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Title I Focus Schools

2017-18 Focus Schools

What Being a Focus School Means to Me: Voices from Wisconsin

Selected video interviews with Focus Schools from the Fall 2014 Implementation and Innovation Conference


The United States Department of Education (ED) offered all states flexibility to waive elements of the accountability provisions in No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI), along with approximately 40 other state educational agencies, took this opportunity to design a new statewide system of accountability and support.

Wisconsin has raised expectations for its students and expects schools to graduate students ready for college and career. For information on these higher expectations, see the Higher Expectations Flyer. As such, schools, districts, and the state must have a better understanding of how students and schools perform, as well as better information to support instructional decisions in order to improve student and school outcomes. NCLB, a pass-fail system based solely on statewide standardized test scores, did not provide this information. Additionally, the universal sanctions applied to all low-performing schools did not support school or student improvement. The ESEA flexibility request enabled Wisconsin to design a system based on multiple measures aligned to college and career readiness to provide a more comprehensive, detailed understanding of student performance within and across schools.

Wisconsin identified 10 percent of Title I schools statewide which would benefit from additional training, professional development, and resources designed to improve student outcomes for a portion of their student population. The state identified Focus Schools based on:

  • The performance of student subgroups on state math or reading tests, or graduation rates, compared to student subgroups statewide.
  • OR if the school has large achievement gaps among its own student subgroups in math, reading, or graduation rates.

As a requirement of waiver submission and ED approval, states must identify Focus Schools, or ten percent of Title I schools contributing to the state achievement gap. This federal requirement will be an opportunity to address the large statewide achievement gap and ensure all students graduate college and career ready. 

Being identified as a Focus School does not mean that the school is performing poorly school-wide. It does mean that the school must focus on, or devote time and effort to, supporting subgroups of students. The subgroups of students may not be performing as well as other students in the school or in the state. Focus Schools may also have high rates of students who graduate and who do well on state math and reading tests. The goal is for Title I Focus Schools to establish building-wide systems of support that help all students achieve.

Focus Schools must implement state-supported reforms, many of which are underway in Wisconsin schools. Reforms include:

1. Implement Response to Intervention (RtI) with fidelity in reading and mathematics, including and addressing the following components:

  • Coordination of RtI Initiatives;
  • Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS);
  • Collaborative Planning Time;
  • Core Instruction and Interventions;
  • Professional Development; and
  • Early Warning Systems (middle and high schools only).

2. Report RtI implementation progress and student achievement data to DPI.

In order to assist Focus Schools and their districts in meeting these requirements, DPI is working closely with the Wisconsin RtI Center to provide professional development supports. Identified Focus Schools will partner with the Wisconsin RtI Center in order to access the professional development necessary to meet the above reform requirements.

Additionally, districts with one or more Focus Schools will have flexibility in the use of ESEA funds beginning in the 2012-13 school year to support implementation of the required reforms. This flexibility includes:

  • The option to transfer up to 100 percent of the district’s Title II funds into Title I;
  • The option to reserve up to 20 percent of the district’s Title I allocation to support Focus School(s); and
  • The option to convert a Title I Focus School to a schoolwide program even if the school’s poverty rate is under 40 percent.

For a list of further topics related to Focus Schools, see the FAQ page.

For a list of additional resources and supports for Focus Schools, please see the Resources page.


For questions about this information, contact Jessica Awe (608) 264-9324, Sharon Suchla (608) 266-3983, or Karen Rice (608) 267-1284