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Targeted Support and Improvement

The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) is committed to sharing regular updates on the implementation of its approved Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Consolidated State Plan and the Future Ready PA Index, a comprehensive, public-facing school progress report that increases transparency around school and student group performance. This communication provides information on the subset of Future Ready PA Index indicators that will be utilized in identifying schools for federally-established improvement cycles.

ESSA requires each state to develop a plan to identify schools for support and improvement. The process of identifying schools for support—termed “Annual Meaningful Differentiation” by the federal statute—will result in two distinct designations: Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) and Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI), which are detailed in Table 1, below:

Table 1. Summary of federally-required improvement cycles

Improvement cycle
Based on… Identification cycle
  1. Comprehensive Support and Improvement


  • School-wide performance; ESSA requires that Comprehensive Support and Improvement schools include “not less than the lowest-performing 5 percent of all schools receiving (Title I) funds in the State;” or
  • Any high school—Title I or not—with a combined 4- and 5-year adjusted cohort graduation rate of 67 percent or less.

Every three years, beginning Fall 2018

  1. Targeted Support and Improvement Schools
Performance by one or more student groups Annually, beginning Fall 2018

This message focuses on the process for identifying schools for Targeted Support and Improvement, the federal designation relating to schools with one or more low-performing student groups.

I. Background

In designing Pennsylvania’s system of Annual Meaningful Differentiation, PDE consulted with a wide range of education stakeholders, nationally-recognized policy experts, and scholars in the fields of education reform and measurement. This work centered on two overarching goals: 1) the state’s system will identify the schools in the greatest need of support; and 2) identified schools will have a clear roadmap for improvement efforts.

Pennsylvania is equally concerned with ensuring supports are available for historically underserved student groups. Accordingly, and in keeping with ESSA requirements, the state’s approach to Annual Meaningful Differentiation will be repeated for each student group of 20 or more students.1

II. Pennsylvania’s Approach to Annual Meaningful Differentiation

As detailed in PDE’s last e-message, Pennsylvania’s approved ESSA State Plan outlines a three-step system for identifying Comprehensive Support and Improvement, or CSI schools. The steps are as follows:

Step 1. Preliminary identification based on academic achievement and academic growth

Pennsylvania will initially categorize schools as eligible for identification based on performance in two domains: 1) the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on state assessments in English language arts and mathematics combined over two years; and 2) the percentage of students achieving annual growth targets (Average Growth Index), also derived from a two-year window.
Achievement and growth scores will be plotted to allow the state to identify a subset of schools exhibiting the lowest performance in both domains (see Figure 1, below). PDE will finalize cut points that denote inadequate school performance for both achievement and growth in the fall of 2018, based on 2016-17 and 2017-18 state assessment results.

Figure 1. Step 1 of Annual Meaningful Differentiation

 Quadrant 3 - Annual Meaningful Differentiation

Step 2. Final identification based on additional academic and non-academic indicators

Next, Pennsylvania will examine the performance of low achievement and low growth schools on remaining accountability indicators: high school graduation rate and progress in moving English learners to proficiency, as well as chronic absenteeism and career readiness. Specifically, low achievement and low growth schools that also fall in the bottom quartile of school performance on high school graduation rate or English learner proficiency will be identified for CSI. Low achievement and low growth schools that also fall in the bottom quartile of school performance on both chronic absenteeism and career readiness indicators will likewise be identified.2 Figure 2, below, provides examples of the interplay among Step 2 indicators for purposes of CSI identification for various school types.

Figure 2. Step 2 of Annual Meaningful Differentiation

School performs above cut point

School performs below cut point

School Example

Substantially Weighted

School Quality and Success


Grades served; school characteristics

ELP Progress

Graduation Rate

Chronic Absenteeism

Career Readiness


K-5; EL subgroup meets N-size


N.A.; not a high school



Not Identified

1-6; EL subgroup does not meet N-size






6-8; EL subgroup meets N-size


N.A.; not a high school




6-9; EL subgroup does not meet N-size





Not Identified

9-12; EL subgroup meets N-size






10-12; EL subgroup does not meet N-size





Not Identified

  • Step 3. Identification of additional high schools with low graduation rates

    Finally, ESSA requires that states identify “all public high schools in the state failing to graduate one third or more of their students.” Pennsylvania will identify any high school, regardless of Title I status, not already identified through Steps 1 and 2 through evaluation of the four- and five-year adjusted cohort graduation rates.

III. Application of Annual Meaningful Differentiation for TSI Identification

Consistent with ESSA requirements, Pennsylvania will annually identify TSI schools in a manner corresponding with the above-referenced approach to CSI identification. Any school in which one or more student groups performs below the CSI thresholds for academic proficiency, academic growth, and either: 1) one or both substantially weighted indicators (graduation rate and progress in achieving English language proficiency); or 2) both school quality/student success indicators (chronic absenteeism and career readiness) will be identified for TSI. Additionally, any school in which the combined 4- and 5-year adjusted cohort graduation rate for one or more student groups is 67 percent or below will be identified for TSI.

As noted in our last e-message, PDE is working to strengthen its approach to school improvement through a Framework of PA Essential Practices. This new process for identifying specific needs within the school and LEA was piloted over the course of the 2017-18 school year in 19 schools across three diverse districts including a large urban, mid-sized urban, and small rural district. The Framework of PA Essential Practices will also be used as a tool to support schools identified as TSI.   

Throughout these efforts, PDE has maintained a focus on ensuring that the supports for identified schools are grounded in evidence, differentiated based on specific school needs, and deployed in a collaborative and coherent manner alongside local educators. It is important to note that CSI schools will be supported via a state-facilitated school improvement cycle, while TSI activities and supports will be implemented at the LEA level. State-supported, locally-deployed TSI supports may include interdisciplinary teams of general and special education personnel to support Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS), Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), and other activities—along with technical assistance provided by local intermediate units and PaTTANs.

Over the next few months, additional information relating to TSI will be made available on the ESSA webpage.
Questions or comments on the Future Ready PA Index can be sent to

1 Consistent with existing Civil Rights Data Collection standards, Pennsylvania will report student group performance for the following student groups: Asian, Black, Economically Disadvantaged, English Language, Hispanic, IEP, Multi-Racial, Native American or Alaskan Native, Native Hawaiian Indian or Other Pacific Islander, and White.

2 Schools for which only one of these indicators is available (for example, a K-4 school that will report chronic absenteeism but not K-5 career readiness data), and that fall in the bottom quartile of performance for that indicator, will also be identified for CSI.