Fostering Continuous Improvement

GK12 White Paper - Fostering Improvement

With help from decision support tools, a growing number of districts are focusing on continuous improvement throughout their schools

Over the last several years, the Aldine Independent School District in Texas has raised students' average reading scores by 18 percent, brought up math scores by 29 percent, increased its four-year graduation rate by 11 percentage points, and saved more than $100,000 per year in transportation costs alone.

Each of these successes was achieved by adhering to a simple concept, district leaders say: focusing on continuous improvement. 'Our district has been extremely successful in implementing and sustaining a continuous improvement model,' said Janet Ray, director of strategic planning and school improvement for the 66,000-student district.

The concept might be simple, but putting it into practice is not.

Aldine ISD, which was recognized for its achievements by winning the Broad Prize for Urban Education in 2009, is one of a growing number of K-12 districts that have adopted a formal plan to drive continuous improvement throughout their schools.

'It's about redesigning processes to be more efficient,' said Fred Bentsen, senior vice president of sales and marketing for APQC Education, the schoolfocused arm of the nonprofit American Productivity and Quality Center.

Bentsen's organization helps schools adopt a continuous improvement plan. Its 'North Star' community now includes 85 school districts, including Aldine, that have made this shift—and that figure is growing every year.

'Schools need to break out of the model of, 'Well, we've always done it this way,'' Bentsen noted. Focusing on continuous improvement 'is giving them permission to break the model.'

What continuous improvement looks like

There are many paths to continuous improvement, but they tend to follow the same basic approach: analyze, plan, implement, evaluate—then start the cycle all over again.

At Aldine, a large, diverse urban district with a poverty rate of 84 percent, district leaders developed five major goals that would define their actions: (1) improve student achievement; (2) develop safe learning environments; (3) increase the satisfaction of students, staff, and parents; (4) maintain fiscal solvency by making smart decisions; and (5) manage assets in an effective manner.

In tackling the first goal, a team of senior district leaders, curriculum specialists, principals, and teachers analyzed student data from state assessments and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. They identified gaps in instruction, then refined the district's curriculum and designed professional development to address these needs. They also created a district-wide Model of Instruction (MOI), placing students at the center of the learning process, and established a management system to make sure this MOI was implemented across the district with fidelity.

Processes that support this MOI are evaluated every year and revisited as needed, based on what the data say. Since the MOI was implemented in 2003, average reading scores have increased 18 percent, Ray said; math scores have increased 29 percent; social studies achievement has grown 20 percent; science, 50 percent; and writing, 12 percent.
In analyzing student data, Aldine officials realized at-risk students weren't graduating from high school within four years, because they lacked enough credits to earn their degree.

This led to the development of an online credit recovery program, which has been instrumental in raising the district's four-year graduation rate from 69 percent in 2008 to 80 percent in 2012.

Looking at trend data from Aldine's transportation department, district officials realized their costs were going up because of a string of school bus accidents. 'The average was one at-fault bus accident for every 274,000 miles,' Ray said.

Transportation officials gathered information on school bus discipline, bus drivers' attitudes with students, safe driving records, the stated cause of accidents, times of the accidents, and more. They sifted through the information and discovered the root causes included driver inattention, turning, backing up, drivers following too close, and failure to control speed.

In response to these findings, district officials developed a new bus driver training program that includes video footage to enhance driver awareness. They also convened monthly Accident Review Board meetings, increased driver safety meetings to six times per year, and initiated online driver training. As with other district operations, this process is monitored and evaluated yearly, and revisions are made based on stakeholder surveys and new accident data.

Since Aldine launched its accident reduction program, 'the yearly at-fault school bus accident rate has decreased from 43 in 2008 to 18 in 2012, with a savings of over $100,000 per year,' Ray said.


'Geovisual analytics provides a unique way to see trends and deploy resources that schools haven't had in the past.'

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