In light of the early stage of implementation, and the number of sites visited, this report will not attempt to draw broad conclusions about the course of the CSRD program. However, it highlights examples and shares some helpful observations across sites visited, noting some issues that other states, districts, and schools should consider as they proceed with the implementation of the CSRD program and with comprehensive reform efforts in general.
The effective use of data is key to making good decisions about matching reform models with schools and developing programs to meet the needs of students. Data on student achievement, attendance, and other important indicators, and the relationship of those data to school curriculum, school climate, and teacher capacity plays an essential role in continuous school improvement efforts. The "CSRD in the Field" visits suggest that some schools need assistance to move beyond the level of identifying broad problem areas, such as the need to improve achievement in reading or math, to a finer grained, more detailed analysis of these issues.
While some of the schools visited made connections between the general academic needs of students, the needs of the school community, and the models chosen, others did not seem to be making extensive use of detailed school and student level data to make decisions and guide the change process. We did find examples of schools that are effectively using data to guide practice. In one school we visited, teachers are administering weekly assessments designed for each grade level to monitor student mastery of state and local standards and identify what is working and how daily instruction can be improved. Tests are graded quickly to give teachers immediate feedback. Teachers and the principal at the school use the information to discuss progress and plan future lessons.
Another school is using data to analyze whether the model chosen is adequately meeting the needs of all students. Early data on the model is showing improvements for the school as a whole, but closer analysis of the data reveals that the progress of the lower performing students in the school is lagging. The principal and teachers concluded that the lower achieving students needed more attention in basic skills than the model provides. As a result, the school will continue implementing the current model, but is incorporating instructional features at the early grades that are more specifically focused on the needs of low performing students.
The data schools need to analyze to improve teaching and learning are not limited to student assessment information. In one school we visited, a "school implementation group" has developed a self-assessment for teachers. The results of the assessment are used to help teachers learn what about their instruction is going well, what needs work, and how to develop professional development activities to better meet their classroom needs.
Our visits suggest that districts can play an important role in helping schools understand and use data effectively. In one district, the superintendent implemented a district-wide policy that every employee takes a seminar on data quality management. This does not just include administrative staff, but faculty, bus drivers and janitors as well. The length of the class varies by position within the district. The superintendent is using the class as a tool to ensure that data and facts drive the decision making process.
In another district we visited, the district is supporting schools by providing professional development in the use of assessments. The district works with schools to disaggregate data for various groups of students and use this information to determine needs and develop improvement strategies.
Resources on Effective Use of Data
North Central Regional Education Laboratory
Comprehensive School Reform: Making Good Choices: A Guide for Schools and Districts
Northwest Regional Education Lab Comprehensive Center
Evaluating Whole-school Reform Efforts: A Guide for District and School Staff
Mid-continent Regional Education Lab
Evaluation for Success: An Evaluation Guide for Schools and Districts
Maryland Department of Education
School Improvement in Maryland
Ohio Department of Education
Reference Guide to Continuous Improvement Planning for Ohio School Districts
At Your Fingertips: Using Everyday Data to Improve Schools
(NOTE: 1998 document no longer available on-line)
States should try to ensure that they provide adequate time for districts and schools to assess their needs and investigate programs (including locally developed approaches) that are effective, address identified needs, and are part of a coherent overall reform effort.
Our early visits to CSRD schools and districts revealed some concerns about how the short time frames on CSRD competitions may hinder the process of matching schools and reform models. Some of the CSRD sites we visited indicated that the short application period made it difficult to conduct a full needs assessment, and effectively research, match, and build support for reform models. Some described only having a matter of weeks to pull together their CSRD applications.
The schools visited that were most prepared for implementation were ready because they had done research and worked on building support for school change both among the school faculty and at the central district office before the CSRD program was introduced.
One district we visited dealt with this challenge by offering planning grants to schools, encouraging them to take time to adequately prepare for a comprehensive reform effort prior to beginning the CSRD application and grant process.
Resources on Planning for Comprehensive School Reform
WestEd Regional Education Laboratory
Comprehensive School Reform: Research Based Strategies to Achieve High Standards
U.S. Department of Education
Implementing Schoolwide Programs: An Idea Book on Planning
Selected Profiles of Early State Implementation Efforts
Lab for Student Success
State Applications for Comprehensive School Reform Funds
American Federation of Teachers
Seeing Progress: A Guide to Visiting Schools Using Promising Programs
States, technical assistance providers, and others should be clear with districts and schools about the appropriate use of the list of programs in the CSRD legislation, as well as the Northwest Regional Education Laboratory (NWREL) catalog and other resources in choosing models and implementing a comprehensive school reform program.
A number of the schools visited had obtained copies of the Northwest Lab's compendium of reform models and reported that it was a helpful way to focus their search for models that might be appropriate for their school. However, while a valuable resource, the guide is neither a set of recommended models nor a set of models approved for CSRD funding.
Therefore, states and districts should not automatically assume that by choosing a model included in the NWREL catalog, schools have sufficiently demonstrated that their proposed reform effort fully addresses the CSRD framework.
States and districts should encourage schools to use multiple sources of information on models and designs, particularly for examining actual data supporting the effectiveness of various models. The NWREL catalog and other resources on models and designs are simply tools for examining the elements and effectiveness of various models. Schools must also think about how the models described link with their own student and school needs. In preparing and reviewing applications, states and districts should pay careful attention to whether schools demonstrate that the needs of the school are reflected in the design of the comprehensive reform program, including the models chosen.
Resources on Reform Models
Northwest Regional Education Laboratory
Catalog of School Reform Models
American Institutes for Research
An Educators' Guide to Schoolwide Reform
Kentucky Department of Education
Results-Based Practices Showcase (1997-98)
To order call (502) 564-3421
The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation
Better by Design? A Consumer's Guide to Schoolwide Reform
American Federation of Teachers
Improving Low-performing High Schools: Ideas and Promising Programs for Low Performing High Schools
U.S. Department of Education
CSRD Continuum of Evidence of Effectiveness
Tools for Schools
Comprehensive reform efforts should not just focus on a single grade, subject area or a particular group of students. The concept behind comprehensive school reform is that improvements should benefit every student in the school. It is critical that the needs of special populations, such as special education students and English language learners are addressed by the school's reform program. Many schools struggle with integrating special populations into their reform efforts. Others, however, are taking significant steps in this area.
At one rural school visited by the In the Field team, special education students are full participants in the school's reform program. This school, which has a high percentage of students with individualized education plans, operates an inclusion program. Because all special education students spend at least part of their day in general education classrooms, they are involved in all aspects of the school's comprehensive reform program, including the model that guides the school's work overall. The school has one set of challenging expectations for all students, and includes special education students in standardized assessments whenever appropriate.
Elsewhere, an urban school with a high percentage of limited English proficient students selected a reform model that included a Spanish-language component. The model has a curriculum and materials specifically designed for Spanish speakers, and features literature originally written in Spanish rather than simply translated into Spanish. In this dual language program, English language learners receive their primary literacy instruction in Spanish followed by an English as Second Language block. Once students achieve English proficiency, their primary literacy instruction is in English, supplemented by a literature block in Spanish later in the day.
Other schools visited are using variations of this dual language approach. One school uses a two-way program in which an equal number of Spanish speakers and English speakers learn both languages together, while another school gradually increases the amount of time students are taught in each language. At this school, kindergarten and first grade are taught 90% of the time in Spanish and receive 10% of instruction in English. In second grade the ratio changes to 80:20. This pattern continues until fifth grade, when instructional time is equally divided between English and Spanish.
Resources on Comprehensive School Reform and Special Populations
Region IX Southwest Comprehensive Center
Comprehensive School Reform Models Addressing the Needs of English Language Learners