The Complexity of Organizational Improvement
Education is witnessing ever-increasing pressures of accountability for student outcomes, and adoption and implementation of various district and school improvement initiatives. It is not uncommon for one to hear at the district or school levels concerns of having one more thing to implement or adopt. Not only is there a complexity in trying to balance the resources needed to successfully implement all the required and elected initiatives in a district or school, but there is also the complexity of trying to evaluate whether those initiatives are (a) being implemented with fidelity, and (b) if those initiatives are resulting in improved outcomes for students. Within a context of using a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) as a framework for improving outcomes for all students, the Florida Problem Solving & Response to Intervention (PS/RtI) Project and the Florida Positive Behavior Support: A Multi-Tiered Support System (FLPBS: MTSS) Project developed an integrated and collaborative process at the state level to streamline coordinated support services to districts in pursuit of improved outcomes.
What is the DAPPS?
The District Action Planning & Problem-solving Process (DAPPS) is a systems-level data-based problem-solving process that districts can use to guide their district improvement goals and related implementation efforts. The primary purpose of the DAPPS process is to strengthen the district’s capacity to implement an integrated system of services or supports for both academic and behavior needs across all schools, as well as support district and school improvement efforts. Each district has its own unique needs and resources. Therefore, the DAPPS is a content-neutral, open-ended process; it is not a prescription for implementation of any given initiative. It is meant to support a district’s unique improvement goals while also providing a structured process for ensuring effective data based decision-making practices and fidelity of plan implementation. The DAPPS is not MTSS or a model for school reform. It is a process designed to facilitate the implementation of MTSS as a framework for aligning and integrating a district’s improvement initiatives.
Who is involved?
The “MTSS Project Support Team” will include, at a minimum, one representative from the PS/RtI Project, one representative from the FLPBS: MTSS Project, and in some cases the Differentiated Accountability MTSS Specialist assigned to the district. Additional staff from each project may at times participate as needed to support the fidelity of the process, support the district support team on key topics or issues, and/or with helping to improve the supports services offered by the projects. Depending on the unique needs of a district and its focus for change, other partnerships may be encouraged with other FDOE Discretionary projects and/or district community partners, agencies, and families.
At the district level, the DAPPS may involve senior administrators, department leaders for Curriculum & Instruction, General Education, ESE, Professional Development, IT/MIS, RtI, DA, PBS, Student Support Services, or a subset if the district team is very large. We know from experience that in some districts, personnel wear “different hats” and as a result are best positioned to participate in the DAPPS process routinely. However, we also know that in some districts, particularly large districts, it may not be as organizationally feasible to include members of the Superintendents cabinet. In such cases an “implementation team” is recommended and at least one member has responsibility for ensuring support by the Superintendent’s office and help with communicating progress of implementation efforts to upper-level leadership. In short, the DAPPS should include those district personnel who have responsibility for implementing significant parts of a MTSS as well as leadership/administrative personnel who can allocate resources to accomplish tasks. While each team will need to have a collective capacity to produce systems change, each team will likely differ from district to district.
How does it work?
The DAPPS “way of work” is a collaborative process between the MTSS Project Support Team and the District Leadership Team involving the following steps:
Step 1: Initiation of District Collaboration — This step focuses on ensuring organizational readiness for systemic change. Often districts will have several “plans” that are developed for supporting any number of activities at the school level. Coordinating the elements of these various plans and streamlining them into one complete vision for change is foundational for building the capacity of the “system” to efficiently and effectively implement and evaluate its practices, as well as its impacts on students and their families. The readiness step will allow a district to ensure a clear mission/vision is articulated and the changes likely needed for further improvement in educator and student performances. Communication lines will be increased and strengthened to support a process that clearly identifies how every department, partner, and educator can contribute to the school or district improvement process.
Step 2: Needs Assessment Process — This step is analogous to analyzing the barriers that have prevented a district from reaching its goals. Data on student performance, organizational practices and fidelity of those practices, along with gathering critical insight from key district leaders are all cross-referenced for analysis and summarized to consider high-priority hypotheses for why particular problems are occurring for the district in relation to student outcomes. In some cases, this step can provide a district with a full inventory of all the issues preventing goal attainment, and allow a district team to organize and prioritize the various issues through problem solving and action planning. The Needs Assessment will provide a picture of the district’s strengths and the connections among areas for further support to guide development of actions plans for change.
Step 3: Action Planning and Problem Solving — This step of the DAPPS supports a DLT to accomplish several things: prioritize systemic changes for improvement; strengthen cross-departmental partnerships; ensure distributed responsibilities across various departments and projects to support the implementation process, and support the development of a blueprint for monitoring successful implementation efforts and their impacts on schools, educators, and students/families.
Step 4: Implementation of Training Technical Assistance and/or Support to Districts — This step of the DAPPS supports the district team in determining what if any additional resources or partnerships are needed and how best to coordinate all the various personnel and activities involved so that gaps or duplication of services are minimized and fidelity of the implementation plan is high. The MTSS Project Team will provide or identify resources for training and technical assistance to support the action plan. Support may be provided to help coordinate various partnerships and agencies (both internal and external to the district) to collaboratively support the districts improvement plan activities.
Step 5: Evaluation of Impacts — A critical step in the DAPPS process is a formative and summative evaluation to determine if the change made in a district result in the removal or avoidance of perceived barriers for improvement, and determining the impact of removing those barriers on educator practices and student performance outcomes. The MTSS Project Team can provide assistance with evaluation activities and tools to assess fidelity and outcomes (both implementation and student outcomes) associated with the district’s improvement efforts.