Is CSI in your School’s DNA?
By Dennis L. Plubell | Vice President for Education—North Pacific Union Conference
It was the end of the class period. Most of the students had left, but Tim, one of my 10th-grade biology students, was only at the door as I reflected on a class activity that had not gone as planned. I said out loud to myself, "well, that didn't work!" Hearing me, Tim pivoted and said, "Mr. Plubell, don't you feel guilty?" I looked up and responded, "For what?" With a grin, he replied, "For using your students as guinea pigs!" "No, Tim!" "Actually, that's the neat thing about teaching; you get to learn and do better the next time," was my reply. Teachers should be exemplars of life-long learning and continuous improvement. It should be in their DNA.
The question is, how do we get continuous school improvement (CSI) into our institutional DNA? How do we integrate it fully into our school identity, our systems thinking, and educational practice?
CSI is too often considered a management task for school leaders. Accreditation protocols subtly reinforce this task-oriented approach. To be genuinely transformational in driving your Adventist school on a journey to excellence, CSI must be more than meeting the requirements for accountability. It must be a mindset that challenges the status quo continually and comprehensively across all school domains. CSI must be in your educational DNA, naturally influencing all you do all year long.
Educators' individual and collective performance is best directed and assessed by the teachers and administrators, holding themselves responsible for personal and group improvements. The best results for school improvement come from the school that maximizes the time and supports necessary for authentic and transparent internal assessments. When planned and implemented well, this internal protocol will communicate commitment and integrity, creating synergy for improving student learning. Following are a few examples of internal actions that could be classified as internal accountability.
External accountability is important in providing a timeline and impetus to maintain energy and engagement when the CSI work gets hard. Accreditation is the school's opportunity for reporting school improvement. But, if CSI is in your institutional and professional DNA, you will be living and breathing ideas and actions for school improvement every day, week, and month of each school year.
A commitment to excellence in Adventist education compels us all to seek something better for each and every student, in each grade and subject, every school day.
DATA: The Life Blood of CSI
by Keith Hallam
Director of Education—Southern Union Conference
For nearly two decades, continuous school improvement (CSI) has been integral to the school accreditation process. The recent release of Journey to Excellence 2.0 urges Adventist educators to embrace CSI as the lifeblood of the school's journey to excellence. On the surface, this sounds good because educators are lifelong learners. However, in reality, it is not so simple.
It takes intentional effort to know what needs to change and how to change so that excellence in student learning is the result. For effective change, it is imperative to understand where your journey to excellence begins and where it needs to head. To assess and measure progress, you must know your school data to know the whole story. Without data, any attempt at school improvement is simply an educated guess; or the next "flavor of the month strategy" to make improvements. Therefore, we must have and know our school data. For CSI, data changes the life of the school.
The question is, what data? There are many researchers and coaches who can assist with the question, such as Victoria Bernhardt's Data Analysis for Continuous School Improvement, Marzano's High Reliability Schools, or Scott Barron's schoolgrowth.com. Interestingly, at their core, all these models have shared similarities. As a school leader, you must know your demographics, understand your reputation, and have clarity about students' academic success, spiritual development, and social experience. These are foundational to school improvement.
The accreditation profile materials are a great beginning. But take deeper dive! Consider student retention data year to year and per grade, plus your opening to closing numbers. Consider student, faculty, and community ethnic demographics and socio-economic profiles in the context of your constituency, looking for trends and notable changes.
Campus culture is a huge factor impacting school success. This culture is too often overlooked or not measured in school improvement plans. Surveys must become standard practice. Again, the accreditation tools provide a good beginning with parent, student, and teacher surveys. Think about adding constituency, board, and administration. Also, ensure you seek feedback on the school's mission, values, and beliefs. Commercial surveys such as Marzano HRS surveys, Harvard School Culture 360 survey, and others, provide well-formed questions with tools for analysis that may make the cost worth the investment.
Use more than summative assessment data. While MAP and Star 360 results provide excellent data points for student learning, seek ways to look beyond the temptation to address the learning gap. What can give a comprehensive look at the whole of the academic program? Consider utilizing formative assessments, grades, attendance, diagnostics, STEM course enrollments, grade level completions, and program reviews such as AP courses.
The exercise of writing "the story" of student learning brings clarity. Data analysis to determine appropriate CSI goals is critical. Resist the urge to jump to the first conclusion. Use the why question to seek deeper understanding and more potential causes. Additional data may be necessary as questions bring out possibilities.
When the CSI target goal is identified, be sure to know how you will measure for success. Chris McChesney calls this the storyboard, and you guessed it; it involves more data! But this time, it tells your story of success in continuous school improvement.
One Academy’s Scorecard
by Mechelle Peinado
Principal—Portland Adventist Academy
G oal setting and accountability are all part of continuous school improvement. For example, Portland Adventist Academy (PAA) spent several months focusing on visioning just a couple of years ago. As a result, the school established a visioning and planning committee to translate the school's vision into practical and strategic improvement plans. One element deemed essential early in the process was identifying goals important to school stakeholders (constituency et al.) that should be regularly reported in an easily understandable format. This process led to creating a school scorecard, which is updated and routinely reported at board/constituency meetings.
The scorecard for PAA begins with the school's vision, mission, core values, and scorecard purpose. To simplify reporting, it includes an easy scale (green is at goal; yellow is near goal; red is below goal). The scorecard is reviewed in detail and discussed at each governance committee meeting.
There are two charts on the scorecard. The first chart reflects annual goals such as total enrollment, international enrollment, retention percentages, and an informational column reporting the percent of the student body that is Adventist. The last column gives a Net Promoter Score, a number calculated using three questions from a survey completed before each scorecard is published. The first two questions in each of these surveys focus on different aspects of the PAA program. The last question is always the same, "I would recommend PAA to other families." This data can also be compared to results from previous years.
The focus of the second chart on the scorecard is financial goals and accountability. This chart reports the prior month's data and can also be compared with data from that month in previous years. The goals included in the second chart include the percent of enrolled billing units current, percent of budget used, days in cash, and two goals connected to the percent of the annual donation goals raised. The challenge with this chart is that financial statements for the month reported must be up-to-date before publication. This need for financial statements puts a significant responsibility on the business office to always be current.
PAA's scorecard provides a quick comparative summary of the school's performance in goal areas identified by the constituency and governance bodies as important. The scorecard provides an up-to-date assessment of goal attainment and comparative information with prior years. The "hard data" takes the guesswork out of the analysis, providing concrete feedback. Ultimately, the record of accumulating scorecards offers quick, comprehensive trend data and patterns that inform CSI adjustment in goals and strategic actions. As the school continues its improvement, goals can be readily modified to reflect new standards.
The scorecard allows stakeholders to celebrate progress and re-calibrate where necessary to continue the school improvement journey. In addition, the scorecard provides transparency that has been valuable in building credibility and trust with constituents and governing bodies. As board members become familiar with the document, they can quickly understand how the school meets the benchmarks. It has also given board members a resource to streamline and authenticate their reporting to churches and constituents.
Portland Adventist Academy's scorecard has been a tremendously helpful tool for analysis, planning, and reporting on our journey to excellence. It has provided the focus and transparency necessary to meet our commitment to growth and accountability to all invested in PAA.