Making School Improvement Part of Daily Practice by gdf57j


									Making School
Part of Daily
Making School Improvement
Part of Daily Practice

Frank D. Barnes
Senior Associate
Annenberg Institute for School Reform
at Brown University
April 2004

Part I. The School-Improvement Guide
2    Introduction to School Improvement
     Provides an overview of school improvement and a framework for a school self-study
     process using a cycle of inquiry and action.

5    Getting Started
     Outlines preliminary tasks and commitments to begin a school-improvement effort.

9    Using Standards of Practice
     Explains the importance of using mutually agreed-upon, appropriate, and quantifiable
     standards of practice to answer the question: “How good is our school?”

14   Putting a Self-Study Cycle into Practice
     Describes how a school can examine its own operation and performance by collecting,
     analyzing, and acting on information.
        14...identify desired student-achievement outcomes
        14...develop essential question(s)
        15...identify, collect, and organize relevant data
        16...analyze data
        17...choose and implement actions
        21...evaluate impact on practice and outcomes
22   Appendix A
     The Abigail Francis Middle School: An Illustration of the Self-Study Cycle in Practice
     Shows how a school team identifies and researches a critical issue through a narrative about
     the Abigail Francis Middle School (a fictitious school that combines the characteristics and
     experiences of a number of actual schools), in which a school-improvement team wrestles
     with the problem of students’ difficulty acquiring high levels of literacy.

29 Appendix B: Creating a School Portfolio
     Answers the questions: What is a school portfolio? How are school portfolios used? How is
     a portfolio created?

33   Appendix C: Preparing to Host an External Review
     Outlines steps that a school preparing to host an external review visit might consider,
     including general logistics, preparation, and presentation of school information collected
     through a self-study.

35   Appendix D: School Inquiry Process Map
     Helps a school create a timeline for completing tasks in an integrated school-improvement
     37 Glossary
     38 Resources
             38...guides and workbooks
    consulted in the creation of this guide
             41...web resources

     Part II. Worksheets
                  for Use with the School-Improvement Guide
     Contains worksheet templates and samples to help a school carry out some of the school-
     improvement tasks described in Part I: The School-Improvement Guide.

     45 Introduction to Using the Worksheets
     46 Worksheet 1: Generating Your Essential Question(s)
     48 Worksheet 2: Connecting Your Essential Question(s) to Data
     50 Worksheet 3: Schoolwide Data Mapping
     52 Worksheet 4: Disaggregating the Data
     54 Worksheet 5: Drawing Conclusions
     56 Worksheet 6: Examining Self-Study Conclusions
     58 Worksheet 7: Four Quadrants for Action

     Part III. Rubrics and Standards of Practice
                   for Use with the School-Improvement Guide
     Contains rubrics used in Boston and San Diego that a school can adapt to its own school-
     improvement efforts; describes a set of standards of practice formerly used by Chicago
     Public Schools (complete standards are available on the Annenberg Institute Web site at

     62 Boston Public Schools
     72 San Diego City Schools
     88 Boston Pilot Schools
     101 Chicago Public Schools

ii   Contents
Getting Good at School Improvement

A    ccording to a piece of lore that has cir-
     culated among British school reformers,
you only have to address the weakest 10
                                                  The intent of the approach outlined here is
                                                  to build the trust and ownership that we
                                                  have learned are the bedrock for school
percent of an area’s schools each year to         improvement and to provide practical infor-
make noticeable improvements. The good            mation and tools to help schools identify
news in this philosophy is that you do not        and carry out the tasks that support continu-
have to take on everything at once. The bad       ous improvement.
news is that improvement never ends.                   Many districts and states now provide
    In our nation’s current environment, it       their schools with established improvement
is no longer acceptable that a great number       processes. This publication is intended to
of schools routinely fail to educate all their    complement those materials, not replace
students well – especially urban schools          them. It can be used by state or district
serving largely minority and disadvantaged        administrators seeking to apply a consistent
students. Furthermore, even the highest-          and effective approach to continuous
ranked schools will always need improve-          improvement in all their schools. It can also
ment, because the conditions under which          be used by school-level administrators or
adults educate, and children learn, are           other stakeholders, either to help address
always changing. We set standards that raise      state or district requirements for improve-
our expectations for all children; computers      ment or to initiate their own improvement
make it possible for children with disabilities   process.
to better demonstrate what they learn;                 We have organized Inquiry and Action:
school finance laws change; Congress passes        Making School Improvement Part of Daily
new regulations on the sweeping scale of          Practice into three parts. Part I is the
No Child Left Behind; we learn ways to            School-Improvement Guide. Parts II and
deliver ever greater supports for disadvan-       III contain tools – worksheets, templates,
taged students. The work of improvement is        and rubrics – to use with the Guide. You
always with us.                                   will find more resources on the Web at
    Improvement matters. It affects the lives     <>, includ-
of children. It is vital to “get good at it.”     ing a list of publications and a database of
Improvement must become a permanent               school-improvement tools organized into
part of school practice, not a one-time or        major categories, such as school climate and
occasional event.                                 safety, student performance, professional
    This publication is intended to help          development, and leadership. Each category
schools or school-improvement teams               contains a wide range of tried-and-true tools
develop the habits of collaboration, discus-      – guides for focus group discussions, inter-
sion, inquiry, and decision making that are       views, surveys, and more – that have been
necessary for ongoing improvement through         used effectively in school settings by school
a permanent cycle of inquiry and action.          reform organizations across the United
                                                  States, Canada, and Europe. A team of
                                                  reviewers with extensive experience in class-

                    rooms and schools made sure that only
                    practical, clear, and productive tools were
                         We hope that you find this publication
                    and its associated tools useful. We especially
                    hope that it supports you in creating the
                    habits of reflection, inquiry, and action that
                    fuel continuous school improvement. We
                    wish you and your students great rewards
                    for the challenging work you are about to

                    Dennie Palmer Wolf
                    Director, Opportunity and Accountability
                    Annenberg Institute for School Reform

iv   P re f a c e

T    his guide is the result of numerous peo-
     ple’s time, talent, and expertise, without
which I could not have completed this proj-
                                                  Public Schools, Catalpa Inc., and the New
                                                  England Association of Schools and Col-
                                                  leges, each of whom allowed me access to
ect. First, I would like to acknowledge the       their experience and wisdom to build on the
extraordinary contributions of Dennie             foundations of their previous works.
Palmer Wolf, Peg Votta, and Margaret                  Lastly, I would like to thank and
Balch-Gonzalez. Each of them, at some             acknowledge Warren Simmons and Peggy
point during the writing process, took own-       MacMullen, whose initial guidance, direc-
ership of this document and added value to        tion, and inspiration gave this piece shape
it. They are fine colleagues and consummate        and life. There is so much power in the
professionals. I would like to acknowledge        words we speak, and when they are used
the efforts of Susan Fisher and Haewon            well, they can have an impact beyond their
Kim, who worked arduously to bring out            boundaries. You both said exactly what I
the best of what so many people helped cre-       needed to hear.
ate. They are indispensable.
     Many people reviewed and offered feed-
back on various iterations of this guide –        Frank D. Barnes
Kenneth Bailey, Kothyn Alexander, Traci           Senior Associate
Teasley, Maryellen Donahue, Karen Volz            Annenberg Institute for School Reform
Bachofer, Kate Nolan, Peggy MacMullen,
Marla Ucelli, Debi King, Sanjiv Rao, David
Smith, Mary Neuman, Warren Simmons,
Mike Grady, Cerrone Berkeley Daly, David
Abbott, Barbara Cervone, Don Glass, Rob
O’Donnell, and Rebecca Ostro. I would like
to thank each of them for their time, can-
dor, caring, and honesty. I am indebted to
them all.
     Not to be overlooked is the support I
received from Nicole McGhee and Tyanne
Carter. Their work behind the scenes track-
ing down information, organizing drafts,
and translating the various rubrics into elec-
tronic form was invaluable. I must thank
them for taking care of the details that, if
left unattended, could have upended this
project. They stood in the gap.
     I would like to thank the many people I
worked with at Boston Public Schools, the
Center for Collaborative Education–Metro
Boston, San Diego City Schools, Chicago

part i

The School-
                           Introduction to School                                          A school self-study cycle, led by a school-
                                                                                      improvement team composed of people
                           Improvement                                                within the school who conduct an internal
                                                                                      review through a cycle of inquiry and action,

                           T   he term school improvement1 refers to the
                               process of altering specific practices and
                           policies in order to improve teaching and
                                                                                      is a crucial part of the response to these
                                                                                      growing accountability requirements. The
                                                                                      conclusions of the self-study can inform
                           learning. There are three driving ideas                    both the school community itself and exter-
                           behind the process:                                        nal audiences, such as the school board or
                           • Agency. This is the notion that a school                 superintendent, about where the greatest
                             community (administrators, teachers,                     challenges lie and what specific kinds of help
                             family members, and students) can col-                   the school community believes it needs. By
                             lect, analyze, and act on information to                 conducting a self-study, a school can
                             reorganize and redistribute their human,                 become an active partner in the school
                             social, fiscal, and technical resources in                accountability process.
                             order to improve student achievement
                             continually.                                             School Improvement Today:
                           • A community of adult learners. It is                     A Structural Feature of School
                             important to build a community of adult                  Systems
                             learners who share a common interest in                  Why is there so much current emphasis
                             creating a stronger school. Because of the               on school improvement? Haven’t schools
                             emphasis on the whole school, a review or                always wanted to improve? The answer to
                             self-study does not target any individual                these questions is that, in today’s context of
                             or single classroom within the building.                 increased accountability, school improve-
                             Rather, it targets how to improve current                ment is here to stay. School improvement is
                             practices and policies that stand in the                 firmly embedded in district and state plan-
                             way of student learning.                                 ning and accountability structures. Federal
                           • Continuous professional inquiry. This                    mandates have intensified these accountabil-
                             is the curiosity and will of individuals                 ity challenges at an unprecedented level
                             and groups as a whole to ask about the                   with external testing directives and conse-
                             strengths and weaknesses of current prac-                quences for low performance. In this atmos-
                             tices and policies, to act, and then to                  phere of high demands and little time,
                             monitor the effects of those actions.                    schools are increasingly under pressure to
                                Across the country schools and school                 improve – and to do so quickly.
                           districts have increasingly begun to hold                       This section describes some of the ways
                           themselves accountable for school improve-                 in which the school-improvement process has
                           ment by internally reviewing their practices               become an integral and necessary part of
                           and policies. In some districts and states,                school and system reform.
                           district central offices and state departments
                           of education have combined school-
                           conducted internal reviews with external
                           reviews as a way of asking administrators,
                           faculty, and staff to “account” for their prac-
                           tice and its impact on student achievement.

                           Terms in italics are defined in the Glossary on page 37.

2   I n q u i ry and Action: s c h o o l - i m p r o v e m e n t g u i d e
Standards-Based Reform and No                             Some states or districts also require
                                                                                                                   For more on what
Child Left Behind                                     school self-study processes as part of a
                                                                                                                   a school needs to do
                                                      school-improvement plan.
With passage of the No Child Left Behind                                                                           if the improvement
Act of 2001, schools, districts, and state                                                                         process includes an
                                                      Charter Schools
departments of education will be held                                                                              external visit, see
                                                      More and more states across the country                      Appendix C: Preparing
increasingly accountable for student aca-
                                                      are providing funding for charter schools,                   to Host an External
demic performance, as measured against
                                                      and those that already support charters                      Review.
explicit standards. Schools must raise student
                                                      are expanding implementation. For these
achievement overall, while reducing the gap
                                                      schools, a school-improvement process can
between current achievement levels and
                                                      provide a method for internal examination
existing state-level expectations of student
                                                      and continuous improvement, as well as a
achievement. They are also expected to
                                                      process for articulating the practices a com-
close the gaps in achievement between
                                                      munity desires a school to adopt. Moreover,
groups of students based on income, race,
                                                      when the process is designed correctly,
gender, native language, and disability.
                                                      school improvement lends itself to commu-
Schools, districts, and states that are unable
                                                      nity input – a mandated element of all char-
to exhibit annual progress in reducing these
                                                      ter legislation.
gaps risk a range of potential interventions
and consequences.                                     ESEA Funding to States for Effective
    This layer of federal intervention is             Comprehensive Reforms
forcing many schools to reexamine what
                                                      Under the Elementary and Secondary Edu-
they teach and how they teach in order to
                                                      cation Act, states may apply for money to
meet changes in expectations. The self-
                                                      fund the implementation of comprehensive
study cycle for school improvement can help
                                                      school reforms, based upon scientifically
schools look deeply at what they teach, how
                                                      conducted research and effective practices,
they teach, how they allocate resources, and
                                                      including an emphasis on basic academics
how they structure the use of professional
                                                      and parental involvement so that all children
development – all in the context of meeting
                                                      can meet challenging state academic-
new standards and adapting to changing
                                                      content and academic-achievement stan-
                                                      dards. A self-study process can help schools
Mandated Internal Reviews for                         assess their needs and inform the selection
Accreditation or Other External                       of a research-based model that is most
Requirements                                          appropriate for its conditions and interests.
                                                      Additionally, as schools and districts embrace
There are six accrediting associations across
                                                      these models, school-improvement pro c e s s e s
the country that require an internal review,
or self-study, by the school itself in addition
to an external review visit to catalyze school
improvement. Though accreditation
requirements differ from region to region,        2
                                                      For instance, the Commission on Public Secondary
adoption of a school-improvement process              Schools of the New England Association of Schools and
can assist in preparation for an accreditation        Colleges (NEASC) requires an internal review as part of
review.2                                              its accreditation process for secondary schools within its
                                                      geographic jurisdiction (Maine, Vermont, New Hamp-
                                                      shire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island).

                                                                         Making School Improvement Part of Daily Practice              3
                              can help schools implement and integrate a          nurturing a culture of inquiry, a school
Continuous improve-
                              model into daily practices, understand where        can embed its philosophy and mission in
ment relies on the effec-
                              and why change is stalled, or check curre n t       its school-improvement efforts. Figure 1
tive use of data. The
Annenberg Institute’s         status of these programs.                           depicts a School Self-Study Cycle – a
Tools for School-                                                                 process for building continual improvement
Improvement Planning          The Self-Study Cycle: A Philosophy                  into the structure of a school.
Web site offers a wide        of Continuous Improvement                                This process has the potential (New
variety of tools for col-                                                         York State Education Dept. 1996) to
                              If you awoke one day and found your living
lecting, analyzing, and                                                           • place an emphasis on teaching and
using data. You can           room three inches deep in water, you
                              wouldn’t ignore the flood and move the                 learning;
access the tools and
other helpful resources       couch to the second floor. You would look            • build a collaborative professional
at <www.annenberg             for the source of the leak, define the extent          community; and>.         of the damage, and contemplate remedies.            • acknowledge the power and importance
                              The same can be said about genuine school             of the individuals who educate our
                              improvement. Schools don’t get repaired               children.
                              unless questions are raised by those who
                                                                                       This guide was designed with the expec-
                              know the school best. By creating and
                                                                                  tation that many schools have been provided
                                                                                  with their own materials to help them
                                                                                  maneuver through a school-improvement
                                                                                  process. The Guide and its associated tools
                                      Identify Desired                            can supplement materials provided to you
                                   Student-Achievement                            by your district central office or state
                                         Outcomes                                 department of education.
                                                                                       The tasks described in this guide have
                                                                                  been placed in an order that may be helpful
                                                                                  for those who are “starting from scratch.”
                                                                                  Few schools start from scratch, however, so
                                   A SCHOOL                                       use the parts of the Guide that best fit your
                                  SELF-STUDY                                      needs, recognizing that the order need not
                                                                                  be regimented. Also, recognize that some
                                     CYCLE                                        tasks may need to be repeated as your needs
                                                                                  and conclusions dictate.
                                                                                       Many school-improvement teams
                                                                                  will tell you that the tasks overlap, vary
                                                                                  in degree of importance, and differ in the
                                       Analyze Data
                                                                                  challenges that they represent for specific
                                                                                  school communities. To illustrate this
                                                                                  process, in Appendix A we have provided a
                        Figure 1. A school self-study cycle                       case study of a fictitious middle school,
                                                                                  based on a composite of several real middle
                                                                                  schools, in which a team from the school
                                                                                  puzzles out how to address the low literacy
                                                                                  skills of its students.

4        I n q u i ry and Action: s c h o o l - i m p r o v e m e n t g u i d e
Getting Started
                                                     using existing structures
S   chool improvement is a lot of work. It
    requires that several key conditions be
in place to succeed:
                                                     A new team doesn’t always need to be created. There may already
                                                     be a team of staff and faculty involved in existing reform efforts at
• Leadership. Support from school leader-            the school who act as or could become a school-improvement
  ship affirming the value of the work of an          team. The important aspects of an SIT are: the members can meet
  internal school-improvement team, pro-             together regularly; they’re able to fulfill the roles and responsibilities
  viding the resources required to help the          of an SIT; they have the respect of the school community; and they
  team be successful, and encouraging                have the characteristics noted in this section for an effective team.
  cooperation between the school-improve-
  ment team and the larger school commu-
  nity are essential.
• Time. This type of inquiry takes time. For
  a school-improvement team this means           The School-Improvement Team
  time to meet, plan, and coordinate their       The way to start a school-improvement
  work. For the school as a whole this           process is to create a school-improvement
  means time to collect, organize, and ana-      team (s i t ). The s it is a group of people
  lyze the data and to discuss action steps      who work together to develop, lead, and
  and alternatives. Any of these may call for    coordinate the school-improvement process.
  common planning time (as offered to                In addition to playing a major role in
  many teachers in block scheduling), use of     improving the school, s it members have
  professional development opportunities,        often found participation in the team to
  after-school meetings, and/or retreats.        be a valuable professional development
• Skills. Several types of skills are required   opportunity.
  to conduct an inquiry process. These               Characteristics of an effective school-
  skills need be possessed only by a few         improvement team include:
  to build the skills of many or may be          • Small size. Groups of six to eight people
  obtained from outside the school building        are relative easy to convene and coordi-
  through local universities, community-           nate for regular meetings.
  based organizations, regional education        • Representative group. Different con-
  labs, or other technical assistance              stituencies from the school community,
  organizations.                                   including administrators, teachers, par-
• Will. This is a prerequisite. At the very        ents, and students, are represented.
  minimum, a handful of the faculty need         • Coordinated effort. The team works
  to see that examining and changing their         closely with the principal to make sure
  practice is a worthwhile task.                   the group holds regular meetings, that
                                                   tasks are assigned and completed, and
                                                   that progress is made toward established
                                                 • Commitment to the task. The school
                                                   demonstrates its commitment by provid-
                                                   ing time and resources (equipment, cleri-

                                                                 Making School Improvement Part of Daily Practice                 5
                               cal support, budget, etc.). The members          • hold regular meetings;
                               of the team should evidence a strong             • keep the s it active and focused;
                               commitment to the school-improvement
                                                                                • coordinate the activities of the team with
                               process, including the self-study.
                                                                                  the larger school-improvement agenda
                                 The team members decide who will take            as well as the district- and state-level
                            specific roles on the team and determine the           agendas.
                            responsibilities of each role. Ensuring that
                                                                                    SIT members are equally important to
                            everyone is clear about individual and collec-
                                                                                the team. Their responsibilities are to:
                            tive responsibilities will help the team to
                            function well.                                      • meet with other members of the school
                                 The SIT coordinator is usually a school          community to inform them of the self-
                            employee freed from other duties to fulfill            study and its objectives and processes;
                            the following responsibilities:                     • obtain the input of faculty and staff and
                            • assist with selection of the s it so                incorporate it into the self-study process;
                              that it is representative of the school com-      • collect data;
                              munity;                                           • meet regularly to discuss progress, make
                            • support the team members in their tasks             preliminary conclusions, and reflect on
                              and projects;                                       what data shows, as well as on the process
                            • work with administrators to obtain appro-           itself;
                              priate training and support for the team;         • assist with documentation and evaluation
                            • report progress of the team to the school           of the self-study;
                              community, including faculty and staff,           • assign and negotiate collection tasks
                              administration, parents, caregivers,                within the school community; for exam-
                              students;                                           ple, each member might take the lead on
                                                                                  a separate focus area or specific depart-
                                                                                  ments may be asked to collect data in
                                                                                  their area of the school (e.g., data on
                                                                                  math instruction).
    challenges and issues
                                                                                    The team should participate in an ori-
    Two strategies to increase commitment to the team and school
                                                                                entation that includes:
    improvement are to decrease the loads of those best suited to be
    on the change team and provide formal recognition of their                  • review of the current school-improvement
    efforts. Underscore repeatedly and through a variety of methods               strategy (theory of action), past efforts,
    that the team is working to improve the way the school operates,              and current assessment of student per-
    not target or assess individuals within the school.                           formance;
                                                                                • discussion of the pros and cons of team
                                                                                • development of ground rules of the
                                                                                  group, including how it will approach
                                                                                  tasks, make decisions, and hold each other

6      I n q u i ry and Action: s c h o o l - i m p r o v e m e n t g u i d e
Fostering Adult Learning and
Cooperation                                            resources on using protocols to
The primary role of the s it is to work with           foster cooperation
the members of the school community to
produce an in-depth picture of the many                • Sample protocols, or group norms for having structured con-
dimensions of school practice and a com-                 versations such as the ones described in this section, are avail-
mon awareness of the school’s strengths,                 able at <>, along with other
                                                         tools for school improvement.
needs, and challenges. Though many staff,
students, and parents may not need to par-             • The Annenberg Institute (2002) video package Looking at Teach-
ticipate in a self-study to come to an individ-          ing and Learning through Peer Observation describes and pro-
ual understanding of school practice, a com-             vides several protocol models for internal and external reviews.
mon understanding requires moving beyond               • Other processes for structured conversations are described and
personal perspectives to collectively con-               examined more deeply in two Annenberg Institute video pack-
struct an image of school practice.                      ages: Looking at Student Work: A Window into the Classroom and
     To achieve this will require learning               Critical Friends Groups in Action. Both show how the techniques
together through the collection, organiza-               described may be used to look at the most readily available
tion, and analysis of data to draw conclu-               form of information we have – student work.
sions about the school. The team must                  • For more models of protocols, see Allen & McDonald, n.d.;
model and assist with the adoption of a                  Dowd, n.d.; Cushman 1999 in Works Consulted in the Creation
process of communicating and cooperating                 of This Guide on p. 39–41.
– having conversations – with each other.
Such a process should be characterized by:
• thoughtful inquiry;
• active listening;
                                                  mation. This person or persons are often
• frequent reflection;                             referred to as the presenter(s). A structured
• honest and respectful dialogue;                 conversation takes place, commonly includ-
• use of data.                                    ing a part in which the presenter listens,
                                                  without making comments, to the other
     Some of these characteristics may be
                                                  participants, to encourage active listening
absent from current conversations between
                                                  rather than defensiveness. Usually the con-
faculty members, but may be cultivated by
                                                  versation concludes with a debrief, or evalua-
using a set of protocols, or group norms for
                                                  tion of the process itself.
discussion. Over the years many organiza-
                                                      The sidebar on the next page outlines,
tions and individuals have developed a num-
                                                  in brief, the process of using a protocol to
ber of protocols, or norms, to guide conver-
                                                  guide a discussion. It can be duplicated for
sations (see sidebar on this page).
                                                  use by your school-improvement team. The
     Though they vary, most protocols are
                                                  process overall usually lasts an hour.
led by a facilitator, who introduces the
                                                  Although prescriptive in places, the noted
objective of the discussion, reminds the
                                                  steps can build the culture of adult learning
group of any ground rules for the conversa-
                                                  and contribute to greater cooperation
tion, and asks everyone to briefly introduce
                                                  between colleagues.
themselves. An individual or a group of
individuals pose a question or present a
problem along with some background infor-

                                                                 Making School Improvement Part of Daily Practice            7
Sample Protocol to
Guide a Structured Conversation
A question, problem, or task is posed by                     Members discuss the object presented in the
a presenter.                                                 context of the question, problem, or task
The purpose of a question could be to evaluate an item,      posed.
practice, or set of information (How does this piece of      Based on what has been presented, seen, or experi-
work align to state standards?); to describe a situation     enced, members share their thoughts. In discussions, it
(What trends do we see in the attendance data we have        is essential that members place an emphasis is placed
for various groups of students, e.g., girls, 11th-graders,   on the positives (things they liked) before speaking
special education students); or to address a challenge       about things they’d change or question. The tendency
(How can professional development for literacy be            to criticize, although quite natural, prevents colleagues
offered during the school day, on a weekly basis?)           from sharing their thoughts or their work. The discus-
                                                             sion must be open and focused on the question or
An object for analysis is presented.
                                                             problem presented. At this time the presenter(s) are
This can be several items, a state standard, a piece of      asked to be silent, perhaps even pushing away from the
student work, a teacher assignment, the school weekly
                                                             table or circle. This silence forces the presenter(s) to lis-
schedule, student-attendance data, or survey results. It
                                                             ten carefully and prevents the desire to defend or
can consist of anything that requires examination as         explain. At this point, participants should direct their
part of a discussion.
                                                             comments to each other, not to the presenter(s). In fact,
Members become familiar with the object of                   the group should talk as if the presenter(s) aren’t there.
discussion.                                                  The presenter(s) reflect on the discussion.
The item to be discussed may be provided to people           After peers have an opportunity to converse, the pre-
before the meeting. It is also useful for time in the        senter(s) have an opportunity to speak. During this
meeting to be designated for team members to exam-           time the rest of the group is silent. This doesn’t have to
ine an object (or practice) to prepare to discuss it         be (and indeed shouldn’t be) a response to the previ-
thoughtfully, through a presentation, chance to read,        ous remarks, but a time to think aloud about the ques-
completion of an assignment given to students, or a          tion or problem presented based on the information
video viewing.                                               generated by the conversation. Once again, this is not a
Members ask clarifying questions.                            time to defend or explain, but a chance to struggle with
After the initial look, team members are given a chance      the question or problem the presenter(s) brought to the
to ask clarifying questions. These are questions con-
cerning “matters of fact” that help people understand        Members debrief the process.
what they’re looking at.                                     The conversation concludes with a debrief of the
                                                             process itself, so that future conversations may be
                                                             improved or enhanced.
     There are many ways for the s it to
develop collaborative learning among adults
                                                  Using Standards of
in the building. No matter how fostering          Practice
adult learning and collaboration is accom-
plished, however, it is a necessary starting
place if the school-improvement effort is to      W      hat do we mean by quality? How good
                                                         is good? What do we want to change,
                                                  and why? What will the school’s practice
rise above more limited strategic planning
processes and produce successful outcomes.        look like if these changes are made?
                                                       In preparation for making strategic
Obtaining Outside Assistance                      changes to a school, these definitions of
                                                  quality must be explicit and shared publicly.
Although many sites conduct school-               In some instances these criteria, or standards
improvement processes without external            of practice, will be predetermined and pre-
assistance, some have found it useful to have     sented to the school for translation and
outside help. In some sites it has proven         analysis. In other instances, a school will
useful to bring in external coaches. The          have to identify criteria for itself.
coach is someone familiar with school
improvement who is selected by the school
                                                  Understand the Importance of
to assist the school in its self-study and who
works closely with the s i t .
                                                  Standards of Practice
     The coach helps the s it develop a           During a school-improvement process,
work plan and a timeline for meetings and         faculty, staff, and other stakeholders will
deadlines and provides an important exter-        be charting a course of action for school
nal perspective on the overall self-study as it   improvement. Through the self-study
progresses. Such assistance can also be pro-      process, these team members will conclude
vided by various reform support organiza-         what school practice looks like and what it
tions such as (but not limited to) public edu-    ought to look like. Though staff may have
cation funds, regional education labs, uni-       worked with each other for a number of
versities, and education-focused nonprofits.       years, it is risky to assume that all agree on
                                                  what good school practice looks like. With
                                                  an increase in the diversity of perspectives
                                                  and interests that exists in many communi-
                                                  ties, it is equally daring to assume that fami-
                                                  lies, community members, or others may
                                                  share a single view of what good school
                                                  practice looks like. This image will be
                                                  shaped by opinions that are either explicitly
                                                  stated or implicit.
                                                       These opinions are often based on
                                                  assumptions and perceptions about things
                                                  such as:
                                                  • what the role of a teacher should be;
                                                  • what an “effective learning environment”
                                                    should look like;

                                                                 Making School Improvement Part of Daily Practice   9
                          • how students best learn;                          as part of the Performance Assessment in
                          • what the role of a student’s family mem-          Schools Systemwide (p a s s ) system. Those
                            bers or caregivers should be in the school.       eight areas are:
                              These silent, often unconsciously held          • Comprehensive Education Plan
                          opinions shape ideas about:                           Development
                          • how teachers should teach;                        • School Climate
                          • what teachers need to know and be able            • Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment
                            to do to be effective;                            • Staff Development
                          • what the purpose of schooling is;                 • Resources
                          • what expectations for students should be;         • Parent Involvement
                          • what general conclusions about school             • Support Services
                            practice can be drawn.                            • School Self-Evaluation
                              These biases are natural and expected.               These look quite different from Rhode
                          Standards of practice won’t change these            Island’s very broad focus areas that are a
                          views, but they do present a method for             component of the state’s School Account-
                          confronting biases. Although this process           ability for Learning and Teaching (s a l t )
                          may seem like a waste of time, if your stan-        system. These focus areas are:
                          dards of practice are clear, transparent, and
                                                                              • Student Learning
                          explicit, you have more concrete informa-
                          tion to explain and act on your conclusions         • Teaching
                          about the school. The presence of standards         • The School
                          of practice can facilitate this.                         And these differ even more from focus
                              Agreeing upon standards of practice and         areas that were part of the San Diego City
                          ways of measuring them through perform-             Schools Process for Accountability Review
                          ance indicators can help the s it make profes-      (p a r ), which consist of three questions (for
                          sional judgments about the quality of school        details of the p a r , see pages 72–87):
                                                                              • Why is school performance the way it is?
                                                                              • What is the whole picture? (Is there more
                          Choose Focus Areas
                                                                                to know about performance than the
                          To apply standards of practice in a self-             “first cut” indicates?)
                          study, the first task is to choose a set of focus
                                                                              • What is the school doing to enable stu-
                          areas in which to concentrate the inquiry.
                                                                                dents to make progress?
                          These focus areas are broad elements of
                          school operation that cut across all areas of
                          the school; that influence the effectiveness
                          of teaching and learning; and that schools
                          have some control over (HM Inspectors of
                          Schools 1996).
                               Across the country, focus areas
                          identified for and by schools vary. New York
                          City has identified eight focus areas, which
                          it calls “key elements” of exemplary schools,

10   I n q u i ry and Action: s c h o o l - i m p r o v e m e n t g u i d e
    Adopt or Develop Standards of                                  be understandable what the school is
    Practice                                                       expected to be able to do or exhibit.
                                                                   Moreover, standards should act as guides
    Standards of good practice should be                           to direct improvement efforts. Though
    decided upon for each focus area the school                    a school may not be able to pursue all
    has chosen, and performance indicators                         of the standards at the same time, each
    should be identified to measure the progress
                                                                   standard presents a clear objective for
    toward each standard of practice. The stan-
    dards of practice in each focus area should
                                                                 • Reflect a broad consensus. Consensus is a
    be chosen for their potential to create an
                                                                   conclusion reached in which no individual
    environment for all children to achieve high
                                                                   disagrees enough to block a decision.
                                                                   Such an agreement should be reached on
        Although each site’s focus areas differ,
                                                                   the standards so that there is a common
    applying standards of practice and choosing
                                                                   view of what is essential. This will require
    performance indicators to measure how well
                                                                   dialogue between multiple stakeholders.
    the school is achieving each standard should
    allow a closer look at the elements of an                    • Present definitions and/or descriptions.
    individual school relevant to the focus areas                  Standards should be complemented by
    and at how these elements support student                      performance indicators which show what
    achievement.                                                   a particular practice or behavior looks
        Good standards of practice should: 3
    • Establish high standards. Each standard
      should create high expectations of prac-
      tice for the school. This may require
      looking beyond what currently occurs to                         some important terms
      what is essential to help support effective
      teaching and learning.                                          • Focus areas: broad elements of school operation that influence the
                                                                        effectiveness of teaching and learning; and that schools have some
    • Emphasize what is important. Among the                            control (e.g., mission and vision, professional development, etc.).
      many recommendations for standards of
                                                                      • Standards of practice: a model of good school practice to measure
      practice within a focus area, standards
                                                                        actual school practice against (e.g., effective instruction, equitable
      should concentrate on the most essential
                                                                        access and opportunity, etc.), chosen for each focus area. It is
      aspects of best practice. This emphasis
                                                                        against these standards that a school or a visiting external team may
      should “focus” the attention on practices                         assess school practice and policies to inform school improvement.
      that are hallmarks of a good school.
                                                                      • Performance indicators: (sometimes referred to as benchmarks): Dis-
    • Clearly and usefully articulate expectations.                     crete descriptions of best practice that measure to what extent a
      From reading each standard it should                              standard of practice has been achieved. These indicators articulate
                                                                        what achievement of a standard of practice looks like, providing a
                                                                        concrete way to answer the question “How good is this school?”
                                                                        (Definition adapted from HM Inspectors of Schools 1996)
    This description is based in part on the criteria for good
    content or performance standards stated by New Stan-              • Rubric: a scale that provides descriptions of performance in an area
    dards (New Standards 1997).                                         from strongest or most desired to weakest or unacceptable to guide
                                                                        the measurement of the performance indicators.

                                                                                 Making School Improvement Part of Daily Practice                11
                                                                                         like. For example, what does a profes-
                                                                                         sional development plan that is informed
     resources and tools for                                                             by data on student learning needs gener-
     school improvement                                                                  ally look like? Each performance indica-
                                                                                         tor may be accompanied by a rubric – a
     • The Resources section on pages 38–42 of the School-Improvement
       Guide describes a number of guides and workbooks that contain                     scale that concretely describes what dif-
       useful tools for school improvement.                                              ferent levels of performance look like.

     • Part II (Worksheets) on pages 43–59 and Part III (Rubrics and                       There is a rich variety of models avail-
       Standards of Practice) on pages 61–101 of Inquiry and Action con-              able of standards of practice, performance
       tain sample tools and templates that are designed to be used with              indicators, and rubrics that have been used
       the Guide.                                                                     around the country and discussed in recent
                                                                                      research literature, within a variety of focus
     • You will also find useful publications and an on-line database of
                                                                                      areas (e.g., professional development).
       tools for school improvement, organized by categories, on the
                                                                                           These models differ in their scope
       Annenberg Institute Web site at <
                                                                                      and approach; just as practitioners and
                                                                                      researchers don’t always agree on best prac-
                                                                                      tices (e.g., phonics versus whole language),
                                                                                      policy-makers don’t all agree on what will
                                                                                      bring about academic success for all stu-
                                                                                      dents. Different states and districts identify
                                                                                      different focus areas. Sometimes only indi-
                                                                                      cators are provided, and in other cases only
                                                                                      standards are outlined. Some standards or
                                                                                      indicators may ask for a single item to show
                                                                                      you’ve achieved best practice in an area.
                                                                                      Other standards or indicators are made
                                                                                      up of several distinct parts that will require
                                                                                      several kinds of data to demonstrate best
                                                                                      practice. 4
                                                                                           Examining different tools and choosing
                                                                                      the most appropriate ones are important
                                                                                      parts of any self-study cycle. For more
                                                                                      information on available tools and models,
                                                                                      see the sidebar Resources and Tools for
                                                                                      School Improvement on this page.

                                                                                      In those sites in which the district or state requires a
                                                                                      self-study as part of a school-improvement process,
                                                                                      expectations also vary about when best practice must be
                                                                                      demonstrated. Sometimes it is not expected in the first
                                                                                      year of review, but rather three to five years after the ini-
                                                                                      tial (baseline) review. These expectations should be clari-
                                                                                      fied as the school self-study cycle is begun.

12       I n q u i ry and Action: s c h o o l - i m p r o v e m e n t g u i d e
Using Standards of Practice in Boston
As part of Boston’s effort       FOCUS AREAS
to bring about school          In Boston, schools and reviewers use          Boston’s “Six Essentials”:
improvement across the         six focus areas based on the district’s         I. Schoolwide Instructional Focus
district, schools undergo      “six essential” practices to achieve           II. Looking at Student Work and Data
                               school improvement. The six areas             III. Professional Development Plan
an in-depth review every       encourage classroom practices that
four years, based on the                                                     IV. Learning and Using Best Teaching Practices
                               support high student achievement.
                                                                              V. Aligning Resources with Instructional Focus
district’s six focus areas                                                   VI. Involvement of Parents and Community
(which they call “essentials
for school improvement”).        STANDARDS OF PRACTICE
     The table to the          Standards of practice are criteria by         Standards of practice for Focus Area IV:
right shows how one of         which focus areas are judged. Looking         Learning and Using Best Teaching Practices:
                               at focus area IV: Learning and Using          • Effective Instruction
Boston’s standards of          Best Teaching Practices, we see six           • Academic Rigor
practice (Effective Instruc-   standards.                                    • Access and Opportunity
tion) in the focus area on                                                   • High Standards
Learning and Using Best                                                      • Coherence
Teaching Practices is                                                        • Structure to Support Learning
defined by specific per-         PERFORMANCE INDICATORS (OR BENCHMARKS)
formance indicators and
                               Performance indicators constitute a           Indicators of best practice in effective instruction:
measured by a four-level       best practice in a standard. The per-         • the presence and/or articulation of an empirically
rubric.                        formance indicator of best teaching             or conceptually strong theory of teaching
     Complete rubrics for      practice, effective instruction, is identi-
                                                                             • use of a designated theory of teaching through-
                               fied by the observation of two items.
the six “essentials” are                                                       out the faculty
presented in Part III,
                                 RUBRICS (LEVELS OF MEASUREMENT)
Rubrics and Standards of
                               The presence or quality of a perform-         4   Demonstrating Effectiveness
Practice, pages 62–71.
                               ance indicator may be assessed                3   Operational
                               against a number of levels of perform-        2   Emerging
                               ance. This may range from numerical
                               rankings to a developmental scale             1   Readiness
                               adjusted over time. In Boston, each
                               indicator can be assessed against four
                               levels of attainment.

                                 ILLUSTRATIONS OF EACH LEVEL OF THE RUBRIC
                               Rubrics are often illustrated to indi-        In Boston the rubrics describe each performance
                               cate what good, average, or poor              indicator at four levels. This is an illustration of a
                               performance looks like for each per-          Level 4 and a Level 2 rating for each of the two
                               formance indicator.                           performance indicators for effective instruction.
                                                                             4: Effective instructional practices are modeled
                                                                                by the vast majority of the school staff.
                                                                             2: Effective instructional practices are modeled
                                                                                by some of the staff and there is evidence that
                                                                                the school is working towards schoolwide
                                                                                implementation of effective practices.
                                                                             4: There is an empirically or conceptually defen-
                                                                                sible theory of teaching and instructional prac-
                                                                                tice that is clearly described and supports the
                                                                                school’s academic goals for all students.
                                                                             2: There is evidence that the school is working
                                                                                toward a theory of teaching and instructional
                                                                                practice that is clearly described and supports
                                                                                the school’s academic goals.
                              Putting a Self-Study                                for data collection and analysis will vary
                                                                                  from school to school. Once these are in
                              Cycle into Practice                                 place, however, the basic tasks depicted in
                                                                                  Figure 1 (A School Self-Study Cycle) are

                              A    self-study, in which a school examines
                                   its own operation and performance by
                              collecting and analyzing data, is driven by
                                                                                  similar from one self-study process to
                                                                                  another. This section describes these tasks
                                                                                  in greater detail. To help you carry out these
                              the overall question: “How good is our              tasks, we have included a set of worksheets in
                              school?” Whoever is asking the question –           P a rt II of I n q u i ry and Action, pages 43 to 5 9.
                              students, teachers, parents, the business
                              community, or the local board of education          Identify Desired Student-
                              – wants to know how good the local schools          Achievement Outcomes
                              are. A self-study provides an entry point to
                              looking at how each aspect of school opera-         All inquiries should be tied to student-
                              tion supports or improves teaching and              achievement goals. Identify goals for student
                              learning. In this section we will outline how       achievement relevant to the focus areas you
                              a school can answer the question of how             have chosen.
                              good the school is through self-study.                   In most sites, student-achievement
                                   The entire school community is                 goals are determined for the school by the
                              involved in an effective effort to improve a        district or the state. If not, set short- and
                              school. It is the role of the school-improve-       long-term student-achievement goals that
                              ment team, in coordination with the princi-         will act as measures of success of your
                              pal and senior staff, to delegate and negoti-       school-improvement efforts.
                              ate staff involvement in the self-study
                              process.                                            Develop Essential Question(s)
                                   Focus areas, standards of practice, per-       Start this part of your self-study with essen-
                              formance indicators, rubrics, and procedures        tial questions about the school, brainstorming
                                                                                  a list of issues you wonder about. For exam-
                                                                                  ple, what do you want to know about how
                                                                                  the budget is appropriated? How does your
     school self-study, teacher                                                   curriculum compare to the state’s standards
                                                                                  for learning? Be specific in your questions
     research, and classroom inquiry                                              and concerns.
     The passion that drives many teachers’ research initiatives or class-             It is important that the essential ques-
     room inquiries is the desire to improve practice for the children            tions be informed by your school’s needs
     they teach daily. In a school self-study this same passion has to be         and relevant to the focus areas, standards of
     broadened to the entire school’s practice in service of the entire           practice, and student-achievement goals
     student body. A school self-study differs from teacher research in           chosen. You can have more than one ques-
     that it doesn’t attempt to learn about or identify any particular            tion, but the more essential questions you
     teacher. Although teacher research and classroom inquires are                pursue, the more people you will need to
     important parts of professional environments, the self-study must            gather data in response to those questions.
     stay focused on the larger school inquiry strategy. For school self-         Be aware that if you have selected more
     studies, we want teachers’ passions, skills, and questions to be             than one inquiry question, you need to link
     directed toward the school’s inquiry.
                                                                                  them to appropriate focus areas and stan-
                                                                                  dards of practice for each of the questions.
                                                                                       After refining your question or ques-
                                                                                  tions, assign them to the focus areas and
                                                                                  standards of practice to which they apply.

14       I n q u i ry and Action: s c h o o l - i m p r o v e m e n t g u i d e
Note the essential question(s) you decide
to use for your self-study on Worksheet 1:           what is an essential question?
Generating Your Essential Question(s).
                                                     An essential question is the engine of an inquiry process. It is a
Identify, Collect, and Organize                      question about crucial aspects of the school, as identified in the
                                                     school’s chosen focus areas that, if answered, will inform actions
Relevant Data                                        that can substantially close the gap between student-achievement
What data already exists in the building that        goals and current student-achievement levels. Defining an essen-
can respond to your essential question(s)?           tial question is not a perfect science, so it may require revision and
Examples may include lesson plans, student           alteration as you go.
work, test scores, attendance records,               Characteristics of a “good” essential question:
department budgets, teacher professional             • It identifies an issue that relates directly or closely to improving
development plans, suspension rate statis-             teaching and learning.
tics, etc. For each essential question being         • It identifies a topic that most stakeholders agree needs to be
considered:                                            addressed.
• State your hunches about what the answer           • It can be used to direct an inquiry that includes data collection
  may be.                                              that will provide meaningful information for adjusting the work
• Identify data you think will support your            of the school.
  hunch.                                             Signs that the question is not an essential question:
• Identify data that may challenge you               • You already know the answer.
  hunch.                                             • You cannot relate the question to teaching and learning.
• Determine the additional data you need             • Few stakeholders agree that the question needs to be investi-
  to collect to gain better insight.                   gated.
                                                     • It cannot direct an inquiry process.
    Worksheet 2: Connecting Your Essential
                                                     • It cannot lead to data collection.
Question(s) to Data may be used for these
                                                     • Answering it has no implications on your school’s practice or
tasks. Based on the data that may support or
                                                       day-to-day operations.
challenge your essential question, identify
the types of data you have at your school.           For instance, a school in which the student population has shifted
Based on your additional data needs, name            to include many students who are learning English might ask: Is
the other types of data you will need to             our instruction currently successful or unsuccessful for English-
complement what already exists. For this             language learners? The intent of the question may be double:
task, you can use Worksheet 3: Schoolwide            • to address the needs of English-language learners
Data Mapping. Examples of types of data              • to initiate a process for addressing the specific needs of different
may include teacher opinions collected via             populations of students
interviews or surveys, student experiences
and perspectives collected through student
shadowing, or classroom practices used
throughout the school as seen through peer      • technical information: personal insights
observations. From your data mapping              and experiences
effort, develop a data-collection strategy
                                                • cognitive information: assumptions,
that is manageable and possible within the
                                                  beliefs, perceptions (hunches), and mental
time you have been allotted.
    Data are pieces of information that will
help you reach a conclusion about your          • symbols: facts, figures, records, and
school. Choo (1998) identifies five types of        statistics
data (information) which may be useful:

                                                                Making School Improvement Part of Daily Practice              15
                              • physical objects/inputs: equipment, finan-         Analyze Data
                                cial resources, human resources, models
                                                                                  Once the data is collected and organized,
                                (such as reform models being used)
                                                                                  analyze the data, looking for information
                              • rules: routines, policies, and operating          that answers your essential questions about
                                procedures                                        the quality of practice within each of
                                   Sources for the first two categories of         the focus areas you’ve chosen, and draw
                              data can be people in the school community          conclusions.
                              such as teachers, staff, community members,              Acknowledge the potential and limita-
                              parents, and students. Sources for the latter       tions of your information. Some data, due
                              three categories – the more traditional             to collection method, may be less valid and
                              forms of data – can be found in enrollment          reliable than other data. Be up-front about
                              records, attendance records, transcripts, stu-      these shortcomings, but do not simply disre-
                              dent work, standardized-test scores, guid-          gard certain sets of data due to perceptions
                              ance records, personnel evaluations, staff          of quality. You may record the above infor-
                              development activities, college entrance            mation on Worksheet 4: Disaggregating the
                              exam scores, and meeting agendas, to name           Data.
                              a few. These types of data may reveal what               Relate and compare multiple pieces of
                              and how students are doing, and what has            data to one another. See if they tell the same
                              or is being done to foster (or hinder) that         story. Look for trends. For example, what
                              achievement.                                        patterns seem to emerge when the data is
                                   Organize the data in such a way that it        looked at collectively? What do each of the
                              reveals what’s happening in your school. By         departments appear to be spending funds
                              disaggregating the data, or sorting data about      on? How do student standardized-test
                              a large group into meaningful subcategories,        scores compare to the quality of student
                              you can often uncover problems that have            work produced and teacher assignments
                              been hidden if data have always been aver-          given?
trends vs.
causality                     aged over the larger group. Categories that              When making conclusions, remember
                              may be informative are:                             that a conclusion is not a summary of the
To look for or identify                                                           data, but a statement about your school –
                              • grade level
trends is not to claim or                                                         a response to your essential question(s) –
seek causality (cause         • department
                                                                                  based upon an analysis of the data. A con-
and effect). However,         • program participation (for students               clusion may be written in a single sentence
trends may reveal               and/or teachers)
potential strategies for
                                                                                  or in several sentences. Tom Wilson, princi-
school improvement or
                              • gender                                            pal investigator of Catalpa Ltd. and one of
raise deeper questions        • race and ethnicity                                the crafters of Rhode Island’s s a l t Visit,
which themselves,             • year data was collected (if existing data         recommends (RI Dept. of Elementary and
when responded to with          was collected over multiple years)                Secondary Education 1999c) that conclu-
data, may indicate a                                                              sions be no longer than three sentences and
direction for strategic       • home language or first language spoken
                                                                                  that, once written, a conclusion should be
action.                       • years of attendance at school
                                                                                  • explicitly stated and supported with evidence.
                                                                                    All conclusions should be reached as a
                                                                                    result of data analysis. All sources of data
                                                                                    used to reach a conclusion should be
                                                                                    identified (e.g., classroom observations,

16       I n q u i ry and Action: s c h o o l - i m p r o v e m e n t g u i d e
  interviews, student work, etc.). Neither         Choose and Implement Actions
  assumptions nor hearsay should be taken
                                                   Once your school produces a set of                 your essential
  into consideration as evidence.                                                                     question(s)
                                                   conclusions in response to your essential
• reached through a deliberative process with      question(s), it is the responsibility of the       It’s easy to get
  colleagues. Collaboratively discuss trends       principal, the s i t , and the rest of the fac-    engrossed in examining
  and contradictions in the data, challeng-        ulty and staff to review the conclusions           the data and lose track
  ing conclusions when necessary. If the           and choose appropriate actions to improve          of what you’re looking
  group cannot agree on a conclusion in            school practice. Choosing appropriate              for. In order to be valu-
  light of the data present, consider not          actions is also part of the response if a          able to your school-
  accepting the conclusion. If your team           school has received conclusions from an            improvement efforts,
  determines that you need additional              external review team. The actions taken by         the analysis should
  information or support for a conclusion,                                                            inform your judgment
                                                   the school to improve student achievement
  document the conclusion citing data that                                                            of the school’s achieve-
                                                   are as important, if not more important,
  supports and refutes it. The use of such a                                                          ment or practice in a
                                                   than the conclusions themselves. The efforts
                                                                                                      given focus area and
  process based on valid and reliable data         of the school to understand the conclusions        should help answer
  will add weight to the conclusions.              and chart a course for action are crucial          your essential question.
• written with the intent of informing action by   components of the school-improvement               Keep this focus in mind
  the school to improve teaching and learning.     process.                                           as you push forward in
  The purpose of the self-study is to direct            Start by breaking down your conclu-           your self-study.
  school improvement. This does not mean           sions. Going by focus area, outline both
  your conclusion should necessarily               the strengths and the areas in need of improve-
  include a recommendation; most do not.           ment (or attention) cited by the school-
  Neither do conclusions target, applaud,          improvement team. Worksheet 6: Examining
  or denigrate any individual in the school.       Self-Study Conclusions may be used to aid
  Even disappointing conclusions should be         with this task. (Note: the worksheet lists
  presented positively in order to move the        several focus areas, but you need focus only
  school forward. The way conclusions are          on the ones you chose to inquire about.)
  presented influences how they are                      Once conclusions have been broken
  received.                                        down by focus area, the team is positioned
• punctuated by the professional judgment of       to use the self-study conclusions to devise
  those analyzing the data. In a self-study the    an action plan. After completing several
  school community will determine how              months of investigation, it’s important to
  good school practice is through a review         remind each other of the student achieve-
  of qualitative and quantitative measures         ment goal(s) you set for yourselves. As you
  matched against standards for effective          begin devising your action plan, restate
  school operation. It will be the role of         those student learning goals – the desired
  school staff to exercise their professional      outcomes for student achievement – you
  judgment to determine if what they have          collectively identified. With those goals in
  observed meets current expectations.             mind, identify actions within each focus area to
                                                   improve school practice.
    Worksheet 5: Drawing Conclusions may be
used to document your conclusions as well
as connect them to the data you’ve analyzed
and actions that you’d like to propose.

                                                                  Making School Improvement Part of Daily Practice          17
                          The Four Quadrants for Action                        • skills of the faculty, staff, or administra-
                                                                                 tion to implement the appropriate/effec-
                          Through our work in schools and school
                                                                                 tive curriculum, instructional methods, or
                          districts we have identified four quadrants
                                                                                 administrative practices (how staff work to
                          for action. (See Worksheet 7: Four Quadrants
                                                                                 promote student achievement)
                          for Action and Figure 2.)
                                                                               • knowledge of effective teaching practices
                          i. human resource use and                              to reach a particular demographic within
                                                                                 the student body; of how to build a
                          This quadrant concentrates on staff capacity,
                                                                                 collaborative school culture; of how to
                          cooperation, organization, motivation, and
                                                                                 develop or sustain strong relationships
                          management. Three components of staff
                                                                                 with parents; etc. (what staff knows about
                          work have substantial effects on instruction
                                                                                 effective practices)
                          or school practice in this quadrant:
                                                                        • will and teacher expectations of students:
                                                                           the will to teach all children; the expecta-
                                                                           tion that all children can achieve high
                                                                                standards; the motivation to change
                                                                                     habits, beliefs, or behaviors to
                         Skills: How staff promote student achievement                   improve student achievement
                                                                                            (why staff work to promote
                         Knowledge: What staff knows about effective practice
                                                                                               student achievement)
                         Will and teacher expectations of students: Why
                           staff work to promote student achievement

                                                                              Systems and
                                                                              structures: Length
     Partnerships: Use                    Human Resource                      of class periods,
     of community                            Use and                          what is taught, etc.
     assets to increase                    Development                        Policies and rules:
     a school’s                                                               School characteris-
                                                     I                        tics that promote
                                                                              a rich learning envi-
     Parent and com-
     munity connec-                         IV            II                  ronment
     tions: Relation-                              III                        Culture (student
     ship with families                                                       and adult/profes-
     and community                             Fiscal                         sional): Teacher, stu-
     members who are                                                          dent, and adminis-
     invested in stu-
                                            and Technical
                                             Resources                        trator values, atti-
     dent success                                                             tudes, and general

                                Money          Resources available and
                              Materials        allocated to the achievement
                            Technology         of core instructional needs

                              Figure 2. Four quadrants for action

18   I n q u i ry and Action: s c h o o l - i m p r o v e m e n t g u i d e
ii. school organization
This quadrant addresses internal organiza-           ensuring participation
tion and norms and contains three areas for
possible action:                                     Building an action plan should not fall to a small number of indi-
                                                     viduals. Restricting participation can prevent buy-in from col-
• systems and structures: how long class
                                                     leagues, causing your team to miss a valuable opportunity to ben-
  periods are, what is taught, etc.                  efit from the knowledge and know-how of peers.
• policies and rules: school characteristics
                                                     Similar to the self-study process, action planning should be dele-
  that may produce positive behaviors or             gated to the appropriate groups who have the expertise to inform
  outcomes that facilitate a rich learning           and/or responsibility for the implementation of particular areas.
  environment                                        For example, planning for improved math instruction should
• culture (student and adult/professional):          include math (and perhaps science) teachers.
  attributes of the school culture such as           This group should not work in isolation or without supervision,
  teacher, student, and administrator values,        but should be asked to work collaboratively to craft a course of
  attitudes, and general behavior; how               action informed by the data gathered and conclusions reached
  adults work together in the building; etc.         about instruction. Selecting the “best” course of action may
                                                     require further data gathering and research on best practices and
iii. fiscal and technical
                                                     available resources.
This quadrant is self-explanatory. It con-           Protocols may be used here to generate feedback on plans or to
cerns the                                            brainstorm on next steps.

• presence and use of financial and techno-
  logical resources: the money, materials,
  and technology available and allocated to
  the achievement of core instructional         Sharing Your Self-Study Conclusions
  needs                                         and Action Plan
iv. social resources                            Sharing of self-study conclusions with stake-
This quadrant concerns the development          holders in the school community as well as
and use of relationships with other sources     the general public is something to consider
and organizations that can help improve stu-    and plan for as part of your school-improve-
dent achievement, i.e.:                         ment strategy. Stakeholders who may have
• partnerships: the school’s relationship       an interest in self-study conclusions include:
  with stakeholders outside of the school       • school board members and the superin-
  building and its efforts to leverage com-       tendent
  munity assets to increase its resources       • the school site council
• parent and community connections: the         • faculty
  school’s relationship with the families and   • students
  community members who are invested in
                                                • parents
  student success (e.g., religious leaders,
  community development organizers, for-        • the media
  mer school board members, etc.)               • funders and external partners
                                                    Each stakeholder has his or her own
                                                interests and motives for wanting to know
                                                the results of the study and may be reached

                                                               Making School Improvement Part of Daily Practice           19
                              with a number of communication and                  when it is time to disseminate information,
                              public-engagement strategies. Even                  the task is more manageable. Don’t wait
                              unflattering conclusions can be used by the          until the tail end of the process, when
                              school to its advantage to foster improve-          you’re left to figure out how best to “spin”
                              ment rather than fuel hostility. Reporting          the results.
                              the conclusions of your self-study represents
                                                                                  make reports easy to read:
                              a significant opportunity for you to commu-          shorter is better
                              nicate directly with parents, media, and the
                                                                                  Be careful not to overload people with too
                              community at-large about how the school
                                                                                  much information. We suggest an “onion
                              is performing. Below are suggestions for
                                                                                  peel” approach of providing all audiences
                              taking full advantage of that opportunity.
                                                                                  with a brief, easy-to-understand summary
                              plan ahead and be proactive                         of the conclusions of your self-study, with
                              Schools that make good use of the conclu-           more detailed information available for
                              sions of a self-study do a lot of planning at       those who want it.
                              the front end. What is the key message?             invest in graphic design
                              Who should get summaries of the conclu-
                                                                                  People are more likely to read a report that’s
                              sions? How will they be disseminated? How
                                                                                  attractive and well organized, with clear
                              will feedback from the public be collected?
                                                                                  headlines. This kind of reporting does not
                              These are key questions to be addressed.            have to be expensive. Use readily available
                              Communications planning should begin
                                                                                  clip art instead of fancy graphics or photo-
                              early in the self-study process and should
                                                                                  graphs. People also like the use of color,
                              focus on developing relationships. Work to
                                                                                  although we suggest that those on a limited
                              build healthy relationships with your com-
                                                                                  budget would be better off to put money
                              munity, the families of students, and (in
                                                                                  into design and writing rather than color
                              smaller communities) media contacts so that         printing.
                                                                                  make the conclusions meaningful
                                                                                  Understand that while people want per-
                                                                                  formance data, in raw form it is often mean-
     resources to prepare for                                                     ingless to families and the larger commu-
                                                                                  nity. We suggest reporting self-study con-
     external reviews                                                             clusions within a broader context. In this era
     • Some states, districts, and accrediting organizations require a            of the bottom line, most people direct their
       review by a team external to the school as part of the school-             attention exclusively to outcome measures,
       improvement process. A school might also want to invite an                 such as test scores. A strength of the school-
       external team to serve as critical friends, even if it is not              improvement process is its ability to make
       required. For more information about what a school needs to do             schools more transparent. Consider using
       to prepare for an external visit, see Appendix C: Preparing to
                                                                                  this transparency to create a better under-
       Host an External Review.
                                                                                  standing of what schools can do to help
     • Appendix B: Creating a School Portfolio can also be useful when            children achieve high standards and what
       an external review is planned.                                             your particular school has done and is
     • Appendix D: School Inquiry Process Map outlines tasks to                   doing. Also connect your self-study conclu-
       address in an integrated school-improvement process that can               sions to bread-and-butter issues that people
       include a self-study, an external review, or both.                         care about such as safety, discipline, and
                                                                                  achievement. Help the reader make the link
                                                                                  between things they care about and the
                                                                                  operations within a school that foster those

20       I n q u i ry and Action: s c h o o l - i m p r o v e m e n t g u i d e
be candid: present the good and
the bad
The public will want to know how good the
                                                      getting information to parents
school is and what school personnel are               Based on conclusions about school report cards, we suggest that
going to do to improve performance. This              schools use multiple messengers to spread the word about school
should be the central point of your report-           performance. A priority for all schools should be getting informa-
ing. In a short summary, identify your                tion into the hands of families.
strengths and successes, your challenges and          Sending self-study conclusions home with students or expecting
shortcomings, and your immediate next                 parents to pick them up at school meetings is not enough.
steps. The last piece will be particularly            Approaches to consider are: direct home mailings, making conclu-
important if your self-study yields conclu-           sions available at a wide range of locations in the community
sions that are less than glowing. Presently,          (banks, hardware stores, community centers, supermarkets, etc.),
there is an overall lack of confidence in and          presenting the information at meetings at schools and elsewhere,
a general frustration with public schools,            and making information available on the Internet.
particularly in urban areas. If a portion of a
school’s operation is unsatisfactory, schools
will have to explain what they’re going to
do to make improvements.
use credible and multiple                        Evaluate Impact on Practice and
messengers                                       Outcomes
Many schools and districts assume that sim-      To complete the self-study process and
ply preparing a report, sending it home in       make it into a cycle, plan when and how
“backpack mail” and getting information          to evaluate the impact of your actions on
into the local newspaper is sufficient.           school practice and student outcomes. You
Research on school report cards found that       should plan to examine, at regular intervals,
although most states and districts publish       whether school practice has really changed
such reports, large majorities of parents and    and whether student achievement has really
taxpayers have never seen one. Indeed, half      improved. This will take you back to the
the educators interviewed said they had          beginning of a new cycle – revisiting your
never seen a school report card.                 original student-achievement goals, estab-
     We strongly urge administrators to          lishing new student-achievement goals, and
ensure that their front-line communicators,      developing new essential questions, based
teachers, are familiar with the contents of      on learning from the previous cycle.
self-study conclusions and are prepared to            As part of the evaluation process, it
discuss them with parents and others in the      may be useful to prepare a school portfolio – a
community. Research and common sense             collection of artifacts or work that document
suggest that teachers are the most credible      school practices and that can provide a base-
sources of information for parents (Educa-       line for evaluation (See Appendix B: Creat-
tion Commission of the States 1996).             ing a School Portfolio). As evidence is
Teachers who aren’t part of the s it are         added, the portfolio can also demonstrate
often left out of the information loop.          growth over time of a school community. It
Preparing all of your teachers to discuss        can be shared both internally and with an
self-study conclusions will likely require       external audience.
some communications training, but it may
be the most cost-effective communications
investment a school can make.

                                                                Making School Improvement Part of Daily Practice           21

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