School Improvement Plans: Are They Necessary?

School improvement plans: you’ve probably heard about them, seen one, or even been involved with writing and implementing one for your school. But just what are they and do they really help increase student achievement? In our article below, we’ll take a deeper dive into what school improvement plans are, who should be involved in writing one, and the different components that should be included.

What is the Purpose of a School Improvement Plan?

All school improvement plans have the same broad goal: to help a school provide the best education possible to all its students. However, when you read the school improvement plans written by different schools, you’ll likely notice that they look quite different and focus on different areas of growth and achievement within the school. This is because every school has its own needs, and school improvement plans are tailored to help address those specific needs.

Just as you wouldn’t set the same goal for every student in the classroom, you wouldn’t expect two schools to have the same school improvement plan. Rather, when creating their school improvement plan, the members of a school community consult with data specific to their school to identify areas for improvement and make a plan to achieve them.

This short video can help you get a feel for what a school improvement plan is and how it can help guide professional development, planning, instruction, and more throughout the school year.

Who Should be Involved in Writing a School Improvement Plan?

In order for a school improvement plan to be most effective and well-received by all the members of a school community, all of the school’s stakeholders should be involved in writing it. This means that the teachers, administration, parents, and students (when appropriate) should take part in the process of analyzing data and setting goals. Each of these stakeholders plays a large role in the school community, and if they are left out of the process for writing the school improvement plan, it will likely not convey a complete picture of the true needs and resources of the school.

It should go without stating that the teachers know a lot about the needs and abilities of their students, but all too often, teachers are left out of the decision-making process for much of what happens in a school. Teachers from all subjects and grade levels should have a say in the school improvement plan, since ultimately, they will be the ones implementing a large portion of the plan.

A study from the New Teacher Center found that students perform better when their teachers play a role in making leadership decisions in the school. While the study revealed links between many aspects of leadership and teaching, including setting and holding teachers to high standards of instruction, one of the areas that had the strongest tie to improving student achievement was involving teachers in the school improvement planning process.

Another group that is all too often excluded from the school improvement planning process is parents. Parents, obviously, play a huge role in their child’s education. Their actions (or inactions) can have a dramatic effect on their child’s learning and performance in school. It only makes sense that they should be involved and informed about the school’s plan to help their child and other children achieve success.

When parents are involved, schools have higher rates of success. Reaching out to the parents of your students before writing the school improvement plan can be very beneficial. You can learn what the parents identify as the biggest areas of need and improvement within the school. Plus, when the parents feel like their voices are being heard and making an impact, they will be more likely to continue to stay active through the school year, which can have nothing but a positive effect on the school community and success of the students.

While parents should not be involved in analyzing confidential data specific to any students, they can be surveyed before the school improvement planning begins. Getting parents more involved in the weeks and months leading up to school improvement planning process will help increase the number of parents who share their thoughts.

Some strategies to increase parental involvement throughout the school year include: ongoing and personalized communication, opportunities for parents to be involved, share information about their child, and build a relationship with their child’s teacher(s), sharing information that parents can act on, such as ways they can better help their child achieve success in the classroom. Setting up different events throughout the school year where parents can interact with teachers, administrators, and other members of the school community can also help foster an environment where parents feel they are valued members of the school.

What Should be Included in a School Improvement Plan?

An effective school improvement plan is composed of a number of different components. Each piece, and the steps taken to create that piece, is essential for a well-written and comprehensive plan that will have the desired impact on student achievement.

Vision Statement

The vision statement is an important part of a school improvement plan. It lays out what the stakeholders in the school view as their overarching goal. The vision statement may refer to the type of learners, staff members, and climate the school hopes to create.

Assessment of Needs

One of the most time-consuming, yet important pieces of creating a school improvement plan is conducting an assessment of the school’s needs. To do this, data from multiple sources needs to be analyzed. Some sources of data that should be considered include student performance data from both formative and summative assessments, school climate surveys completed by teachers, students, parents, and administrators, data about school-wide trends in instruction gathered from walkthroughs and observations, and office referral data.

The information from these analyses should be used to identify the school’s greatest areas of need and indicate which items are of the highest priority that should be addressed in the school improvement plan.

Identifying the causes behind these areas of needs can be very challenging. To do so, the school improvement team should conduct a root cause analysis. A root cause analysis helps ensures that before specific strategies are selected to increase student achievement, the specific problems of the school are first identified. This helps ensure that the strategies identified will actually address the identified problems.

Set Goals and Describe the Steps to Achieve Them

Once the root cause analysis has been completed, the team should work together to set goals and describe the steps that will be taken to help all students meet these goals. These goals and steps outlined should be very well-laid out and specific if the plan is going to have the desired effect on improving the school.

Root Cause Analysis - Process
Source: Action-Based Data For Root Cause Analysis

The goals may address different topics, based on what the root cause analysis uncovered. These topics may include student achievement, professional development, and the school climate.

Student Achievement

Clearly, one of the main focuses of a school improvement plan should be on increase student achievement. Your school may decide to focus their goals around one subject area where students need to make the most gains, or around specific trends across subject areas.

When writing goals for student achievement, it is important to write a few focused goals that can be acted on by teachers and other members of the school. If you choose too many goals, it is less likely that teachers will be able to keep track of everything, making it more likely that they’ll view the school improvement plan as an unrealistic and unachievable document.

School Climate

In addition to addressing areas of need related to student achievement, school improvement plans often address the climate of a school. Neither students nor teachers meet their potential in a school with a negative climate. If survey or school referral data indicate that the school’s climate needs to be addressed and improved, including this in the school improvement plan can be important.

Objectives and goals centered around the school climate could look very different depending on the root causes that were identified. Goals may focus on team building with students and/or teachers, reducing bullying, or creating classroom environments that are more conducive to meeting the needs of all students, such as a flexible classroom.

Professional Development

Another crucial piece of the school improvement is identifying the professional development teachers need to help ensure their students meet the goals and objectives of the plans.

Whether your school has a few handfuls of teachers or dozens of teachers, it is likely that each teacher’s needs are different. Different teachers have different strengths, and some need support in different areas. When possible, try differentiating the professional development that is provided to teachers. This can not only help teachers feel more invested in what they are learning, but it can also help ensure each teacher’s specific needs are being met.

One possible area of professional development you may want to consider for some or all of the teachers in your school is equity training. If, during your root cause analysis, you noticed an achievement gap between different subgroups of students, it may mean your teachers need more training on providing culturally responsive instruction.

Another important area of professional development to consider is ensuring each of the different teams (grade-level, subject based, etc.) within your building is a high-functioning team. When teachers have a shared responsibility, establish team norms, and work together to make decisions for the benefit of their students, student achievement can soar.

Reflection and Revision

This final piece of a school improvement plan will take place over the course of the year as the plan is implemented. A school improvement plan should not be viewed as a ‘locked’ document, but rather as an evolving one that is continuously revisited and tweaked to ensure it is best meeting the needs of the students.

Teachers and administrators should be reflecting on the goals set in the plan, assessing their students’ progress towards meeting their goals, and adjusting the strategies that are being used in order to best meet the needs of all students and help them succeed.

To Sum Up

When written and implemented with fidelity, a school improvement plan can be a powerful force that drives student achievement and success. All the members of the school community should be involved with creating, implementing, and analyzing the plan in order for it to have the greatest impact possible. When all stakeholders are involved and committed, student achievement has nowhere to go but up.