Moving beyond compliance

Helping high poverty district improve student achievement and graduation rates

Evidence-based best practice is a hot topic in education, especially in regard to the proposed ESSA accountability system. It means that schools tailor their action plans to meet their individual student and school needs based on objective- and research-based models.

This process provides for an internal accountability system and enhanced professional learning communities.

During a Specific School Improvement Visit, we go to every class in the school to monitor instruction and provide feedback.

Dearborn City School District in Michigan uses an evidence-based system throughout the district to implement a School Improvement Process (SIP) that provides for an internal accountability system that is based on the professional learning community philosophy.

Dearborn Public Schools—the third largest in the state, consisting of 34 schools and 39 K12 programs—integrates staff expertise with research based best practices to implement a locally developed school improvement plan process.

The district serves over 21,000 students, half of whom are limited English proficient, with 70 percent who are economically disadvantaged.


The SIP is a growth model that involves creating partnerships between all stakeholders including administrators, teachers, parents, non-instructional staff and students.

School faculty are engaged in an internal process for continuous improvement wherein they monitor and adjust their goals and plans while they receive evidence-based feedback from the school improvement visiting team.

Schools host a minimum of two formal SIP visits per year in addition to informal walkthroughs. At least one of the school visits is unannounced. A team representing each of the stakeholder groups conducts classroom walkthroughs using a learner-centric rubric of best practices and district strategic plan initiatives.

Following the classroom visits, the team members participate in a feedback session to report on the level of implementation of each individual high-impact strategy and district initiative.

During the walkthrough, observers focus on what students are doing and saying, their level of engagement in the lesson, depth of questions and the level of cognitive demands of the activities.

Visitors also assess the frequency of checking for understanding, differentiation of instruction, conferring, and other high-impact strategies used by the learner and the teacher.

Additional strategies that support continuous improvement include the school staff thoroughly analyzing the school data profile following a district data protocol, aligning the professional development plan calender with the school improvement plan, developing a parental engagement plan, and maintaining evidence of adhering to state and federal mandates. See the rubric by clicking here.

Following the classroom visits, the SIP team reconvenes and gives immediate oral feedback to the school team. The team provides a detailed written report to the school leadership within 24 hours of the visit.

This process provides an additional formative assessment tool used by the school professional learning community team to address areas of focus and maintain powerful practices.

Continuous improvement

Institutionalizing this practice in all 34 schools has resulted in continuous, systemic and vertical instructional improvement across the district.

The district has shown gains in student achievement in math and literacy on standardized and benchmark assessment, improved instructional delivery as measured by the teacher evaluation tool, and a graduation rate that improved from 81 percent in 2008 to 93 percent in 2016.

The power of this model is that it has become a normal operational part of the district. It also promotes professional learning communities and knowledge sharing as administrators and teachers attend visits to other schools to provide feedback and learn about implementing best practices across the district.

The consistent implementation of the rubric is another key factor for consistent delivery of best practices across the district.

Fatme Faraj is director of School Improvement/Leadership Coaching for Dearborn Public Schools. Glenn M. Maleyko is superintendent of Dearborn Public Schools.

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