School improvement plans are essential to ensuring that schools perform at the highest possible level. These plans detail the changes a school needs to make, and they specify how and when to make those changes. A strong school improvement plan with well-researched, current data helps not only teachers and principals but also school councils and superintendents, who prioritize objectives and monitor student achievement.
School Improvement Plan Process
The creation of an effective school improvement plan involves several key steps. Kathleen Fitzpatrick, executive director for the National Study of School Evaluation (NSSE) lists the following six-step framework for school improvement planning:
- Establish a baseline by developing a school profile.
- Define your school’s mission.
- Define your desired results for student learning.
- Assess your school’s instructional practices for desired outcomes.
- Develop an action plan.
- Implement the plan and document the results.
Establishing the Baseline
Understanding the baseline helps determine where schools need to improve. Collecting data on student performance and student and community characteristics such as gender, race and socioeconomic status will help educators understand the challenges they face and how best to focus their efforts.
Defining the Mission
Defining a school’s mission requires the team to examine what they believe about teaching and learning and build a framework around those core beliefs. Once educators establish the school’s mission, the next vital step is to define their expectations and set priorities. Depending on initial research findings, some priorities may take precedence over others.
Assessing Instructional Practices
Assessment shifts the focus to the school, and it is crucial if educators hope to meet their goals. Asking tough questions about instructional practices, curricula, assessment practices and organizational climate and culture will highlight issues that educational administrators may need to address before they can proceed. Actually developing the plan involves creating timelines and strategies to later evaluate the school’s effectiveness.
Implementing the Plan
In the final step, implementing the plan and documenting results, educators determine assessment measures for student outcomes. Student achievement is at the heart of every school improvement plan, and laying the groundwork before establishing an action plan is often the difference between success and failure. Developing an effective plan can be a multiyear process that includes collecting and analyzing large amounts of data on curriculum delivery, school environment, parental involvement and other factors.
Essential Roles in Creating a School Improvement Plan
While school district boards often establish the mission and provide support during the planning process, the creation of an effective school improvement plan takes the work of a dedicated team, including principals, teachers, school council members, parents and community representatives. This team establishes priorities, sets goals, implements strategies to realize those goals and evaluates progress.
Even though school district boards and superintendents provide support, principals are essential in the school improvement process. Principals provide strong leadership and professional development, and they facilitate communication. Principals are also often responsible for forming action teams, which include teachers, school council members, parents and other interested community members who will collaborate on a school improvement plan.
Teachers have the greatest daily impact on students, which makes them the most essential aspect of a school improvement plan. Individual teachers can assess student achievement in the classroom and relay current information back to the team. Teacher-leaders play a crucial role in facilitating this process. They can also communicate with upper administration and parents to gather information needed to assess a plan’s effectiveness, and they can self-evaluate instructional practices, curriculum and assessment.
Plans in Action
An effective school improvement plan was crucial in Louisiana schools during the last four years. In 2013, Louisiana’s Department of Education implemented a plan to raise expectations over a 10-year period, with two years to learn the new expectations. This multiyear process to improve Louisiana schools resulted in a marked increase in college-going high school seniors’ ACT scores (37 percent over four years), which has reduced the need for remedial courses. Since the plan’s implementation, the upward trend has increased every year at every level.
The improvements in Louisiana’s charter schools are also notable. As a national leader in increased student achievement at charter schools, Louisiana ranked near the top for reading improvement, according to a 26-state study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO).
LSU’s Online Program
Louisiana State University’s online program, which offers a Master of Education in educational leadership degree, teaches students how to create and implement a school improvement plan. An introductory course on School Improvement/Action Research gives students the opportunity to develop their own research proposals for school improvement. In Advanced School Improvement/Action Research, students have the opportunity to administer their projects in real-world settings. In the internship program, students gain hands-on administrative experience with educational administration.
Creating an effective school improvement plan is a significant undertaking that requires extensive planning and research by a team of dedicated professionals and public partners. Along with administrators and teachers, community members (including parents) are vital to making the plan a reality. Once implemented, the ongoing plan becomes a recursive process that results in continual improvement.
Learn more about the LSU online M.Ed. in educational leadership program.
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