Raise your hand if you have a school in TSI. I can imagine there are a lot of hands up right now. In my home state, there are over 800 schools identified as TSI and the overwhelming majority of them are in the subgroup of Students with Disabilities (SWD). As a former state director for school improvement, I have worked with many schools to assess needs, determine the root cause, and develop a viable action plan to address the achievement gap for our students with disabilities. Here are some considerations if you are tasked with supporting our schools identified as TSI.
Building a Collaborative Team:
One of the first questions I ask when working with a new school team. What does collaboration look like between special and general education teachers? Crickets is the typical response, which is no surprise because time is in high-demand. Even if a school has a well-established Professional Learning Community (PLC) that fosters collaboration through weekly grade/content level meetings, special educators are often not included. We can no longer be surprised and offer excuses for the achievement gap if we aren’t maximizing our greatest asset, teachers. When teachers are given the time and structure to work collaboratively, great things happen for students!
Conducting a Comprehensive Needs Assessment:
I’m sure this isn’t new to you all. Most Title I and all schools in improvement must conduct a comprehensive needs assessment (CNA). Here is my challenge: take the time to make it meaningful. Time is an issue and gathering diverse critical members to work on the CNA is difficult; trust me I know. However, the saying goes “ an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Or something like that. Identify the specific challenges faced by students with disabilities within the school system. If you don’t invest the time to assess the true needs then every step moving forward will be in the wrong direction. This assessment should encompass academic, social, and emotional aspects, addressing both quantitative data and qualitative insights. Next, sit with the problem for a while and discover the root causes of the problems. Resist the urge to jump in and start problem-solving. Again, gather your critical members to work on this. Completing this process in a slow and methodical manner will pave the way for a meaningful and actionable school improvement plan.
Developing a Data-Driven Action Plan:
Utilize the data collected during the needs assessment to create a data-driven action plan. This plan should outline clear, measurable, and achievable goals for improving outcomes for students with disabilities. Break down the plan into manageable steps, assigning responsibilities to different members of the collaborative team. Frequently monitor progress and make adjustments as needed.
Implementing Evidence-Based Practices:
Identify instructional strategies, interventions, and support services that have proven effective in improving outcomes for students with disabilities. Evidence for ESSA and the What Works Clearinghouse are great resources for finding evidence-based practices. Ensure that educators are trained and supported in implementing these practices consistently.
Providing Professional Development:
Invest in professional development opportunities for educators to enhance their skills and knowledge in catering to the diverse needs of students with disabilities. Workshops, seminars, and ongoing training sessions can empower educators with the tools and strategies necessary to create an inclusive and supportive learning environment.
Continuous Improvement through Monitoring Progress and Making Adjustments:
Follow the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle or any other continuous improvement cycle to make sure the process is planned and intentional. Frequently assess the effectiveness of the implemented strategies and interventions using assessments to measure progress and make data-informed decisions to provide “just in-time instruction.” Support your teams with data collection and analysis using Kit. Check out one of Kit’s features: data management. Kit is a workflow management app designed to simplify the workday for IEP teams. The app provides an innovative guided approach to information sharing, data management, planning, assessments, and more.
If certain approaches are not providing the desired results, be prepared to adjust the action plan accordingly. To create and sustain positive changes, establish a system of continuous improvement, ensuring that the strategies that led to success are embedded in the school’s ongoing practices.
While no one wants their school to be labeled for school improvement, there are some good things that can come from it. By building a collaborative team, conducting a comprehensive needs assessment, and implementing evidence-based practices, schools can pave the way for sustained improvement. It’s not just about meeting federal requirements; it’s about creating an inclusive, supportive, and enriching educational environment for all students.