Continuous Improvement in a Mega-System

Superintendents that are effective are driven to ensure that all students succeed. And, all means all. But, they do not limit their definition of student success to just what is measured by the state test (ISAT). While they maintain goals for the state tests, such as IRI and ISAT, they actually measure students' success and progress, or rather the success of their system in many different ways. For example, one measure of success is found in high school ACT and AP exam score comparisons. A commonality among high achieving superintendents is that they define success primarily in terms of preparing kids for life beyond their systems. They value graduation rates, college placement, college readiness (i.e., not needing remediation), and college completion, with their greatest goal being that each student graduates and is prepared for whatever choice he or she wants to make beyond 12th grade (e.g., college, technical school, etc.). This might quite simply be described as seeing not a K-12 system, but rather a 12-K system. Highly effective superintendent seek to graduate kids from grade 12 and, in turn, map the system backward from that end goal. This focus on the end goal was demonstrated by an emphasis on graduation.

Because of the fact that they define achievement in relation to long term goals and by using more than just the state test, skilled superintendents see their school districts as complex systems and use data sources that are both formal (e.g., academic tests, college placement) and informal (e.g., community data, people's input, etc.) to evaluate how well their systems are working. They view the improvement process as continuous and make adjustments as needed. When they see a component of their system that is not adequately preparing students for post-secondary life or which could be improved upon, they respond by continuously refining their practices in order to "chase the lodestar of student success" (Redding, 2006).

Connections & Resources

The following indicators in the WISE Tool (Idaho's online planning tool) would make for natural connections for superintendents who are considering making plans related to this topic.

IA07 The district sets district, school, and student subgroup achievement targets. PDF Icon CLICK HERE Link
IA08 The school board and superintendent present a unified vision for school improvement. PDF Icon CLICK HERE Link
IA11 The district ensures that key pieces of user-friendly data are available in a timely fashion at the district, school, and classroom levels. PDF Icon CLICK HERE Link
IA12 The district intervenes early when a school is not making adequate progress. PDF Icon CLICK HERE Link
IA13 The district works with the school to provide early and intensive intervention for students not making progress. PDF Icon CLICK HERE Link
IB01 The district operates with district-level and school-level improvement teams. PDF Icon CLICK HERE Link
IB02 The district examines existing school improvement strategies being implemented across the district and determines their value, expanding, modifying, and culling as evidence suggests. PDF Icon CLICK HERE Link
IC05 The district provides a cohesive district curriculum guide aligned with state standards or otherwise places curricular expectation on the school. PDF Icon CLICK HERE Link

The resources below are provided for further exploration of this topic. They are among many tools and readings that Idaho School Superintendents have either used or cited in their work.

The Mega System: Deciding. Learning. Connecting.

The Mega System: Deciding. Learning. Connecting. (Redding, 2006)

Sam Redding's The Mega System is an excellent resource that is a quick, easy read. Formatted as a short handbook, it provides an overview of the research on school reform and the challenges associated with it. It recognizes what most educators already know, that educational systems are complex. This book describes a framework for thinking about improvement from a systems theory perspective that makes sense. It was a precursor to what we know in Idaho as the WISE Tool and forms much of the foundation for the process behind it. If you want a quick book study for your leadership team to spark a conversation about systems improvement, consider this as an option. Available for free download from the author at http://www.centerii.org/survey/.

The Handbook on Restructuring and Substantial School Improvement

The Handbook on Restructuring and Substantial School Improvement (Walberg, 2007)

The Handbook on Restructuring and Substantial School Improvement is the sequel to The Mega System. It contains the research perspective and indicators that ultimately found their way into the WISE Tool and its Wise Ways research briefs. If you are looking for a more comprehensive summary of research that ties all of the systems thinking behind the WISE Tool together, consider this book. Available for free download from the author at http://www.centerii.org/survey/.

Improving Student Learning: Action Principles for Families, Schools, Districts, and States

Improving Student Learning: Action Principles for Families, Schools, Districts, and States (Walberg, 2011)

Walberg provides a number of thought provoking ideas for consideration at all levels of the system ? schools and their families, districts, and states. It focuses on key moving parts that impact learning of which educational leaders should be keenly aware and upon which they should take action. Available for free download from the author at http://www.centerii.org/survey/.

The Data Coach's Guide to Improving Learning for All Students: Unleashing the Power of Collaborative Inquiry

The Data Coach's Guide to Improving Learning for All Students: Unleashing the Power of Collaborative Inquiry (Love, Stiles, Mundry, DiRanna, & Johnson, 2008)

The Data Coach's Guide to Improving Learning for All Students is an in depth resource for using collaborative inquiry to examine multiple sources of data in order to meet students' needs. The guide is intended to assist leaders in changing the culture of schools to break the norm of being "data rich, but information poor" in order to become expert users of student outcome data. Consider reading this book if you have a team that is interested in deepening the conversation about student assessment and responsiveness to learning.

Response to Intervention-Idaho: Connecting the Pieces

Response to Intervention-Idaho: Connecting the Pieces

The Response to Intervention (RTI) framework is one of the most promising practices in terms of system-wide improvement. RTI is a systemic approach to meeting the needs of all learners by utilizing screening, progress monitoring, data-based decision making, and a multi-tiered prevention system. The state guidance document, Response to Intervention-Idaho: Connecting the Pieces, is a great introduction to RTI. More resources about RTI can be found both on the Idaho RTI website and the National RTI website.