meant by "cohort?"

A cohort is the set of schools identified for Focus status in an identification year. The initial identification year for the current cohort was 2011-12. The next identification year will be in 2015-16.

 

Will DPI add additional schools to the Focus list as others meet exit criteria?

Additional schools will not be added to the Focus list before the next cohort is identified in four years. (For exit criteria, see the following sections.)

 

Why will the state not identify new schools during the four years?

The state has committed to providing concentrated levels of support to identified Title I Focus Schools. In order to ensure that the level of support to these schools does not diminish, the state will not continue identifying new schools each year but will concentrate its resources on one cohort at a time. Additionally, the state will use the four years committed to these Focus Schools to identify best practices and determine which Focus Schools can serve as models to neighboring schools facing similar challenges in the future.

 

What happens if an identified Focus School no longer receives Title I funds during the four-year cohort, due to eligibility criteria or opting to refuse funds?

If, in any year of the four-year cohort, a Title I Focus School does not receive Title I funds, it will not be required to implement reforms, and it will not be prioritized for state support. However, the school will remain in the Focus School cohort throughout the four years; a school will not exit Focus School status simply because it does not receive Title I funds. Districts with non-participating Focus Schools cannot access the ESEA funding flexibilities which come with identification. If, in subsequent years, the school once again receives Title I funds, then the school, still in Focus School status, will be required to implement reforms and be prioritized for state support along with other Title I Focus Schools in the cohort.

 

How does this align to the School Report Card?

Focus identifications are not listed on the School Report Card. The Focus School identification is a federally-mandated identification only applicable to Title I schools, whereas all public schools will receive a School Report Card. Focus Schools are encouraged to carefully review the data included in the School Report Card Detail, which provides student performance data across multiple indicators. In particular, Focus schools should review the subgroup breakdown of each priority area (Achievement page 5, Growth page 8, Closing Gaps pages 10-11, and Graduation page 13) as well as the subgroup performance on the Student Engagement Indicators (page 15) and Annual Measurable Objectives (pages 17-18).

 

Did DPI use the NAEP-based scores to identify Focus Schools?

Yes. However, using the new cuts did not greatly impact which schools were identified as Focus Schools.

 

Did DPI establish a specific threshold to determine which subgroups did not meet the state's expectations for achievement?

Yes. Title I schools that were identified had to first pass a "validity check" before being definitively identified for Focus status.

  • For schools identified for having large gaps in achievement or graduation, this validity check included checking the proficiency rate (or graduation rate) of its largest gap group versus the state average. The largest gap group is the subgroup which had the largest gap in proficiency (or graduation) when compared with its comparison group. For example, in a school where the largest gap present is between its White students and its Black students, DPI would consider whether or not the proficiency rate (or graduation rate) of the school's Black students is above the state average. If it is, the school is not identified as a Title I Focus School.
  • For schools being identified for having low subgroup achievement, this validity check included checking the proficiency rate of its lowest-performing subgroup versus the state average. The lowest-performing subgroup is the subgroup which had the lowest proficiency rate. If the proficiency rate of this subgroup is above the state average for that subgroup, the school is not identified as a Title I Focus School.
  • For schools being identified for having low subgroup graduation, this validity check included checking the graduation rate of its lowest-graduating subgroup versus the state average. The lowest-graduating subgroup is the subgroup which has the lowest graduation rate. If the graduation rate of this subgroup is above the state average for that subgroup, the school is not identified as a Title I Focus School.

After performing the validity checks, the remaining Title I schools were ranked to identify the schools representing the 10 percent of Title I schools with the largest gaps and lowest performing subgroups.

 

What subgroups did DPI use to identify Focus Schools?

DPI was required to use the same federally identified subgroups as those used within NCLB. Specifically, DPI included the following subgroups if 20 or more full academic year students were tested: race/ethnicity, as well as English language learner, disability, and socioeconomic status. Additionally, DPI created and reviewed the performance of "super groups," or combinations of two or three of the previously noted binary groups (i.e., English language learners (ELL), students with disabilities (SwD), and socioeconomic status (SES)) if any two or three of these subgroups did not meet the required minimum of 20 students. For example: If a school tested:

  • 15 ELLs, 15 SwDs, and 5 low SES students, the super group would include all three subgroups for a total of 35 students because none of the three subgroups meet the minimum of 20 students.
  • 20 ELLs, 15 SwDs, and 5 low SES students, the subgroups would include ELLs (20 students) and a super group (SwDs and low SES students for a total of 20 students) because ELLs meet the minimum of 20 students, but SwDs and SES did not until combined into a super group.
  • 5 ELLs, 5 SwDs, and 5 low SES students, none of these subgroups would be included in the analyses because they did not meet the minimum of 20 students alone or rolled into a super group.

 

Is it possible for a student to be counted more than once in a super group?

No. Students are only counted once within a super group, even if they have been identified by more than one of the subgroups within the super group. For example, if a student has been identified as ELL and SwD, DPI will only count that student once toward the minimum count of 20.

 

Why did DPI create "super groups"?

DPI committed to holding Title I schools accountable for ensuring all students graduate college and career ready and closing the statewide achievement gap. In order to hold more schools accountable for serving all students, including those schools with smaller subgroup populations, DPI created a super group.


State Requirements and Targeted Supports

 

What will DPI specifically require of Focus Schools?

State-supported reforms include the implementation and coordination of Response to Intervention (RtI) initiatives in reading, mathematics, and behavior which address the following components:

  • Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS)
  • Collaborative Planning Time
  • Core Instruction and Interventions
  • Professional Development
  • Early Warning Systems (EWS) (middle and high schools only)

In the first year (2012-13) of identification, Title I Focus Schools built a foundation for high levels of academic achievement while expanding on current best practices by participating in professional development opportunities related to the implementation of RtI systems. As part of the RtI reform, schools established or strengthened their leadership teams, and these teams used the Indistar Continuous Improvement Tool to comprehensively assess the school’s systems and processes. 

In the second year (2013-14), Title I Focus Schools will continue to concentrate on sustaining successful efforts through the ongoing implementation of the RtI initiatives. Through the ongoing use of Indistar, Title I Focus Schools are required to maintain three active objectives that align to the school’s needs assessment: RtI, PBIS, and EWS. Enclosed is a document containing the reporting benchmarks and timelines specific to Indistar. A PowerPoint that clarifies the requirements for the 2013-14 school year is available here.

 

Will DPI provide any flexibility regarding Focus School requirements based on what schools have already completed?

DPI aims to honor the work that schools have done. The DPI liaison will work with schools on a one-to-one basis throughout the action planning process to determine what professional development best meets each school's unique needs. DPI recommends schools maintain one comprehensive plan designed to raise student achievement. Focus Schools' required plans submitted to DPI via Indistar should directly align to and build upon an existing schoolwide or School Improvement Plan. DPI will continue to explore and develop alternatives to the previously noted requirements, such as online modules, in order to meet schools' needs in a more efficient manner.

 

What is the role of our DPI liaison?

The DPI liaison will perform two functions for each Focus School. The primary role of the DPI Liaison is to serve as a key point of contact  between the DPI and each Focus School to ensure the school is meeting required state-supported reforms. These reforms include the implementation and coordination of RtI in reading and mathematics to address the following components:

  • Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS)
  • Collaborative Planning Time
  • Professional Development
  • Early Warning Systems (EWS) (middle and high schools only)

These reforms will be monitored through the Indistar Continuous Improvement Tool. Specific reporting benchmarks and timelines can be found here.

The second function of the DPI Liaison is to provide ongoing support, expertise and guidance in the school's improvement efforts.

 

What level of support can be expected of the DPI Liaison?

Beginning in the fall of 2013-2014 DPI Liaisons will have a discussion with every Focus School to better understand each building's individual goals, and its school improvement processes and practices. This is not meant to be an evaluative process, but rather a way to build a relationship between DPI and the Focus School.

The overall purposes of the fall conversations are to:

  • Outline the specific reforms/requirements expected of Focus Schools
  • Allow DPI staff to fully understand the unique needs of each Focus School
  • Align school improvement goals to Indistar Indicators

Monitoring

 

Will DPI monitor Focus Schools' implementation of the interventions?

Yes. Focus Schools will submit their reform plans to DPI via Indistar and continually update the plans to indicate implementation progress. A Focus School's DPI liaison will regularly review these plans and progress made toward full implementation. Additionally, DPI liaisons will review each school's progress, as measured by data collected on a regular basis. Each Focus School will work closely with their liaison regarding these processes. Specific benchmarks including timelines for reporting are currently being developed.

 

Will the monitoring process include site visits?

DPI will prioritize onsite monitoring for schools that fail to progress in implementation or outcomes. Additionally, DPI may visit schools that appear to be making extraordinary progress in order to identify best practices which can be replicated statewide.


Exit Criteria

 

What are the exit criteria for a Title I Focus School?

A Focus School can exit Focus status prior to the end of the four years if the school meets the specified exit criteria. To exit Focus School status prior to the end of four years, a school must meet all AMOs for all subgroups that contributed to their original identification as a Focus School for two consecutive years beginning with the 2012‐13 school year. All Focus Schools must be on a trajectory to meet their Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) for the identified subgroups within six years. The DPI's Office of Educational Accountability will monitor Focus Schools' progress toward meeting the exit criteria.

 

When will schools receive their differentiated AMOs?

Schools will receive individualized AMOs based on prior student and school achievement. Because each school will receive differentiated AMOs, this information will be disseminated via their school report cards.

 

Can a Focus School be re-identified after meeting exit criteria?

A Focus School which meets the exit criteria prior to the end of the four years could still be identified as a Focus School again with the next four-year cohort. However, a Focus School which meets the very ambitious exit criteria is not likely to be re-identified four years later.


Funding

 

Who is responsible for costs associated with the trainings?

Districts are responsible for the costs of the trainings, the mileage, and any other travel costs associated with attending the trainings. The expenditure and use of Title I funds must continue to follow the federal regulations when supporting Title I Focus Schools.

 

What funding flexibility will Focus Schools have to support the implementation of these requirements while still supporting students in other Title I schools?

Districts with one or more Focus Schools will have more flexibility in how they use federal education funds to support implementation of required reforms beginning in 2012-13. This flexibility includes:

  • The option to transfer up to 100 percent of the district's Title II funds remaining after meeting equitable participation requirements into Title I;
  • The option to reserve up to 20 percent of the district's Title I allocation to support Focus School(s); and
  • The option to convert the Focus School's Title I program to a schoolwide program, even if the school's poverty rate is under 40 percent.

School districts must determine how to use their Title funds efficiently and effectively to support Focus Schools as well as other Title I schools in the district. Unlike the sanctions required of schools in NCLB, the waiver request does not include any fiscal requirements (such as the flexibilities noted above) or set-asides to support specific interventions.

(Note: These flexibilities only apply to districts with one or more participating Focus Schools.)

Additionally, schools can refer to the following resources regarding funding flexibility currently available to all Local Education Agencies (LEAs):

 

How will the federal funds that may be reserved for Focus Schools impact the Title I comparability requirements?

The Title I comparability requirement takes state and local funding into account. Any additional federal funds allocated to a Title I Focus or Priority School will not impact comparability.

 

If a Focus School is the district's lowest poverty school, can a district fund the school at a higher amount (given the requirement to fund Title I eligible schools in rank order)?

The district must continue to serve schools in rank order, but an LEA will have the opportunity to reserve up to 20 percent of its Title I allocation for its Focus Schools. This reservation is set aside before the funds are allocated to all eligible Title schools in rank order. Therefore, districts can use up to 20 percent of the total LEA allocation in addition to the school's allocation to support the Focus School.

 

How will the federal funds that may be reserved for Focus Schools impact the Title I comparability requirements?

The Title I comparability requirement takes state and local funding into account. Any additional federal funds allocated to a Title I Focus or Priority School will not impact comparability.

 

If a Focus School is the district's lowest poverty school, can a district fund the school at a higher amount (given the requirement to fund Title I eligible schools in rank order)?

The district must continue to serve schools in rank order, but an LEA will have the opportunity to reserve up to 20 percent of its Title I allocation for its Focus Schools. This reservation is set aside before the funds are allocated to all eligible Title schools in rank order. Therefore, districts can use up to 20 percent of the total LEA allocation in addition to the school's allocation to support the Focus School.

 

For questions about this information, contact Aundrea Kerkenbush (608) 261-6322, Sharon Suchla (608) 266-3983, or Mary Jo Ziegler (608) 267-9136.