School Improvement in Maryland

Clarify the Problem

Key Actions

  • Collect additional data about your instructional program based on key processes.
  • Hypothesize root causes and contributing factors for why your data looks like it does.
  • Collect evidence to prove or disprove selected hypotheses.
  • Identify a small number of high-impact causes to address in the school improvement plan.

Key Questions

  • Why does the data look like it does?
  • What are the root causes and contributing factors of the data results?
  • What do we know about our instructional program in the low performance area?
  • Do all staff know what and how MSA or HSA assesses and what a good response looks like?
  • Do all staff teach and assess the indicators and objectives being tested on MSA or HSA?
  • How well do staff understand the content standards they are expected to teach?
  • Do all staff know where their students are in relation to content standards?
  • Do all staff use classroom assessments and assignments to monitor individual student progress on the indicators and objectives?
  • How do staff examine student work to inform instruction?
  • Do all staff re-teach and provide other interventions for students not demonstrating proficiency?

Clarifying why your data results are what they are will increase the odds that the strategies you select to improve student performance will produce the results you want. In the data analysis step, you collected and examined data to provide a clearer picture of your school’s student performance and prioritized areas of instructional need. In this step, you will examine why the data looks like it does in the highest need area. You will explore the contributing factors and root causes that are impeding student achievement in a specific area so that you can identify appropriate strategies that address the real problem.

This is a critical step in helping to ensure that instructional strategies and resources address the problem that is impeding achievement. A typical solution to low achievement in many of our schools is to try anything and everything we can think of to improve achievement. That is often an exhausting, unfocused and unproductive strategy to improve performance.

Understanding the relationship between classroom instruction and student achievement is a prerequisite to clarifying the problem. Improved student achievement is based in large part on good alignment of instruction with the content standards and on knowing where each student is in relation to the indicators. Consequently, focusing the collection of data on what teachers need to know and do to align their instruction and understand where thier students are in relation to the indicators/objectives they are expected to teach will produce the most useful information. Teams may need to collect additional data about their instructional program and the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of their staff. There are five processes that need to be in place to hit any instructional target and should serve as the basis for an exploration of your instructional program. These key processes include:

Key Processes

  • Understanding the Target
    • Do all staff understand what students are asked to know and do on the state assessments?
    • Do all staff understand how student performance is scored on the state assessments and what a satisfactory and excellent student response looks like?
  • Teaching the Indicators
    • Do all staff know the goals, expectations, and indicators they are responsible for teaching?
    • Do all staff teach them?
    • Do all staff review them?
  • Assessing the Indicators
    • Do all staff know how to assess the content standards and performance outcomes?
    • How are they being assessed in your program?
    • What do the results indicate?
  • Monitoring Individual Student Progress
    • Are all staff monitoring progress of individual students on these performance outcomes?
    • How do they use the data to inform instruction?
    • How do they share the results?
  • Intervening with students not succeeding
    • Do all staff provide interventions for students not demonstrating attainment of an outcome?
    • What are your most common interventions for students not achieving?
    • How successful are the interventions?
    • What percentage of your students need interventions?

Only after you complete the problem clarification process are you ready to identify strategies to address the problem. When trying to identify the problem, it is important to have the input of the major constituents (teachers, administrators, parents, and students), since perceptions and attitudes among groups may be very different.