Tag Archives: needs assessment

The Second Step: Developing a Solution

If you want to secure grant money for your school, the first step is to understand in detail the problems your school faces. Once you have clearly identified those hurdles to student achievement or school-wide success, the second step is to develop a plan/solution that has the greatest likelihood of achieving your goals.

When I first became a middle school principal, our test scores indicated that we had a reading problem. Overall, our students read about 1.5 grade levels below the national average. We already had a Title I reading program, but we weren’t getting very good results. We did our research and found that:

1) Although we had a serious school-wide reading problem, only our very poorest readers attended reading classes.

2) Although we knew that reading was a skill, we did not provide enough time during the school day for our students to practice that skill.

3) Monitoring large amounts of independent reading is difficult without enough computers and specialized software.

With that knowledge, we were able to put together a comprehensive plan in which:
• all students, regardless of their reading levels, would attend a reading class.

• each student would spend one hour each day in reading practice on appropriate-level materials.

• we would use the STAR reading test to determine the beginning reading levels of students and to measure growth.

• we would use Accelerated Reader software to monitor students’ daily reading.

In addition, we would initiate “structural” changes in order to meet the needs of our new program:
• In order to make time in the school day for students to receive an hour of reading practice, we had to change from a 7-period to an 8-period schedule.

• All of our teachers became reading monitors in order to monitor 30 minutes of reading practice time. The regular reading teachers monitored the other 30 minutes and taught mini-lessons on skills.

• We had to purchase STAR and Accelerated Reader.

• We had to purchase thousands of library books to match the reading levels, interests, and reading volume of our students.

• We had to purchase dozens of computers to monitor the program.

We developed a special budget in order to put our plan into place. While our solution was relatively expensive, we did not consider costs when we developed the plan. We only considered the results we would likely achieve. To get the money we needed to fund our plan, we tapped into the regular budget, Title I, and special education funds. But that wasn’t enough. We wrote grants and we entered into a partnership with the software company to do detailed research as we measured our students’ reading growth.

When your school faces a hurdle to student achievement, the key is to build a plan that directly addresses the problem and has the greatest likelihood of success. When you are developing your plan, don’t worry about costs. That will come later. If you can, find schools with similar demographics that have faced similar problems and made major improvements. Duplicate the best parts of their plans if it’s feasible for you to do so — without consideration to money.

When your plan is complete — and you’re sure it is comprehensive and has an excellent chance of success — then comes the time to start worrying about the budget and finding the money to fund your program. Which brings us to the topic we will cover in my next post: finding grant money to fund your program.

Step One: Understanding Your Needs

If you want to secure grant money for your school, your very first step is to understand — in detail — the needs your school faces. To understand the true depth of those needs, you must consistently perform needs assessments. A good needs assessment measures the difference between what you expect of students in your classroom, school, or district, and what actually happens. The wider the gap between expectations and actual outcomes, the larger the need you have.

The easiest way to do a needs assessment is to look at the goals you set for the year and see if you met them. The end of the school year is the ideal time to assess your progress. By that time you should have state tests, nationally-normed tests, and locally developed tests to help you determine the actual growth of your students. If you do not currently have assessment tools in place, proper assessment should definitely be your first goal for the year.

As you begin to fill out grant applications, you will need to include details gathered from your needs assessments. Remember, a needs assessment is any instrument that measures the difference in current conditions and desired conditions. Typically, most of the information you need for grant applications can be gleaned from testing instruments, but you might also need to use student, teacher, or parent surveys.

In addition, your disciplinary and attendance records might be used as needs-assessment instruments. For example, I often talk of schools where students perform 1.5 to 2 years behind in math or reading. You might determine from your attendance records that the at-risk students who score low in reading and math are the ones who have the poorest attendance. Maybe the problem is not class size or the instructional programs you currently use. Maybe the problem is that students are not learning what you’re teaching because they don’t attend school regularly enough to master the skills they need to perform on grade level.

Good needs-assessment instruments help you to examine a wide range of problems and programs from many different angles and to determine exactly what problems you face. Failure to review those assessment tools at the end of each school year, simply put, is a mistake. In fact, your grant program should be built around those needs assessments. You should perform your needs assessments, use them to determine the largest problems you face, and then determine if you have local money to fix those problems. If you do not have enough money locally, then you should use a grant database to explore the many opportunities for grant money that can be used to address — and solve — those problems.

From time to time, new needs surface in a district, school, or classroom — needs that have not been part of your regular needs assessments. You may be seeing gang activity in your school for the first time, a larger percentage of dropouts than you have experienced before, or an influx into your community of a sizeable number of students who cannot speak English. Those issues are excellent candidates for grant writing because you have not experienced them before, so it is unlikely you have built money into your budget to address them.

As you are surely aware, the end of the school year does not mean that you lock up the doors and head off on vacation. If you write grants for your school, the end of the fall semester and the end of the year are the times to study the results provided by your needs-assessment tools to discover the problems that need to be addressed through your grant-writing program. Needs assessments are the starting point of any good school grant program. Be sure you use them to your advantage.