Assessment Tool

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Becoming a learning organizationWhat does it mean to function as a learning organization? More than 20 years ago, Peter Senge (1990) described learning organizations as groups of people working together to collectively enhance their capacities to create results that matter to them. McNulty and Besser (2011) note, “…the reality is that most classrooms, schools, and districts don’t learn well collectively. By and large, teaching is still an isolated profession.” (p. 58) Putting structures in place to replace isolated learning with collective continuous learning is a prerequisite for making and sustaining meaningful improvements across the district (Elmore, 2004; Supovitz, 2006; Fullan, 2008a).

Superintendents of districts that function as learning organizations continually evaluate the effects of the district’s collective work on student learning, and take action to address problems and replicate successes. Such superintendents understand that when adults in the system are learning, the students are also learning. Effective data use, and how to communicate and share data across levels of the system, are essential for monitoring the district’s core work.

Communicating progress. According to McNulty and Besser (2011), districts and their schools need to review both implementation data and effectiveness data on a continuous basis. Implementation data should be reviewed to determine how well improvement strategies are being implemented. Walk-through data, data from rubrics and checklists, work samples, and other data can be used for this purpose. At the same time, effectiveness data to determine the effect of implemented strategies on student performance should be reviewed regularly using such data as common formative assessments and/or quarterly or endof- unit benchmark common assessments. Decisions about when and how often (e.g., quarterly electronic submission from all schools to the district) data should be gathered and submitted need to be made to facilitate communication across levels of the system (i.e., district/central office, schools, teacher teams).

For the district’s building leadership teams (BLTs) and teacher-based teams (TBTs) to be effectively supported in their work, the district must define what and how often adult implementation and student performance data will be collected from and provided to teams, specifying what the BLT needs to provide to and receive from TBTs, and what the DLT needs to provide to and receive from BLTs. This two-way communication facilitates what McNulty and Besser (2011, p. 24) describe as top-down and bottom-up learning. While there are many school improvement approaches, the most effective model involves collectively learning to use more effective research-based instructional strategies and simultaneously learning to be an effective data-based team member.

In supporting teachers as they learn specific teaching practices identified for district-wide implementation (e.g., use of clear learning outcomes, strategies associated with the district’s literacy or math plan), the district needs to ask three questions:

  1. What teaching or instructional practices should we all focus on to learn together?
  2. How well can we, or do we, implement and learn the practices?
  3. Do the instructional practices make a difference in student learning?

Collecting common data in a consistent format allows the district to compare progress across schools, create graphs showing similarities or differences between schools, grade levels within schools, and specific groups of students. The district will want to know how student achievement is progressing in each school and what, if any, support is needed from the district. The district team may, at times, conduct observations of all or some classrooms in all or selected schools to monitor implementation of a specific strategy (e.g., note-taking), or to document (e.g., videotape) effective instructional practice that can be shared with other schools in the district.

Superintendent – Board of Education Communication. Effective districts have the capacity for reliably assessing student learning and using such data in district decision-making (Leithwood & Jantzi, 2009). Not surprisingly, effective boards use data to set goals, establish accountability for themselves and others, monitor progress, apply pressure, and inform decision-making regarding the conditions that affect student learning (Delagardelle, 2008; Goodman, Fulbright & Zimmerman, 1997; LaMonte & Delagardelle, 2009; Leithwood & Jantzi, 2008; Murphy & Hallinger, 1988). To that mutual end, Goodman emphasized the importance of an effective board/superintendent team by pointing out that "working with the superintendent, the board must continually evaluate all conditions affecting the education of children" (1997, p. 32). These boards "worked with district leadership to determine what data would be collected and how it would be used by the board and district leadership in making decisions" (Lamonte & Delagardelle, p. 23).

Superintendents can use the OIP structures and tools [e.g., Decision Framework tool, Implementation Management/Monitoring (IM/M) tool] to support the board in using relevant data, and to effectively communicate progress to the Board in relation to the district’s focused goals and strategies in the area of instruction and achievement. The essential board leadership practice of "using data" supports and reflects the emphasis of Ohio's Leadership Development Framework on identifying, collecting, analyzing, and effectively using data to identify the greatest problems to be addressed and to create the kind of culture that supports data-based-decision making at all levels of the system including the board level.


Setting Focused Agendas: Develop your next Board of Education (BoE) agenda by first reviewing the minutes from the three previous meetings. With a copy of the district goals for student achievement in front of you as your focus, how much of the board's business and decisions focus on teaching and learning and/or align with the district's goals? Where do they depart? What is needed to get back on track?


Reporting Progress: If you were making a plan for reporting progress aligned with district goals to the BoE, what issues would you consider in structuring the presentation (e.g., who would present the data, what kind of presentation would work best, and so on)? How would you use OIP tools in prioritizing key data to present and in highlighting key messages for the BoE, for teachers and other personnel, for parents/families and the community?

Listen to an Ohio superintendent describe how he/she used the OIP tools and OLAC resources in working with Board of Education members to review relevant data about the district’s progress in improving instructional practice and student learning.

Using OIP-OLAC to Review Relevant Data/Report Progress with Board of Education

For more information on effective communication, go to:

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Download the Superintendent's Assessment Tool from

This District Self-Assessment Guide is intended for use by district leadership teams and school-level leadership teams in gauging the district's degree of implementation and scale of actions associated with effective practices identified by Moving Your Numbers.

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Supporting Partners

  • University of Dayton, a supporting partner of the Ohio Doing What Works program
  • Educational Service Center of Cuyahoga County, a supporting partner of the Ohio Doing What Works program
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  • Buckeye Association of School Administrators, a supporting partner of the Ohio Doing What Works program
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