Using Needs Assessments
Julie Corbett, advisor to the School and District Improvement (SDI) SCASS group within the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), and Sam Redding from The Center on School Turnaround, released a Tactical Guide on school improvement planning in the age of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) called Using Needs Assessments for School and District Improvement. This helpful guide clearly explains:
- the ESSA requirements to conduct needs assessments,
- the different types of needs assessments, and
- how to implement a needs assessment effectively.
The Tactical Guide explains that ESSA requires that State Education Agencies (SEA) and Local Education Agencies (LEA) conduct needs assessments "for schools identified for comprehensive support and improvement (CSI)" as well as "develop and implement a school improvement plan that is based on a school-level [Needs Assessment]."
Defining "Needs Assessment"
Because the term "needs assessment" is quite common, the Tactical Guide defines the different types of needs assessments. In this context, a "Needs Assessment" is a "systemic process" used to identify an organization's strengths and areas in need of improvement. It is NOT an "isolated tool or practice." A "Segmented Needs Assessment" is focused on targeted functions or areas of an organization.
Conducting a "Needs Assessment"
The Tactical Guide suggests the necessary steps to take in a Needs Assessment (p. 18):
- Pre-populate the Needs Assessment with available data
- Gather survey data
- Review data and compile into easily digestible format
- Onsite review to gather more data, analyze existing data, determine findings and initial action items
- Create summary of findings to inform plan creation
To be sure, SEA and LEA leaders should use this Tactical Guide to support their work in school and district improvement.
How CALL Connects to This Work
As the name "Comprehensive Assessment of Leadership for Learning" (CALL) suggests, this tool has been referred to as a "needs assessment" or "diagnostic tool." And while CALL certainly performs those functions, it does not meet the definition of a "Needs Assessment" as put forth by the Tactical Guide presented in this post. It does, however, serve as a component of a "Needs Assessment" in that it collects practice-based data through an online survey which informs a school improvement process. And, the CALL system was designed to measure growth over time and to examine district-wide trends. The CALL system should be considered as a "Segmented Needs Assessment" since it focuses on "improvement to targeted functions or aspects of the school." In this case, the targeted function would be "leadership," or "distributed leadership" more specifically. The resulting data inform a school improvement process, especially since the data are already presented to users in a "easily digestible format."
Four Domains for Rapid School Improvement
The CALL framework is research-validated and indicative of effective school leadership practice. However, there are other frameworks that are also valid, relevant, and indicative of effective schools. The Tactical Guide offers the Four Domains for Rapid School Improvement: A Systems Framework, developed by The Center on School Turnaround, as an option to consider for conducting a Needs Assessment. And, just as the CALL framework aligns to the PSEL Framework and other leadership-based frameworks, so does it align to the Four Domains for Rapid School Improvement. School, District, and State Leaders can use the CALL system to measure key practices that comprise the Four Domains framework.
Support for CSI and TSI Schools
When schools get identified for Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) and Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI), these schools will need tools to comply with federal and local demands. Using the CALL System helps schools comply with these demands, and due to the formative nature of CALL and the resulting action-based data, this work helps these schools move beyond compliance. When these schools get designated, having having CALL as a tool will help with the initial burden of the designation.