Protocol for Conducting a Middle-Level Education Needs Assessment Based Upon:
The New York State Board of Regents’ Policy Statement on Middle-Level Education and The New York State Education Department’s Essential Elements of Standards-Focused Middle-Level Schools and Programs
Introduction and Background: The Board of Regents, State Education Department personnel and middle-level educators around the state have been revising the goals and programs offered at the middle-level. Since it is understood that this is a critical time in the academic, social, and psychological development, new policies and regulations were put in place to recognize, support and strengthen the middle-level program to ensure that this critical transition would be made successfully by all students.
In 2003, the Board of Regents adopted a research-based Policy Statement on Middle-Level Education that details what should be happening in middle-level schools. To provide additional information and expand the policy statement, the Essential Elements of Standards-Focused Middle-Level Schools and Programs was then created. Lastly, in 2005, the Board of Regents adopted new regulations (100.3, 100.4, and 80-5.12) to clearly establish criteria for middle-level program models around the state.
These new regulations will form the parameters for the construct of middle-level education programs for decades to come. Therefore, it is critical that all middle-level educators not only become familiar with them. In addition, they must ensure that any programs in their buildings are consistent with the letter and spirit of the new middle-level education policy, the State Education Department’s Essential Elements of Standards-Focused Middle-Level Schools and Programs, New York State’s 28 Learning Standards, and other existing regulations and are implemented with fidelity. It is hoped that this protocol will serve as a consistent statewide format to provide this valuable information to all members of the educational community.
Intended Use (Purpose): The intended purpose of this protocol is to provide district leaders with a systematic way to gather relevant information and data regarding the current status of their middle school with respect to the Essential Elements. It provides them with a way to establish goals for continued growth and improvement. By using the Essential Elements of Standards-Focused Middle-Level Schools and Programs as a starting point, districts will be able to identify those aspects of an effective middle school that need support and those areas that are evident but need continual growth.
Assessing strengths and identifying gaps in a school system cannot be accomplished through a "one shot" session. School improvement must be an ongoing process. Initially, a full day presentation during a Superintendent’s Conference day or professional development day is needed to provide background logic and information for all staff members. This allows everyone to see the process from a similar frame of reference. Faculty meetings, team meetings and/or grade level meetings will provide a regular forum to continue analysis and discussions for meeting and adjusting the process. With improved understanding and common perspective, the staff will work in a framework of collaboration for the benefit of all involved.
Assumptions (Readiness Pre-Conditions): This protocol is predicated on the following three assumptions:
- Staff are willing to do what is necessary to improve their school and have stated so publicly.
- Staff are familiar with – and committed to implementing – the Regents Policy Statement on Middle-Level Education and the State Education Department’s Essential Elements of Standards-Focused Middle-Level Schools and Programs.
- The Central Office is willing to take an active role in supporting the school staff in their efforts to implement – the Regents Policy Statement on Middle-Level Education and the State Education Department’s Essential Elements of Standards-Focused Middle-Level Schools and Programs.
To the Facilitator: If staff are not familiar with either the Regents Policy Statement on Middle Level Education or the Essential Elements of Standards-Focused Middle Level Schools and Programs, the protocol for introducing staff to the Essential Elements (the Awareness Protocol) should be the first step.
Continuous improvement is a prerequisite to being part of an effective school community. As with other professions, one is always seeking to improve. The Essential Elements identify the basic premise for successful middle-level schools in New York State. Creating and using a needs assessment incorporating the Essential Elements ensures a common understanding and terminology. This allows the building/community to focus on the practical applications of the Essential Elements.
The building staff and students will benefit from using this protocol. Problems will be more clearly identified and the staff will identify resources that will be needed to address issues and create a meaningful school improvement plan (see protocol).
Target Audience: The target audience for this protocol should include middle-level teachers, middle-level administrators, other middle-level certified professionals (e.g., guidance counselors, school nurse, etc.), and curriculum representative from the central office responsible for middle level issues. The audience may include others (e.g., parents, aides and paraprofessionals, students, elementary and high school representatives, community members, etc.) as long as they are familiar with and supportive of the Regents Policy Statement and the Department’s Essential Elements document.
To the Facilitator: Examining the Essential Elements can be a daunting task because of the length of the document. It is suggested that different groups be assigned one Element each. Before the groups begin their work, spend a minute discussing a critical ground rule: ratings must be substantiated by evidence. What are the specific, observable, measurable indicators upon which the rating was made? These will provide the grist for conversations between and among groups later in the process.
First, divide the participants into seven groups, each representing a cross section of the staff (the jigsaw approach). Before beginning work, the facilitator should model the use of the rating sheets using the first two characteristics under Essential Element 1.
- Identify roles and responsibilities for each group member.
- Assign each group an Essential Element or Elements to review and rate using the appropriate Essential Elements rubric.
- Table Leader (selected by the group) guides and directs the work of
the group. She/he first needs to review the Essential Element(s), the
individual characteristics of the Essential Element(s), and the rubrics
with the other group members prior to rating. Note that participants
are to use a four-point rubric – using .5 increments (e.g., 1.0, 1.5,
2.0, 2.5, 3.0 3.5, 4.0) to evaluate the degree of the implementation of
the Essential Elements:
- The evidence available indicates our school has not implemented the particular Essential Element characteristic.
- The evidence available indicates our school has a low level of implementation or implementation of low quality of the particular Essential Element characteristic.
- The evidence available indicates our school has a medium level of implementation or implementation of mixed quality of the particular Essential Element characteristic.
- The evidence available indicates our school has a high level of implementation or implementation of high quality of the particular Essential Element characteristic.
- Use rating sheets with appropriate evidence to complete the task (i.e., the reviewing and rating of the assigned Essential Element(s) using the rubrics).
This is the end of Session 1. Each member of the group is to complete an individual needs assessment of the assigned Essential Element(s) using the rubrics prior to the next session of this group.
- Members of each group share their individual needs assessment ratings and the supportive evidence and try to reach agreement on a common rating within the group. Consensus is the goal, even if additional explanations need to be attached. However, if consensus cannot be achieved, rather than delay or halt the work, groups should be encouraged to develop "majority" and "minority" positions supported by evidence and proceed to the prioritizing activity.
- Have each Essential Element group use the following questions to prioritize
items and set the stage for completing the needs assessment activity.
From What Works in Schools by Marzano:
Question 1: To what extent do we engage in this behavior or address this issue? This is done throughout the assessment.
Question 2: How much will a change in our practices on this item increase the academic achievement of our students?
Question 3: How much effort will it take to significantly change our practices regarding this
- As a whole staff, review the priorities proposed by each group (and the supporting evidence) and determine which three or four need immediate attention. This might be accomplished by having group’s recommendations posted around the room, with each staff member given the opportunity to vote on what gets done first using stickees.
- The results of the staff prioritization are then given to the School Improvement Team to be used as the basis for the creation of the School Improvement Plan.
Handouts, Worksheets, and Resources: The following handouts, worksheets, and resources will be needed for this protocol:
- Worksheets for determining roles and responsibilities;
- Worksheets for establishing group norms for completing the work;
- The Essential Elements of Standards-Focused Middle-Level Schools and Programs;
- The Essential Elements rubrics;
- Rating sheets for each of the Essential Elements;
- Facilitator Demonstration Worksheet;
- Facilitators’ Checklist.
1. For purposes of this document, the term "protocol" is defined as a prescribed set of conditions and implementation steps to achieve a desired end or goal.
2. In small schools with few staff, it will be necessary to modify how participants are grouped. For example, participants might elect to discuss each Essential Element as a large group or they may have fewer groups and assign each group more than one Essential Element.