Using Needs Assessments For School And District Improvement

Using needs assessments for school and district improvement

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Using Needs Assessments
for School and District
Julie Corbett
Sam Redding
Purpose of Tactical Guide 2
ESSA Requirements 3
Section A — Planning Your Needs Assessment 4
Section B — Designing Your Needs Assessment 13
Section C — The Improvement Process 24
Section D — Key Decision Points 37
References 41
This tactical guide is designed to support state education agencies (SEAs), local education
agencies (LEAs), and schools as they design and complete needs assessments for
various purposes

This guide was created specifically to:
Support schools identified for Provide SEAs and LEAs Provide SEAs and LEAs with
improvement (due to with information about specific guidance and questions
achievement data for all how the NA connects to consider as they develop a NA
students or for subgroups of into a broader theory or hire an external provider to
students) and their LEAs. of action around complete an needs assessment,
improvement. and then utilize its results as part
But any school or LEA can of their planning, implementation,
benefit from the use of and monitoring processes

a strong needs assessment

ESSA For schools identified for
comprehensive support and
improvement (CSI), the district
Under ESSA, a few additional Title
areas also require an NA. In some cases,
the same NA, or a very similar one,
Requirements must develop and implement
a school improvement plan
can be used to meet more than
one requirement

that is based on a school-level
NA (Title I, Part A)

The Every Student
Some SEAs may also choose to have
Succeeds Act (ESSA)
all schools (and LEAs) that have been
requires SEAs and LEAs identified for improvement complete an
to complete a needs An LEA is not required to NA

conduct an NA for schools
assessment (NA) in
identified for targeted support
several circumstances, and improvement (TSI), but
including: many SEAs may choose to To streamline efforts and lessen the
either require or strongly burden on schools and LEAs, some SEAs
encourage the completion of may choose to develop a template for a
an NA for those identified comprehensive needs assessment (CNA)
schools. that meets of their department-specific
requirements for local NAs

(CCSSO, 2017; U.S. Department of Education, 2015)
Your Needs
An assessment is an appraisal that estimates, calculates, or rates something. So,
what does it mean to assess needs? Basically it means to identify a school’s (and to
some extent its LEA’s) strengths, weaknesses, and the areas in which improvement is
called for. Identifying areas of weakness is an essential first step toward identifying
and then addressing root causes of poor performance

Various names and • Comprehensive • Equity audit
definitions are used to needs assessment • School quality review
describe needs (CNA) (SQRs)
assessments, • Segmented needs
including: • Diagnostic
assessment (SNA) assessment
• Consolidated needs • Diagnostic review
• Diagnostic inquiry
• Needs assessment
What is a needs  An NA is a systemic  An NA should be part of
process that is used to: an ongoing performance
assessment management cycle that
- Determine strengths
(NA) for and weaknesses of a includes both longer-
improvement? school and/or LEA, range performance goals
- Understand the context and shorter-cycle
and constraints of the implementation targets

school and/or LEA,  An NA should include
- Perform a root-cause questions at the LEA
analysis, and level, even if the focus is
- Develop an the school level

improvement plan
 An NA is not an isolated
outlining changes
tool or practice, but
considered most likely
should be part of a
to bolster or build on
continuous improvement
strengths and to

remediate weaknesses

Whole or Part? Comprehensive needs assessments
A needs assessment (NA) is a point- • Organizational direction,
including goals and strategies
in-time snapshot that may be:
• Comprehensive, assessing all • Systemic functions
aspects of the school and its • Long-range plans
context (including its LEA), (typically multi-year)
• Segmented, assessing only one
Segmented needs assessments inform:
or a few aspects of the school
and its context. • Improvement to targeted functions
or aspects of the school
Any NA should be revisited and
• Incremental change
updated on a regular basis to
ensure alignment to the • Short-cycle plans (typically less
improvement plan and to check for than a year)
progress against the original

Comprehensive  A CNA may be used by
multiple departments
result in resource savings
for the SEA, the LEA, and
Needs within an SEA. Instead of the schools over time

having several individual
Assessment departments develop or  As is true for all NAs, the
findings yielded through a
(CNA) require their own NA
CNA are only accurate as
templates for local use, the
departments collaborate to long as the school and
develop a single template district context remains the
that will work for all of same. Thus, CNAs need to
them. be updated as the school
and its LEA evolve

 The initial amount of time
invested in creating a CNA  Developing a CNA would
can be large, because it be most beneficial for SEAs
includes developing the that are moving toward
necessary tools and implementing consolidated
processes, as well as grant applications; are
planning and coordinating braiding and blending
related to implementation. funds; and are breaking
However, this approach can down traditional SEA silos

Segmented  An SNA is:  An SNA can be conducted
relatively quickly, thus
Needs - used by one program or a
limited number of
allowing for opportunities
to capture and learn from
Assessment programs within an SEA, the most current data

(SNA)  An SNA may be produced
- used by a school to by administering each
address one functional component of a CNA
area or a limited number separately so that
of functional areas at a improvement in each area
time, to inform short- can be planned and
cycle improvement executed as a manageable
planning. chunk of work. This
approach retains the CNA's
advantage of providing a
coherent view of how the
components fit together

The instruments and methods needed for conducting a CNA or an SNA may vary by
school types and performance trends

High school, middle Trajectory of past
school, elementary performance (using
school, preschool; accountability
typical or special- metrics, for
purpose school example)
(alternative schools,
for example)
This is an example of how performance trajectory could inform the needs assessment and
improvement process

Performance Tools & Infrastructure Guidance
Consistently School will be able to apply SEA- and LEA-provided tools, Self-directed; will access the
high performance data, implementation infrastructure, and information to resources and supports required
its own advantage for [its] continued growth
Moderate School will typically be able to apply the SEA- and LEA- Self-directed; will access the
performance/ provided tools, data, implementation infrastructure, and resources and supports required
rapid information to its own advantage for [its] continued growth
Moderate School will benefit from coached self-assessment, Guidance of an external consultant
performance/ applying the SEA- and LEA-provided tools, data, would be helpful in diagnosis and
moderate implementation infrastructure, and information planning
Moderate Coached self-assessment may be supplemented by Needs coaching and external
performance/ external reviews to provide an objective view of school’s reviewers for diagnosis and
slow improvement operations, implementation infrastructure, and recom- planning
mend improvements
Consistently School is a candidate for intervention. External review is Needs interventionists and external
low performance useful in determining the appropriate intervention and reviewers for diagnosis, planning,
implementation infrastructure model to inform the SEA and strategy selection
and LEA about conditions and practices prevalent in the
school in order to strengthen the reform efforts
Source: Excerpted from Redding, S., Dunn, L., & McCauley, C. (2015). School Improvement Grants: Guidance and tools for the
2015 amended regulations: Maximizing the optional planning/pre-implementation year. San Francisco, CA: WestEd. Retrieved
from Used with permission

May choose to develop a template for a comprehensive needs assessment (CNA) that meets of their department -specific requirements for local NAs. The Every Student Succeeds Act …

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the needs assessment guidebook?

The Needs Assessment Guidebook from the State Support Network describes the following common challenges districts and schools face when conducting and using a needs assessment as part of school improvement plan development:

Do districts have the expertise to conduct needs assessments?

Districts and schools may have limited expertise and capacity, including trained staff, to conduct needs assessments and use the results to develop meaningful school improvement plans.

What are the challenges of needs assessment?

Districts and schools can face challenges when conducting and using needs assessment processes effectively as part of school improvement plan development, typically stemming from limited staff capacity.

What data should districts and schools look for in a needs assessment?

Districts and schools may start by examining summary results from standardized tests and other state accountability measures but may be unsure of what other data and systems to review as part of a needs assessment process and root cause analysis.