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Almost 50 Nevada Department of Education, district, and school administrators met to expand their knowledge and understanding of evidence-based strategies for turning around chronically low-performing schools. Sponsored by REL West, in partnership with the Southwest Comprehensive Center, the event focused on Nevada Title I schools in years 3 and beyond of program improvement.

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Kelly Gerstbacher


Turning Around Low-Performing Schools: Evidence-Based Practices

June 01, 2009

University of Nevada Las Vegas
Student Union Building
Las Vegas, Nevada

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.
  • Discuss and apply research findings and DWW resources to state, district, and school support systems and improvement plans.

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 evidence-based strategies 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 IES’s Doing What Works website ( In addition to learning about research findings and website resources, participants discussed ways to apply them to state, district, and school support systems and improvement plans.


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

Daniel Player, Mathematica Policy Research, 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.

Kathy St. Clair, assistant director of the Elementary and Secondary Education Division at the Nevada Department of Education, explained recent state legislation that changes how the state department of education will provide support for schools in years 3, 4, and 5 of program improvement (PI).

Interactive Sessions

Following the presentations, participants divided into four breakout sessions, each focusing on one of the four recommended practices through a jigsaw activity. Facilitated by an expert with extensive background and experience in the given topic, each group spent an hour in deeper study of a recommended practice, discussing its implications for participants’ own contexts, sharing barriers and solutions, and providing examples from school improvement efforts.

Following these breakout discussions, participants returned to their original home groups, shared what they had learned, and discussed ways they might apply the strategies to their own work, including what support would help a school leader to implement them and where that support might come from.

For the final activity of the day, participants met in role-alike groups (i.e., state department staff, district staff, and school administrators) to discuss and consider how to apply what they had learned, using the guiding questions below. Groups then shared key points of their discussion with the entire audience.

  • What are some specific take-aways or highlights from today’s presentations and activities that can assist in your work?
  • What are some roadblocks you discussed and what solutions did you share?
  • What are some specific next steps you can take to move toward using more evidence-based practices in your setting?
  • What recommendations do you have for strengthening state and/or district support for low-performing schools?

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

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