Over the last couple of years, students at most of the seven low-performing schools made strong progress, judging by their test scores.
Among other changes, Nancy Hicks, the principal at Ranson Middle School in Charlotte, decided to recruit five math teachers because "that program was really struggling." In the two years since, the school has significantly increased the number of students deemed proficient or above in math, from 39% in 2008 to 56% last year.
Also receiving attention for its striking gains is Maryville Middle School, south of Knoxville, Tenn.
On his own initiative, Principal Joel Giffin began using value-added data in the early 1990s to match teachers with the type of students with whom they had proved most effective in the past. For instance, teachers with a successful track record in raising the scores of remedial readers were assigned a classroom full of them, rather than to students with a wide assortment of abilities.
"Instead of randomly assigning kids, we'll place them where they have a better opportunity to be successful," said Giffin, who is now retired. Teachers liked it too, he said, because they were teaching to their strengths.
For a decade straight, Maryvillehad the greatest gains of any middle school in the state, with improvement far exceeding the national norm.
In Los Angeles, much-heralded turnaround efforts are under way at numerous campuses.
Fremont High School in South Los Angeles made its teachers reapply for their jobs and fewer than half were rehired. Management of 30 other schools was put up for bid last year, and the majority of successful bids were submitted by teacher groups. And in 2007, a nonprofit controlled by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa took over management of several of L.A. Unified's lowest-performing schools, betting new leadership could change their course.
None of these efforts, however, has been guided by value-added analysis. The district has long had the necessary data but only this year announced plans to analyze it.
Nevertheless, some educators at struggling schools have, without much fanfare or credit, reviewed test score data they do have to guide decisions leading to significant improvements, if not full-scale turnarounds.
When Veronica Aragon was appointed principal at Wilmington Middle School in 2006, she pushed the staff to look more closely at scores. She began a voluntary program of posting students' results during grade-level meetings.
"It was a little uncomfortable at first, but that level of transparency really helped," said Scott Paek, a math coach at the school. "We were able to see where we needed to improve and see how we could help each other."
Since 2006, the percentage of students proficient in math went from 21% to 32%, while in English it climbed from 19% to 31%.
Because the district hasn't used value-added, it seems to have taken little notice of some of its own success stories.
Park Avenue Elementary, a long-struggling school in Cudahy, had among the highest growth in math of any of the 470 elementary schools analyzed by The Times.
The key, according to school officials, was teaching the teachers.
The school hired veteran math coach Judy Sugimoto, who found a group of instructors eager to improve.
"They were teaching the old-fashioned way," Sugimoto said. "There wasn't much emphasis on helping students understand the logic."