Download featured IES Practice Guide

About 50 California Department of Education staff and 20 local district administrators met to expand their knowledge and understanding of evidence-based strategies for turning around chronically low-performing schools. REL West sponsored the event in partnership with the California Comprehensive Center.

For more information, please contact:

Kelly Gerstbacher


Turning Around Low-Performing Schools: Implications for California's State System of Support

April 30, 2009

Sheraton Grand Sacramento
1240 J Street
Sacramento, California

Goals of the Event

  • Develop further understanding of what research says about strategies to turn around low-performing schools, and the resources available on the Doing What Works website.
  • Deepen understanding of how to recognize and apply good evidence to make research-based decisions.
  • Understand the factors that contribue to sustainable school improvement.
  • Discuss and apply research findings and DWW resources to California's system of support for low-performing schools.

Part of a U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences (IES) initiative to bring evidence to practice, the event was designed to deepen participants’ understanding of how to recognize and apply good research evidence to improve persistently low-performing schools. It featured Turning Around Chronically Low-Performing Schools, one in a series of research-based practice guides published by IES, as well as related resources from its Doing What Works website ( Participants heard about and discussed how to apply research findings and website resources to state systems of support.


Three presentations throughout the morning provided participants with information about IES-sponsored research and resources targeted to improving student outcomes in chronically low-performing schools.

Michael Ponza, senior fellow at Mathematica Policy Research and director of operations for the What Works Clearinghouse ( provided a brief introduction to IES practice guides.

Rebecca Herman, principal research scientist for American Institutes for Research (AIR) and panel chair for the featured practice guide, presented an overview of the four research-based practices recommended in Turning Around Chronically Low-Performing Schools:

  • Signal the need for dramatic change with strong leadership. 
  • Maintain a consistent focus on improving instruction. 
  • Make visible improvements early in the school turnaround process (quick wins). 
  • Build a committed staff. 

Nikola Filby, associate director of REL West at WestEd, provided an overview of the structure and content of the Doing What Works website ( Doing What Works provides resources that support the evidence-based recommendations contained in the WWC practice guides for educators at all levels of the system.

Interactive Session

Following the presentations, participants engaged in discussions at their tables, responding to two key questions regarding the presentations they had seen:

  • What are the implications for your own work?
  • What are the implications for the state system of support for low-performing schools?

Participants then came together to share what they had discussed, consider what they had learned, and plan next steps.

For additional details about the event, and summaries of discussion content, please see the attached proceedings document.

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