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​Identifying Schools for Comprehensive 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 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 and Targeted Support and Improvement detailed in Table 1:

Table 1. Summary of federally-required improvement cycles

Improvement cycle
Based on…Identification cycle
  1. Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI)
  • School-wide performance; ESSA requires that Comprehensive Support and Improvement 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 (TSI)
Performance by one or more student groupsAnnually, beginning Fall 2018

This message focuses on the process for identifying schools for Comprehensive Support and Improvement, or CSI. A second message will be sent outlining the process for identifying schools for Targeted Support and Improvement.

I. Background

In designing Pennsylvania’s system of annual meaningful differentiation, PDE consulted with a wide range of education stakeholders and nationally-recognized policy experts and scholars in the fields of education reform and education 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.

Based on these goals, PDE established a set of decision rules that ensure CSI designations are based on evidence from multiple data points over multiple years. The resulting system ensures that schools are identified according to actual performance data, and that identification only occurs when both academic and non-academic data come together to indicate the need for support.

Consistent with the principles underlying the Future Ready PA Index, a more comprehensive approach to accountability determinations can increase the fairness and validity of inferences concerning local education agency (LEA), school, and student group performance, and ensure that school improvement activities are appropriately designed, implemented, and evaluated in relationship to specific, identified needs.1

II. Pennsylvania’s Approach to Annual Meaningful Differentiation

Pennsylvania’s three-step system for identifying CSI schools will apply to all schools receiving funds under Title I, Part A, including charter schools. This process will gradually narrow the number of eligible schools until the state identifies five percent of Title I buildings statewide, consistent with ESSA requirements (for Pennsylvania, this is approximately 100 schools statewide). The steps are as follows:

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

ESSA requires significant attention to schools’ academic performance in making accountability determinations. PDE believes this attention needs to consider both achievement and growth, and that calculations should be derived from multiple years of data to promote reliability and validity in school identification. Accordingly, 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

Annual Meaningful Differentiation - Quadrant 3 circled

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 the 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


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




9-12; EL subgroup meets N-size


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



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. Next Steps in Implementation

As outlined in Pennsylvania’s approved ESSA Plan, PDE will identify schools for CSI for the first time this fall; identification will occur every three years thereafter. Identifying schools for additional support, however, is just the first step. The more significant challenge – for PDE and every state education agency – is delivering on these supports. In preparation for this new process, PDE has already taken steps to ensure that identified schools receive needed supports.

Over the past several months, PDE has been working to strengthen its approach to school improvement by evaluating decades of school improvement research, lessons from other states, and our own earlier efforts. This process helped inform the framework of PA Essential Practices, a new process for identifying specific needs within the school and LEA. This framework 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. Beginning this summer, PDE will partner with a broader set of LEAs to further validate these efforts ahead of full implementation in the 2018-19 school year.

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.

Over the course of the next few months, additional information concerning CSI will be made available on the ESSA webpage. As always, should you have any thoughts or questions, you can send them to our team at

1Cook-Harvey, C. M. & Stosich E. L. (2016). Redesigning School Accountability and Support: Progress in Pioneering States. Stanford, CA: Learning Policy Institute and Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education

2Schools 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.