District Improvement Assistance Plus
Year Three Synthesis Report
The purpose of this report is to provide information about the extent to which school district personnel have made progress toward District Improvement Assistance Plus (DIA Plus) grant goals and objectives over the last three years. Although summative in nature about the effects of reform on the selected school districts, the report is also designed to provide formative feedback to assist in the ongoing development of district improvement efforts and to provide information to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) as they continue to restructure their assistance to districts.
What is the impact of the District Improvement Assistance PLUS initiative on school district practices that support school improvement and student achievement?
The presence of the DIA Plus grant has had several impacts on the functioning of the DIA Plus districts. The DIA Plus districts are at different stages in the implementation of their respective district improvement efforts. Although some quantitative data are available on student outcomes throughout the course of the grant, it is unrealistic to expect the outcome data to have changed greatly over the last three years. Most interviewees reported a hope that the grant is starting to have a positive influence on student academic achievement, but wondered if improvements in outcomes might lag behind and not be seen until another two or three years. Achievement data in the DIA Plus school districts have shown growth throughout the grant. The growth outpaced the state average in 7th grade reading, math, and writing and 10th grade reading and writing. However, the districts still lag behind the state average in all subject areas. Similarly, data on instruction show some improvements for the DIA Plus districts, with significant improvements in Skills and Knowledge. However, DIA Plus school districts did not reach state averages in the goal areas. Graduation rates showed improvements and approximated the state average at the end of the grant. Course offering patterns demonstrated a decrease in Below Standard math courses and an increase in Above Standard math courses. Transcript analysis revealed little change in college eligibility rates over the course of the grant. College direct rates remained consistent overtime, with more students attending two-year compared to four-year colleges. Overall, these point to small improvements over the course of the grant. Some of the other outcome measures may show improvements over the next several years.
What is the impact of this program on the culture of the school district?
The DIA Plus school districts are in the process of shifting their focus for improvement efforts from the building level to the district level. Each district is at a different place in this process. Many of the districts have begun work centered on the implementation of an overarching District Improvement Plan, while others are still more focused on individual building level changes. However, four cultural shifts seem to be emerging, including collaboration and communication, systemic organization, use of data, and openness around professional practice.
The formation of district and school leadership teams has led to an increase in collaboration and communication across most of the districts. The process of collaboratively creating district and school improvement plans has fundamentally changed how many of these districts do business. Decision-making within these districts has shifted from having just a few people make the decisions, to having many people contributing to the decisions. The creation of professional learning communities and the teacher collaboration time provided by some of the districts in the form of early release has also helped increase communication at the school-level.
Another area of cultural change evidenced in some of the districts is a clear shift toward a more systemically based organization. Rather than schools functioning independently of the district, more school personnel are seeing the district as setting the course and focus for change throughout all of the schools. Each district’s role is then to align resources with these goals and to provide the necessary support to implement the strategies for change.
The growing availability and use of data in some of the districts has been a positive change over the last several years. Some of the districts have provided staff with opportunities to enhance their use of data through professional development. District and school personnel use data to drive improvement plans. The use of data from comprehensive assessments to inform decision-making is taking place to a greater extent in many of the districts. Districts clearly are working on this area and a greater awareness and willingness to use data is present in all of the districts.
Finally, a greater degree of openness around professional practice is also present within the districts. There is an awareness within the DIA Plus districts that teachers need to collaborate on a regular basis around teaching and learning. School districts are attempting to support teachers in this effort by encouraging peer observations of instruction, by providing extra time for collaboration, and by hiring coaches to engage in job-embedded professional development.
Where there have been positive changes in the districts around effective practices, what has occurred to cause these changes?
The presence of the DIA Plus grant has had several impacts on the functioning of the DIA Plus districts. The process of developing and revising District Improvement Plans has helped bring focus and direction to district improvement efforts. The professional development provided by the state was also mentioned by some as a very positive aspect of participating in the grant. In most of the districts, the grant has helped develop a common language and vision around district improvement. The creation of a team to develop the District Improvement Plans has helped distribute leadership throughout the districts and has increased district personnel collaboration. The need to collect opinions and ideas from community members regarding district needs has helped to strengthen relationships with community organizations in some of the districts. The collection of data to support the goals of the plans and the continued focus on collecting data to monitor progress has had a powerful effect on the functioning of the DIA Plus districts. Finally, the accountability associated with receiving state funds and having to take part in an evaluation process have been a positive motivational tool for the districts to continue to move forward with district improvement strategies and activities.
Did this initiative assist in developing sustainability over time, and how?
Evaluators asked participants about the sustainability of the improvements made through district improvement. Predictably, across and within the school districts, there was a variety of opinions about improvement efforts being sustainable. These opinions ranged from believing almost every aspect of the improvement could be sustainable, to the process and structure being sustainable, to few of the objectives being sustainable without the presence of grant funds. Many participants mentioned the focus and vision created by the improvement process as being sustainable over time. Personnel in many of the districts also believed that the continued use and revision of a District Improvement Plan would also lead to sustainability. Over the last several years, many of the districts have drastically changed their decision-making process by being more transparent and by including more people in the development of the improvement plan; some believed this process would be sustainable as well. District personnel also implemented a number of strategies they believe will be sustained beyond the grant. The use of data has been an area of improvement in the majority of the districts over the course of the grant. Systems have now been put into place within the districts to allow them to continue with this focus. Collaboration time for teachers to work on alignment of curriculum, assessments, and instruction will also be something that continues to some extent in many of the districts. Another area of sustainability mentioned by some of the participants is the creation of district and school networks. A final area of sustainability in many of the districts is the creation of job-embedded professional development, which many thought should continue after the end of grant funding. In the midst of systemic change there are bound to be barriers to progress and sustainability. In interviewing staff members about potential barriers, many themes emerged. Lack of time, trust and communication issues, union issues, student demographics, staff turnover, limited resources, and state capacity to provide support were just some of the barriers mentioned by interview participants. Many of these barriers are similar to those mentioned in the Year One Synthesis Report.
The BERC Group, Inc.
Duane B. Baker, Ed.D.
Candace A. Gratama, Ed.D.
Kari M. Peterson, Ph.D.
Greg Bianchi, Ed.D.
Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction
Old Capitol Building
PO Box 47200
Olympia, WA 98504-7200
The BERC Group brings experience and an extensive knowledge base to any evaluation project.