Monday, February 8, 2010

Race to the Top: Preparing to Choose, Implement and Manage Your Local Instructional Improvement System

Among the four core educational areas of innovation and reform within the Race to the Top initiative (Race to the Top Application for Initial Funding, CFDA 84.395A), is that of building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction and elevate student learning (p. 3). Specifically, the initiative calls for states in collaboration with local education agencies to “increase the acquisition, adoption, and use of local instructional improvement systems that provide teachers, principals, and administrators with the information and resources they need to inform and improve their instructional practices, decision-making, and overall effectiveness; and supporting participating LEAs and schools that are using instructional improvement systems…” (p. 31). As further articulated in the funding application, instructional improvement systems are technology-based tools and other strategies that provide teachers, principals, and administrators with meaningful support and actionable data to systemically manage continuous instructional improvement, including such activities as:

•instructional planning;
•gathering information (e.g., through formative, interim, and summative assessments;
•looking at student work and other student data);
•analyzing information with the support of rapid-time reporting;
•using this information to inform decisions on appropriate next instructional steps;
•evaluating the effectiveness of the actions taken

Such systems promote collaborative problem-solving and action planning; they may also integrate instructional data with student-level data such as attendance, discipline, grades, credit accumulation, and student survey results to provide early warning indicators of a student’s risk of educational failure (p.9).

The Race to the Top initiative provides a unique, exciting, and timely opportunity for school districts to achieve the goal of elevating student achievement beyond current levels, and to do so in ways that enhance our competitiveness in the global society. Among the many elements that will contribute to success in achieving this goal is the well-informed selection, implementation and management of a high quality local instructional improvement system. In a nutshell, the opportunity to change achievement by the end of each school year is within our reach when we are empowered with actionable information on student learning that helps us to adjust instruction throughout the year. Learning occurs on a daily basis, thus, it is reasonable to assume that the goal of increasing learning can and should be supported one day at a time. A well-designed, research-based, standards aligned instructional improvement system can help to address this need.

As part of our ongoing outreach initiatives to help school districts and states address Race to the Top goals, ATI recently hosted in Colorado a statewide collaborative seminar “Elevating Student Achievement: Exploring What Works”. The goals of the seminar were to:

•Share evidence regarding what is working in districts to elevate student achievement;
•Identify the critical components of effective initiatives built upon the use of an instructional improvement system and aimed at elevating student achievement;
•Discuss challenges faced in initiatives designed to elevate achievement, and the solutions being implemented by school districts; and
•Consider the various management procedures and technology for addressing challenges that may be encountered in implementing programs designed to elevate achievement.

The seminar was attended by school district leaders, educators, and researchers and included presentations by WestEd’s Local Accountability Professional Development Series Project Director (website), the Director of Student Assessment and the Principal Consultant for the Colorado Department of Education Office of Standards and Assessments (website), and Assessment Technology, Inc. (website). Among the successes of this seminar was the formation of grassroots discussion panels comprised of school district leaders in the areas of curriculum, assessment, planning, technology, and evaluation. These individuals often have the responsibility of coordinating the development of criteria for selecting their local instructional improvement system and for implementation and management of the system. Below is a sampling of contextual highlights and questions addressed by panel members:

•An effective instructional improvement system begins with the specification of goals to be achieved within a specified time period. What challenges make it difficult to specify essential standards to be targeted for instruction within a given time period? How can those challenges be addressed effectively?
•An effective instructional improvement system uses formative assessments and a common set of interim assessments within each grade and subject. What challenges make it difficult to adopt common interim assessments and how can those challenges be addressed?
•In an effective instructional improvement system, instruction is adjusted following each interim assessment by implementing re-teaching and enrichment interventions. What challenges make it difficult to implement re-teaching and enrichment? How can those challenges be effectively addressed?
•Implementing an instructional improvement system requires groups of administrators and teachers to work together to provide an assessment system that can be used to inform instruction for all students. What are some of the management challenges associated with designing, scheduling, and implementing customized formative and interim benchmark assessments? What are the challenges associated with designing and implementing curricular interventions based on information about student learning? How can these challenges be met?
•Re-teaching and enrichment interventions require unanticipated allocations of time and resources to the instructional process. How do you meet the challenges of allocating time and resources to re-teaching and enrichment?

If you would like information regarding how panel members responded to these and other questions that emerged during the seminar, please contact us at ATI and/or watch the seminar video to be posted soon on the ATI website. If you would like to share your comments on these challenges within the forum community, please do so here. And, if you have questions that you would like to pose related to instructional improvement systems and the Race to the Top initiative, please post them here for comment from ATI and the forum community.

Jason K. Feld, Ph.D.

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