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February 26, 2016
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JP O'Hare

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State Education Department Identifies 188 Priority Schools, 84 Focus Districts and 442 Focus Schools Under Federal Accountability Requirements; 70 Schools To Be Removed From Receivership Status At End Of 2015-2016 School Year

State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia today identified 84 school districts as Focus Districts that must develop comprehensive plans to support improvement efforts in identified Focus and Priority Schools. Among the 84 districts, 428 schools were identified as Focus Schools and 14 charter schools were identified as Focus Charter Schools. An additional 188 schools were identified as Priority Schools as a result of being among the lowest performing schools in the state and failing to demonstrate progress in ELA or math, combined, or because of their persistently low graduation rates; four charter schools were identified as Priority Charter Schools.

At the same time, 27 districts and 197 schools that were formerly identified as Focus have now been identified as being in Good Standing. In addition, 49 Priority Schools have been moved from Priority to Focus School designation, and 30 Priority Schools have been removed from Priority School status and have not been identified as Focus Schools.  Among those districts now in Good Standing is the Roosevelt School District on Long Island.

“We are encouraged by the large number of schools and districts whose hard work these past several years has resulted in improvements in their accountability status,” said Commissioner Elia.  “We are particularly pleased by the turnaround that has taken place in some of state’s schools that have been struggling for many years. But there remain far too many schools where far too many students are not achieving state standards.  We’re committed to working with these districts to improve the outcomes in their schools.”          

The action taken by the Commissioner today is in accordance with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waiver that New York received from the United States Department of Education (USDE) in June 2015.  New York State is required by its ESEA Waiver to identify new Priority Schools, Focus Districts and Focus Schools no later than March 1, 2016. The waiver remains in effect until the new accountability provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) take effect in the 2017-18 school year.

The 84 Focus Districts were identified because of their low performance and lack of progress in ELA and math, combined, or graduation rates for one of more accountability groups (racial/ethnic groups, low-income students, English language learners, and students with disabilities). Additionally, all districts with a Priority School were identified as Focus Districts. 

Schools in Focus Districts and charter schools that are among the lowest performing in the state for an accountability subgroup and that are not improving were identified as Focus Schools. There are 428 Focus Schools and 14 Focus Charter Schools.

Schools with a 2014-15 performance that places them among the lowest performing in the state for combined English language arts and mathematics performance index or graduation rates and that are not improving were identified as Priority Schools. This year, there are 188 Priority Schools including four Priority Charter Schools.

In total, 69 Priority Schools came off the Priority list this year: 20 are now in Good Standing and 49 have been moved to Focus status. In addition ten Priority Schools will cease to operate next year because of closure or merger with another school. As a consequence of not being re-identified as Priority Schools, 10 that had been among the state’s 21 Persistently Struggling Schools and 60 that had been among the state’s 124 Struggling Schools will be removed from Superintendent Receivership at the end of the 2015-16 School Year.  Struggling Schools were identified in July 2015 because they had been Priority Schools since the 2012-13 school year. Priority Schools that had been in the most severe accountability status since the 2006-07 school year as of July 2015 were identified as Persistently Struggling Schools.

Persistently Struggling and Struggling Schools are subject to the State’s receivership law. Under that law, a school receiver is granted authority to develop a school intervention plan; convert schools to community schools providing wrap-around services; expand the school day or school year; and remove staff and/or require staff to reapply for their jobs in collaboration with a staffing committee. During the 2015-16 school year, the superintendent of the school district serves as the receiver. 

For the 70 Persistently Struggling and Struggling Schools that have been removed from Priority School status this special authority of the superintendent will sunset on June 30, 2016.  Elia praised the efforts of those districts, but urged them to continue to work to improve their schools. The 11 Persistently Struggling Schools that remain identified as Priority must now show Demonstrable Improvement on 2015-16 school year accountability indicators or an independent receiver will be appointed to operate these schools. The 64 Struggling Schools that were re-identified as Priority must show Demonstrable Improvement by the end of the 2016-17 or an independent receiver will be appointed to operate these schools. Schools that will be removed from the Persistently Struggling Schools list in June 2016 will continue to be eligible to receive funding in 2016-17 from a state grant to support and strengthen their school improvement efforts.

For the complete list of Priority Schools and Focus Schools and Districts, please visit the following website:

Interventions for Focus Districts

Focus Districts must create and implement District Comprehensive Improvement Plans (DCIP) that outline how the district will use Federal ESEA funds, as well as other funds, to promote the academic achievement of the accountability groups identified within the district.  Each identified Title I Focus District and each newly identified Title I Priority and Focus School will receive an allocation of $25,000 to be used during the remainder of the 2015-16 school year to develop improvement strategies. Funds may be used for the following purposes: (1) participation in training for and implementation of diagnostic reviews, (2) development of required district and school improvement plans, (3) reviewing the qualifications of Priority and Focus School Leaders, and (4) supporting school improvement activities.  Additional funds will be made available in subsequent years to Title I Focus Districts and Title I Priority and Focus Schools to support implementation of the plans that they develop.

Each Focus District with Focus and Priority Schools will be required to participate in the Diagnostic Tool for School and District Effectiveness (DTSDE) process.  The DTSDE process assists the district and its schools in developing and implementing improvement plans based on six tenets of educational effectiveness. For more information on the DTSDE rubric and process, please visit:  

Focus Districts are required to offer Public School Choice (PSC) for all Title I schools designated as Priority or Focus Schools.  Districts must provide all enrolled students in these schools with the option to transfer to another public school within the district that is not a Priority or Focus School.  Parents must be notified of the PSC available options no later than 14 days before the start of the 2016-17 school year.

Interventions for Priority Schools

Newly identified Priority Schools are required to implement a whole school reform model by no later than the 2018-19 school year.  Districts may meet this requirement through implementation of a School Improvement Grant intervention model, a School Innovation Fund model, or through implementation of a Whole School Reform Model aligned to the United States Department of Education’s (USDE) Turnaround Principles.  More information regarding the requirements of these models can be found on the Office of School Innovation and Reform’s website at:

Interventions for Re-identified Focus and Priority Schools

Under New York’s USDE approved ESEA Flexibility Waiver and Commissioner’s Regulations, schools that were first identified as Focus or Priority in 2012 and then re-identified as Focus or Priority in February 2016 are subject to more rigorous interventions. Re-identified Priority Schools continue to be subject to the requirements of Receivership.

Re-identified Focus Schools must immediately begin planning for intensive implementation of at least one ESEA Flexibility Turnaround Principle (e.g., redesign the school day, week, or year; modify the instructional program to ensure it is research-based, rigorous, and aligned with State academic content standards; provide time for collaboration on the use of data) beginning no later than the 2016-17 school year.  Districts must complete a school leader checklist for the re-identified Focus School, if the principal has been leader of school for more than two full academic years, in order to determine whether the school leader should be provided additional professional development and/or mentoring or replaced. 


District & School Accountability Summary (Including Charters)

ESEA Waiver Category

Statewide, including NYC

NYC Only

Focus Districts



Focus Schools



Priority Schools



Total Focus and Priority Schools



* Note: the New York City School District is one of the 84 districts that have been identified as a Focus District.  Under the ESEA waiver, each of the 32 community school districts is then analyzed to determine whether it will be subject to the Focus District requirements.  All community school districts, except for Community School District 6 (Manhattan) were determined to be subject to Focus District requirements. The “NYC only” column includes public schools as well as 12 Focus Charter Schools and one Priority Charter School located in NYC.

Additional Information

For more information on the methodology used to identify Focus Districts, Focus Schools, Priority Schools, and Reward Schools, please visit:

For more information on the requirements for Focus Districts, Focus Schools, Priority Schools and the resources available to them, please visit:

For more information on the District Comprehensive Improvement Plan or the Comprehensive Education Plan, please visit: .