(Phoenix, AZ, Thursday, December 13, 2018) – Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015, states have a responsibility to create systems to meaningfully address underperforming schools to provide all students a strong, equitable education. Arizona’s school improvement plan was chosen to be reviewed as part of a new report from the Collaborative for Student Success and HCM Strategists, showing the results of an independent peer review analysis of current school improvement efforts across the country.

The report, “Check State Plans: From Promise to Practice,” highlights best practices being used in states to improve the lowest-performing schools, as well as ways states could better support student achievement. This includes whether districts and schools are using evidence-based strategies that meet school needs, and whether they are taking full advantage of federal and state funding.

Arizona earned a “Strong” rating in 1 out of 8 categories: rigorous review, and a “Weak” rating in 3 out of 8 categories: evidence-based interventions, engagement and sustainability.

The panel of experts were concerned that Arizona is taking too limited a role in leading or supporting school improvement efforts. Other states are partnering with districts to ensure they are supported in addressing chronic underperformance, while Arizona is taking a more compliance-oriented approach. Although the peer reviewers recognize that empowering local leaders is a core component of successful school turnaround, they raised a concern that too much autonomy, without sufficient state supports, may not help the students and schools in most need.

Overall, peer reviewers were concerned that Arizona does not have a plan for continuous improvement efforts and lacks vision for long-term and sustained improvement.

Strengths: Arizona’s school improvement guidance for comprehensive support and improvement schools is strong and thorough, taking local leaders through the process step by step. The processes for completing improvement plans is detailed and hits on many important components of meaningful school improvement. The state requires these plans and other documents to be uploaded into a state database for transparency and tracking progress, meaning the state has the ability to maintain a firm understanding regarding the field’s progress.

Where the Plan Can Improve: Arizona does not appear to have a strategy in place to ensure that districts and schools remain out of comprehensive support and improvement. Continuous improvement efforts must be central to the state’s vision and take a wider look at the issues and challenges preventing long-term and sustained improvement. As schools improve from being in comprehensive status, the state must plan to ensure that the resources are there to maintain and accelerate successful efforts. One component to this would be to strengthen the engagement of the stakeholders both at the local and state levels.

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