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Networked improvement community celebrates progress in using data to improve student credit recovery

NIC celebrates progress in student credit recovery

By Maggi Ibis
May 18, 2021

A networked improvement community (NIC) is a collaborative partnership of practitioners and researchers that systematically tests changes in practice. In the 2019/20 school year, researchers at the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest and leaders at the Minnesota Department of Education formed a NIC of teachers and administrators from alternative learning centers in Minnesota. The NIC’s aim is to support students who are in the credit recovery process and, ultimately, boost graduation rates at the participating alternative learning centers.

Testing strategies for change: Student goal setting and SPARKS

At regular coaching sessions, the NIC participants and REL Midwest researchers conduct continuous improvement cycles designed to strengthen the success of students working to recover credits. As part of this iterative process, NIC participants revisit the following questions:

  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • How will we know that a change is an improvement?
  • What changes can we make that will result in improvement?

So far, the NIC has selected two change ideas to test. In the 2019/20 school year, participating teachers implemented student goal setting. As part of this intervention, teachers help students regularly set small goals to build motivation, exercise self-reflection, and make effective changes in their day-to-day routines as they work toward credit completion and, ultimately, graduation. In the 2020/21 school year, NIC teachers scaffolded the SPARKS intervention [575 KB PDF icon] onto the goal-setting activity. The SPARKS intervention helps students share their skills, talents, and interests with teachers, who then use the information to design individually tailored learning activities that tap into each student’s “spark.”

Paige Young, a school social worker at Robbinsdale Academy, has been attending coaching sessions with NIC participants and maintaining the NIC’s data related to changes in course completion throughout the continuous improvement cycles. She tracks the data generated from participating teachers’ implementation of each intervention and any changes in student credit recovery completion rates.

“The most useful part of the coaching sessions has been the opportunity for our team to come together and establish commonalities,” Young said. “The opportunity to commonly define an area we want to make change in, pick a method of change, and then be accountable to the process and each other is such a productive way of working together.”

Evidence of progress toward boosting credit recovery

The NIC’s hard work is paying off. Over the past two years, members have conducted several continuous improvement cycles. In February 2021, REL Midwest researchers shared that alternative learning centers participating in the NIC have seen a 27 percent increase in students completing one or more recovery credits.

27 percent increase
in students completing one or more credits after implementing the goal setting intervention for one continuous improvement cycle.

This evidence that the NIC is making progress toward its long-term goals has encouraged participants. “This work allows us to strategically invest our time and efforts and notice change or stagnation in a sustainable way,” Young said. “It takes the frenzy out of the work and allows for concentrated effort with passion and purpose.”

At the February session, the NIC also developed a plan for its next continuous improvement cycle. After each cycle, participants reflect on their efforts to address any challenges that emerged during their work’s implementation phase.

Young has found that the NIC has provided her and her fellow participants a unique opportunity to engage in intentional collaboration as part of a community to improve teacher practice and support student achievement. “This work feels like the truest form of team building,” Young said. “Rather than playing games or icebreaker events, we are engaging in meaningful and purposeful conversations about how we want to change as a staff.”

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Author information

Maggi Ibis Staff Picture

Maggi Ibis

Research Associate | REL Midwest


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