Keystones of Improvement: A Pennsylvania SSIP Story, Part 1
Release Date: October 27, 2022
Guests: Barbara Mozina, Special Education Adviser for the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Bureau of Special Education and Dr. Laura Moran, Ph.D., Educational Consultant with the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network
Stop us if you’ve heard this one: A state wishes to increase its graduation rates, decrease its drop-out rates. That’s what happened in Pennsylvania, where Dr. Laura Moran and Barbara Mozina applied lessons learned to the second iteration of their state’s SSIP. In the first episode of this two-part A Date with Data, host Amy Bitterman hears all about it, including their efforts to establish an online “early warning” data platform, develop protocols for creating and sustaining data teams, and move districts beyond being “data rich and information poor.” You’ll be the richer, too, for tuning in.
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00:00:01.51 >> You're listening to "A Date With Data" with your host, Amy Bitterman.
00:00:07.34 >> Hey. It's Amy, and I'm so excited to be hosting "A Date With Data." I'll be chatting with state and district special-education staff who, just like you, are dealing with IDEA data every day.
00:00:19.50 >> "A Date With Data" is brought to you by the IDEA Data Center.
00:00:24.46 >> Welcome to "A Date With Data." Today I am chatting with Barbara Mozina, special-education advisor for the Pennsylvania Department of Education's Bureau of Special Education, and also Dr. Laura Moran, who is an educational consultant with the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network. Laura and Barbara are here to share the story of their State Systemic Improvement Plan, or SSIP. So to start us off, can you each tell us a little bit about yourselves and also how you work together? And, Barbara, do you want to kick us off?
00:00:58.66 >> Yeah. Hi. Thanks, Amy, for this opportunity to be on this podcast. I'm Barb Mozina, as she said, and I'm an advisor to the Bureau of Special Ed. I do everything general supervision. I'm the state lead for the state performance plan/annual performance report. Our team is really quite small in Pennsylvania, that particular team, which is just myself and one other person plus our data manager, and in that part, of in that role, we do public reporting. We work on our LEA determinations, anything around the indicators. And then we work with the PaTTAN folks, which is where Dr. Moran works, and that ... And the reason that I'm part of this group is because part of the SPP/APR, as everybody knows, is Indicator 17, which is the State Systemic Improvement Plan. Prior to coming to the Bureau of Special Education, I was a special-ed director for nearly 10 years, a special-ed teacher, adjunct professor at a local university and a couple other things that we did, so this is a wonderful opportunity for us, for myself, for me career-wise, and it's so nice to be able to work with our PaTTAN folks.
00:02:05.25 >> Wonderful, so you really have your hands in lots of different buckets, so thanks for being on. And, Dr. Moran, how about you?
00:02:14.75 >> Yes, I am the state-wide lead for our State Systemic Improvement Plan, and as mentioned, I work as an educational consultant with our Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network. We're like the training branch of the training arm, if you will, for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, and we work very closely with the Bureau of Special Education so certainly working in our classrooms and schools and providing professional development and consultation, and it's really a wonderful opportunity because, in addition to looking at graduation rates, I also work in areas of literacy, which I'm very passionate about, and also looking at special-education leadership and really how we can service and support our schools and our teachers and our students, so I have a really unique opportunity where I work at the state level in a sense of the policies and what we're doing around particular projects or areas but then also providing that really specialized technical assistance and support for our schools.
00:03:16.38 >> Great. Well, it sounds like you have a really wonderful relationship, and I think it might be somewhat unique. I think some states have a similar setup, but I think in some ways it's definitely interesting to hear about how you all are working together. So if you could just start off by telling us, what is your State-Identified Measurable Result, or SIMR, and if you can give a brief overview of your SSIP?
00:03:39.82 >> So thanks, Amy. We are working on graduation, and we know how important that is, particularly increasing graduation rates and decreasing dropout rates for students with disabilities. In our particular area, we're working with 16 high schools across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and they comprise of urban and rural and suburban schools. We even have some cyber charter schools, and we're also partnering with an organization called HUNE. It's a community parent resource center in Philadelphia, and they work with students who are English learners and their families who speak primarily Spanish. And while we're working with those 16 high schools, we're providing technical assistance and support, so we look at those identified learning sites, and we incorporate, what are those evidence-based practices or promising practices that work for all students, including students with disability or diverse students or English learners and economically disadvantaged students? And we provide a framework for schools to work with, so how can they structure their systems in order to help students and make sure they're receiving the appropriate supports and interventions and that they need? In addition to the specified support for these 16 high schools, we offer an array of resources on our PaTTAN website, so we look at, what are some of those lessons learned from the sites we're working with? And we present at state and national conferences. We provide maybe, like I said, resources or webinars or things like that so that we can help support our schools who may not be part of a specified, targeted group.
00:05:26.21 >> Moving into the second iteration of the SSIP, which is the next 6 years, we did a large ... We conducted a large-scale comprehensive analysis of the graduation and dropout rates of every one of our local education agencies in the commonwealth, and we recognized, and Laura had mentioned this earlier, that we wanted a diverse group of LEAs, and we realized that through this analysis that we had many schools that were also in comprehensive school improvement based on many factors but specifically low graduation rates for students with disabilities, and this comprehensive school improvement is part of the ESSA. And so, because of that, we ... Those schools who were provided that intensive support, they didn't necessarily need us to identify them as one of our learning sites, so there was ... But we also recognize the value in collaborating with the folks in the Department of Education who were working with these identified schools, and that's called school improvement under our comprehensive plan. So we developed a tiered approach going into this second iteration, and the first tier was all schools, so we have a website where Laura is ... It's under our PaTTAN ... our training and technical arm of the Department of Ed, and under that, we have a ton of secondary transition resources, videos, contacts, and then we have specifically the State Systemic Improvement Plan, which is improving graduation rates and improving dropout rates. So that is offered to every one of our local education agencies in the commonwealth, and here in Pennsylvania, we have a lot of school districts, so we're right around 673. It goes up and down depending on our charters and cyber schools. So that's offered to everybody. Our tier-two approach is the technical assistance and support that we provided through our specific identified learning sites, and that's where Laura and her team of consultants work specifically with these school districts. And then tier three are the ones that I had mentioned earlier. They're these schools that are in comprehensive school improvement based on poor graduation rates for students with disabilities, and so that's our tiered approach into our second iteration of the SSIP.
00:07:45.33 >> Great, so I love how comprehensive the framework is, so you're not just focusing on a certain group of schools specifically although you are doing work with that group of schools but offering universal and targeted assistance across the state. And I was wondering, and you mentioned now we're in the second iteration of your SSIP, and you're going to building on what you learned in that first iteration. Can you share a little bit about, what are some things that worked well? What are some lessons that you learned during that first iteration that you're going to use to really inform the implementation of the second iteration?
00:08:22.69 >> And, boy, did we learn a lot of lessons. Let me tell you, right?
00:08:26.59 >> I'm sure.
00:08:28.93 >> And I will say it's exciting we get another opportunity to expand and scale up because one of the things we did in our first iteration was, we partnered with the National Dropout Prevention Center for students with disabilities, and they provided an implementation framework, so there were five phases of implementation, the first phase being develop a state and local leadership team, then phase two being an early warning system, so we're analyzing the data for students to making sure who's on track or off track for graduation, phase three then, identifying the appropriate areas for intervention, so we want to intervene early, but we also want to intervene appropriately, so based upon the needs of the students. And then phase four is what's our plan and then revising that plan as much or as little as needed depending upon what's working or not, and that leads us to phase five, implementing and monitoring, evaluating. So we're continuing to use that framework with our current sites, and it sounds so nice, neat and tidy.
00:09:35.68 >> It does.
00:09:36.41 >> [Indistinct] your team, right? Get your data in. And one of the things we learned was, a key area, again, is having an early warning system.
00:09:46.94 >> Mm-hmm.
00:09:47.44 >> And so here we're looking at the research from Dr. Balfanz from Johns Hopkins University where you look at attendance, behavior and course performance being key indicators for determining whether a student is on track to graduate or not. So with our first iteration, we looked at our sites to say, "Could you collect attendance behavior and course-performance data?" because they were collecting those areas, but data was in all different databases. Some would have the attendance. Who had the password? How could you get access to this data quickly and easily? So we said, "Make sure you have one place where you can put that data in easily and have access to it." They were able to do that within their schools, but then as a way in which we needed to report that, we collected that through Excel documents, so we were manually analyzing that data. At that time, we had 12 learning sites we were working with, and it just became really overwhelming where we were looking at all of this data, so for our second iteration, we made sure that we incorporated an online platform in which our sites could easily upload or update their data collection so that we could look at it efficiently and accurately, and also school personnel could access that as well as our PaTTAN consultants could view that at any time, so we're ensuring that it's submitted in a timely manner, but it's accurate, but also it's easily accessible. The other thing we found was, we didn't want sites to be data-rich and information-poor. What do you do with all of this data? And when we look at teams being able to meet, that was a challenge too. Particularly at the high-school level, they're in departments. When do you find the time? And so one of the things we incorporated was a data-team-meeting protocol, and we'll be able to share that protocol with you as one of our resources from our website, but if the data is collected in advance utilizing this protocol, you can conduct a meeting in 45 minutes, and it really helped us to synthesize, again, what are the trends we're seeing? How can we really help to support our students and then maybe take that information to other teams or to the students themselves to say, "Oh, hey, here are some things we really need to work on"? The other thing about having this data-team-meeting protocol was, regardless of who's coming in and out, we see a lot of turnover or attrition with personnel. By having this structure in place, the teams were able to sustain it, so we found that with our first iteration, they are still sustaining utilizing this data-team-meeting protocol and having data team meetings on a regular basis. And also, we looked at, what are some of the best practices or coherent improvement strategies that students could benefit from if they are off track for graduation? And so within our theory of action, we have seven coherent improvement strategies, the first one being that everybody needs to have an early warning system, and then we looked at, well, what if you're off track again in academics? So we have multitiered systems of support for academics as well as multitiered systems of support for behavior. We also looked at attendance and alternative programming and our sites being really creative in thinking about that. Sometimes the 7:30-to-2:30 time frame doesn't work for everybody, so what are some things we could do with alternative programming and also being culturally responsive? How are we attaining ways in which we could really help our students and making sure that they do feel welcomed and included in a sense of belonging? And then we also had family engagement, which we know can be more challenging sometimes at the secondary level, getting families engaged in that process but also really encouraging them to work with their students and then finally secondary transition. So our sites look at what are the areas that they need based upon their data and then select one or two areas that they can really focus in on. Now when we did this in iteration number one, guess what? Our schools didn't select family engagement. That wasn't the top thing they selected, and a lot of times that's because they were so focused on the academic piece or behavior. We have quantifiable information. We can see, oh, I'm passing this course, or I have this many [Indistinct] referrals, so it was easier to say, "Here's the data we have," but when we looked at more of some of that qualitative information, how are we engaging families, that was one area where we didn't see a lot of traction. So what we changed was, in our action plan, we created a column to say, "How are you engaging families if you are selecting a multitiered system of support in academics? How are you sharing this information? How often are you conversing with families to let them know what their grades are, or do you have a system that they can easily access? Or are you doing things beyond just the parent-teacher conference? Are you actively engaging parents in other ways or families in other ways?" So we had ... So we incorporated that piece, so then no matter what they're doing academically, behaviorally, they are focusing in on family engagement in some way. Then the other thing we noticed was, a lot of people didn't select, or a lot of our sites didn't select culturally responsive practices, and so when we did our second iteration, we made sure again, how are we really engaging our students and our families culturally and academically? And so we embedded, again, equity within our action plan. So as we're looking at our data, are we disaggregating our data, and are we seeing, are there any disproportionality within that? So we want to emphasize that being culturally responsive isn't something separate we do or an afterthought, but it's really incorporated with whatever we may need, and how can being culturally responsive help with our attendance? How can that make a difference with behavior? What are our policies? Are students seeing themselves reflected in the curricula? So maybe that's something around course performance. So being culturally responsive impacts everything that we do. So those are just some of the things that we've learned and that we're trying to incorporate a little bit differently or again scale up a little bit within our second iteration with our current sites.
00:16:57.12 >> And I have a lesson learned that I hadn't really thought about until this moment, but with our first iteration, it was a lesson learned. I just ... We addressed it moving into the second one. Our first iteration, when we have my colleagues, which are the advisors to the Bureau of Special Ed, who go out into the LEAs to monitor them with their compliance monitoring for continuous improvement, they oftentimes aren't ... The school district may not be doing well with graduation and dropout rates, and sometimes they need an improvement plan written for that, and what we were doing in the first iteration was relying on my colleagues, which they're overwhelmed with a lot of improvement plans, to tell me that they need help writing an improvement plan for graduation or dropout, and then I would send that message to Laura, and she would assign somebody. Well, what we did moving into the second iteration is, the actual online platform where all the data is entered when we go out to monitor a school district, if the school district ... so if the school district gets cited for graduation and/or dropout, I get the notification of that at the same time that the advisor gets the notification and the same time the school district gets the notification, and then what I do with that is, I look at the current data because we all know that graduation and dropouts lag data, so I try to get the most current data to see if they're still kind of needing an improvement plan, and then I pass it on to Laura, and then what happens is, our advisor, so the bureau and the PaTTAN folk, one of Laura's consultants collaborate to write those improvement plans based on everything that Laura described, and we like to refer that as our scale up. It's aligned 100 percent with our work, so we have a scale-up process where I know we have 16 learning sites, but we actually have the whole commonwealth too, so it just depends on who's in need of an improvement plan. So that lesson was, I needed to be alerted so that I could make sure that was a really seamless process.
00:18:52.90 >> Yeah, absolutely, and if you have that framework in place that you've seen in that first iteration works, use that same process and those same practices throughout the state. Join us next time for part two as I continue my conversation with Laura and Barbara about their SSIP.
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