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Barry Sweeny, © March 1997

School improvement plans (SIPs) often contain tons of data, goals, action plans, time lines, needs assessments, analysis of strengths and weaknesses, and lists of improvement activities. Each of these may seem important but there is always more that educators can do on behalf of their students than there is time to do it. That leads us to wonder...

- How can we know if we have left out some important step in our SIP planning?
- How can we know if all the activities we have planned are really necessary?
- How can we know if our plans make sense as a whole, not just as parts?
- How can we know if the time and resources we invest in improvement are likely to
capture the benefits we plan to achieve?

The following is a POWERFUL, proven process to help a school staff to analyze their school improvement plan so as to answer the above questions and to maximize their improvement efforts. Schools that have used this strategy have found they have increased the results of their SIP process because they have learned how to better focus their resources and time on their priorities.

Basically this analysis process uses color coding and linking lines to diagram and emphasize the relationships across the components of a school improvement plan. The colors and links highlight the connections between the parts of the sip that are logically connected. The patterns that become very evident help to reveal those parts of a plan which are missing key steps. Those areas which end up without color are candidates for elimination as they are unconnected to the priorities of the SIP. A final benefit of this analysis becomes evident the next time the SIP is written. The color coded analysis makes needed revisions obvious and rewriting becomes much easier.

How you approach this analysis depends on how many pages you have in your SIP .


Materials Needed

- A set of 8-10 colored highlighter markers. Get markers with a wider tip to cover a line of text
- Clear "scotch" tape
- Scissors
- A large table
- (optional - see # 3 below) Several 3-5 inch wide strips of paper 20 or 36 inches long approx. such as from a newsprint pad

"Analysis Process #1"

1. Number all pages in sequence and remove the staple to separate the pages.

2. Use a large table and arrange the pages as follows:

3. If there are more than 3 pages in a section lay in a 3-5 inch strip of blank paper vertically before and after that section.

4. Place a few 2 inch pieces of clear "scotch" tape sticky side up and 1/2 under the edge of each page and then align the next page and press it onto the exposed tape to hold the pages in place to each other. Put no tape on the front of the pages if possible. Turn the entire collection of pages over on their face and carefully apply tape to every edge, taping the entire arrangement into one large page. (An alternative is to tape the pages to a large sheet such as butcher paper, poster board or flip chart paper. This is not as useful as it results in the tape showing on the front of the pages. The problem is that most highlighter markers can not mark on tape.) Turn the arrangement over so it can be read.

5. Look for the goals, either stated as such or within a mission statement and read them.

6. Create a color KEY on a blank area of one page or a separate piece of paper. Start by listing a key phrase for each major aspect of the goals such as "Improve attendance" or "Increase IGAP Reading and Writing Scores". Try to limit these phrases to the 6-10 most important "strands" in the goals and keep your statements fairly general. Color each phrase in the key a separate color.

7. Color that same phrase in the goals/mission the same color it is in the key. Next search through all of the SIP for references to that phrase or for steps, activities, etc. which are obviously related to attaining that part of the goal. Do not stretch the meaning of any words to "make" them relate to the key phrase. For example, if the key phrase is "Increase IGAP Reading and Writing Scores" then plans to "Develop a reading rubric and assessment", "Staff development on reading and writing", and "Assign a specific grade level to pilot the teaching a writing process to students", are all phrases that should be colored the same color as is "Increase IGAP Reading and Writing Scores" in the key. Repeat this process using as many colors as needed to highlight all the phrases in the SIP which relate to the phrases in the color key. Not all parts of the SIP are likely to need color coding.

8. The next step is to illustrate the logical links between the phrases which are all colored the same color. You should try to draw color coded lines that connect the same colored phrases in the SIP in the order they are written in the SIP.

"Analysis Process #2"

The essential process is the same in analysis process #2 except that with a SIP of more than 30 pages is in to unwieldy to tape all the pages together and to use the assembled whole. The solution is to write a summary of the school improvement plan as it is, eliminating all but the key phrases, onto a large piece of paper or poster board. use the following approach:

1. Skip steps 1-4 in the first process since you will not be taping all the pages into one large sheet.

2. Use the colored highlighter markers to identify the key phrases or parts of the goals as described in steps 5-7 in process 1 above. The intent in this approach is to Identify the key phrases, create a key listing them & color coding them, and then color coding all relevant phrases in the remaining sections of the SIP.

3. Once the color coding of the SIP is done, count the number of major sections in the SIP, such as "Needs", "Time Lines", "Implementation Activities", etc. Add one more than the number of sections and then create columns for that number on a large horizontal piece of paper or poster board Try to make each column about 3 inches wide. Tape two poster boards together if needed so that the chart will not be too crowded. Drawing the colored lines later will be too hard if it is crowded. Label the first column "ISSUES" and then label each of the other columns with the name of the SIP sections in order from left to right.

4. Select one key phrase (for example the blue one on improving attendance) and write that name "Attendance" in the first column, color coding that title blue. Look through the SIP for all of the blue color coded parts on attendance. Transfer a summary of these parts to the appropriate columns on the large page, but do not color code any of these other items on the large page yet. Repeat these steps until all the major ideas from the SIP are summarized on the large page under the correct columns and headings. This will take some time to accomplish, even if the person doing the task is already familiar with the SIP. The results, skills, and understanding attained by the persons doing the analysis makes it well worth the time!

5. Now this large summary of the SIP can be used to diagram the connections (or lack of connections) like in step 8 above. Follow steps #7 and 8 in the first process. You should color code all the statements across each column which clearly are related to the key phrase/goal. (This could be optional but is a good check.) Next draw lines in the same color to connect the specific ideas and steps across the SIP so that a "chain of logic" is created.

So What? Now What?

Regardless of whether you have used process #1 or process #2 the following should be your guide.

If the final chain of color coded connected ideas was well done in the beginning it should almost read like a sentence all across the columns on the chart. All the steps of a good plan should be present and very evident. You can analyze whether the SIP is a complete plan by looking for the colors and the connecting lines. The basic conclusions about the SIP and what needs to be done next to improve the planning and focus are outlined in the following:

IF there are are some text areas that are not colored , that indicates that they are not clearly related to the goals or priorities of the mission statement.
- That may suggest that these are extraneous steps, activities which are not essential or even unneeded. If so, they might be eliminated from the plan.
- This may also be an indication that these steps are poorly written or incomplete and that they need to be better connected to the goals. A reading of these uncolored text areas will help you decide if the text describes things that are unnecessary or if they need to be clearly written and linked to the goals.
- A final possibility is that the uncolored text IS important, but only as a prerequisite step, but one that is not closely related to the goal.

There may be some strands of colored items which do not have text in some columns . This is really quite typical, and is a very important discovery. This finding may indicate, for example, that there are needs identified, persons assigned, and activities defined, but no time lines stated for that
person to be accountable to, or no means for monitoring progress described. When such gaps are discovered in a SIP, these steps need to be completed.

By comparing these two findings (uncolored low priority steps and incomplete steps) a SIP team can eliminate unnecessary work, ensure that clear and complete processes for each goal are defined and, as a result, create a SIP Plan that is more likely to achieve what is intended.

You may copy and distribute this as long as it is for free and you retain the following credits:
Barry Sweeny, Resources for Staff and Organization Development
26 W 413 Grand Ave. Wheaton, IL 60187, 630-668-2605, or E-mail [email protected]

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