Accelerating Student Growth Through Aligned and Focused Improvement Plans

by Jessica A. Moe, PhD, Division of Learning Support, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, and Wendy Savaske, Education Consultant, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

How are Joint Federal Notifications connected to continuous improvement? 

Each year, annual cycles of identification are required under two major federal laws: the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  Every district in Wisconsin receives a Joint Federal Notification packet annually - regardless of their identification status. This data is meant to inform continuous improvement practices at the local level and provides districts the opportunity to engage in continuous improvement by collaborating with statewide partners:   

  • Technical Assistance Network for Improvement (TANI) and Cooperative Educational Service Areas (CESAs)

  • Wisconsin Response to Intervention (RtI) Center

  • Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators (WASDA)

  • Disproportionality Technical Assistance Network (DTAN)

  • Association of Wisconsin School Administrators (AWSA)

Joint Federal Notification packets are released in Spring of each year through Secure Access File Exchange (SAFE).   This year’s identifications were made final and shared with districts on March 10, 2020. 

Identifications under each law use specific data and criteria to identify schools and districts that are having difficulty meeting the needs of all students.  ESSA identifications are school-level identifications based on critical indicators of student success. Districts may be identified under IDEA through LEA Determinations (score based on compliance and results indicators for students with IEPs) or IDEA Racial Disproportionality (score based on risk ratio threshold for identification, placement, and discipline of students with IEPs by race).   For more information, please see DPI’s Federal Identifications webpage. 

Identified districts are asked to engage in a robust continuous improvement process to understand and address the issues that resulted in the identification(s). This work may support and build on existing improvement efforts and does not have to involve creating an entirely new plan or process, depending on the unique situation.  

Why should schools and districts align continuous improvement plans?

Two years of data paint a picture of overlap in the IDEA and ESSA identifications: Wisconsin needs to invest in supports to accelerate growth for students with IEPs and students of color, particularly Black students.  The data is summarized in the charts below. The first row of charts illustrates schools identified as Targeted Support and Improvement by student service group. Students with disabilities is the primary identification.

                            2018-19 Identifications and 2019-20 Identifications

In addition, the past two years of data for Targeted Support and Improvement by race and ethnicity illustrated Black/African American student group is the primary identification.

                           2018-19 Identifications and 2019-20 Identifications


The WI DPI Continuous Improvement Criteria and Rubric is one resource that can be used to build a common understanding of continuous improvement as an ongoing, data-driven process in which learning organizations deliberately and strategically collaborate to understand and replicate successes and plan for and address areas of concern. When implemented effectively, the continuous improvement process culminates in long-term, embedded, positive change, and progress in the school or district, thereby improving student outcomes (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction 2016, 6). 

Both IDEA and ESSA have similar responsibilities for districts and schools identified. These responsibilities are embedded within ongoing continuous improvement.  

  • Needs Assessment/Root Cause Analysis (ESSA/IDEA)

  • Identify/address resource inequities (ESSA)

  • Identify evidence-based improvement strategy (ESSA/IDEA)

  • Stakeholder engagement (ESSA)

  • Develop and implement a continuous improvement plan (ESSA/IDEA)

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has resources available to assist districts and schools in meeting the responsibilities.  Included are:

In order to increase the impact of improvement efforts, districts and schools with IDEA and Additional Targeted Support and Improvement and Targeted Support and Improvement with similar identifications of student groups should look for ways to work and plan together to ensure focus and alignment to actively support the instructional needs of educators so that all students are positively impacted. 

Aligning continuous improvement plans is one way districts and schools can create coherence around what they are trying to improve (Plan), what they are doing to improve (Do), whether what they are doing is an improvement (Study), and how to adjust the plan to lead to improvement (Act).  In addition to building coherence, it is crucial for schools and districts to embed ongoing cycles of improvement within day-to-day work.




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