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Six years later, iZone schools see moderate gains; ASD schools have not improved

After six years, achievement within ASD schools is no better or worse than comparison schools. District-led iZone schools’moderate success has become uneven over time. (iStock)

A new Vanderbilt University report finds less than encouraging news about Tennessee’s largest school turnaround efforts. The research evaluates outcomes for the state-run Achievement School District and district-led iZone schools after six years of implementation across five different cohorts of schools from 2012–13 to 2017–18.

Gary Henry (Vanderbilt)

A new brief released by the Tennessee Education Research Alliance at Vanderbilt finds that after six years, iZone schools have been moderately successful in improving student achievement among some of the state’s lowest-performing schools, while Achievement School District schools have performed no better or no worse than comparison schools in the study.

Additionally, iZone results varied across the cohort of schools examined individually in this brief, and have been somewhat uneven in more recent years.

The research of Tennessee’s turnaround efforts builds on previous work by Gary Henry, Patricia and Rodes Hart Professor of Public Policy and Education at Vanderbilt Peabody College of education and human development; Peabody doctoral student Lam Pham; Ron Zimmer, director of the Martin School of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Kentucky, and Adam Kho, assistant professor at the University of Southern California.

“ASD strategies are not working as intended, and iZone effects, while initially promising, have become somewhat uneven.”
–Gary Henry

“Previous research on school reform suggests that positive effects can take up to five years to appear, elevating the importance of our six-year evaluation,” Henry says. “Our results suggest ASD strategies are not working as intended, and iZone effects, while initially promising, have become somewhat uneven among later cohorts, possibly due to high teacher turnover and an inability to recruit highly effective teachers as replacements.”

Key findings from this brief include:

  1. Averaging across all subjects in all years of intervention, iZone interventions have positive and statistically significant effects in math and science. In reading, the average effect is smaller and not statistically significant.
  2. Moderate to large positive and statistically significant effects for iZone schools in the first two years of turnaround largely drive the overall effects.
  3. Overall, ASD schools perform no better or worse than comparison schools in any subject or any cohort throughout the six-year period.
  4. The effects of individual cohorts of ASD and iZone schools vary considerably with positive effects for the first two cohorts of iZone schools, negative results for the fifth cohort, and negative results for the second cohort of ASD schools. Negative effects in the fifth cohort of iZone schools may be driven by decreased effectiveness among incoming teachers.

“The variation among iZone cohorts indicates that efforts primarily relying on restaffing schools may not be sustainable.
–Lam Pham

Lam Pham (Vanderbilt)

“While initial years of iZone interventions appear to be successful at improving outcomes for students, the variation among iZone cohorts indicates that efforts primarily relying on restaffing schools may not be sustainable in the long run,” says Pham, lead author of the brief.  “Going forward, our previous work on evidence-based guiding principles for improving low-performing schools might be useful as the state looks to continuously improve these two turnaround models.”

Future TERA research will aim to identify and address the instabilities and barriers to improvement in turnaround schools (such as teacher and leader turnover and chronic absenteeism), examine the theory of change for specific district interventions, and measure the extent to which these interventions are working as planned.

Read the full report, “School Turnaround in Tennessee: Insights After Six Years of Reform.

More about the Tennessee Education Research Alliance

The Tennessee Education Research Alliance is a unique research partnership between Vanderbilt Peabody College and the Tennessee Department of Education committed to informing Tennessee’s school improvement efforts with useful, timely and high-quality studies.