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Statewide System of Support (SSoS)

Official DESE Communications

Key SSoS Reference Documents

2024-2025 District Prioritization Guidance

School Sustainable Improvement Planning Guidance (for Underperforming Schools)

SSoS is in the process of updating and aligning our School Improvement Plan (SIP) guidance with the Coherence Guidebook. We encourage districts and schools to reference those resources while engaging in the school planning process outlined below.

Getting Started+
Sustainable Improvement Plan Submission Requirements and Process+
Stakeholder Engagement+
Envision the Future+
Assessment of Assets and Challenges & Root Cause Analysis+
Strategic Objectives & Initiatives Aligned to the Turnaround Practices+
Goals & Benchmarks

What gets measured gets done.

The goals and benchmarks portion of your written submission essentially provides all involved stakeholders with a roadmap for the year that describes the set of key benchmarks and outcomes that link the key strategies in your plan to your longer term strategic objectives and goals. Well-developed goals and benchmarks help to communicate expectations and provide a common understanding of where and how the school will focus its time and resources. Stakeholders should be able to gain a solid understanding of the school's vision for the future and priorities just by knowing what targets your school is aiming to meet.

Your school's monitoring process will be anchored in the benchmarks that outline important outcomes the school plans to reach and are agreed upon and set in advance of the start of implementation. Frequent monitoring of progress towards interim benchmarks and goals can help your school identify successful progress, highlight areas that need more attention, determine what additional support and assistance is required, and inform mid-course corrections as needed. For more guidance on setting up and implementing an effective system to monitor progress, refer to the "Monitor Progress" section of this guidance.

As much as possible, benchmarks should focus more on evidence of change and outcomes (e.g., how a training has changed instructional practice and improved student performance) rather than implementation outputs (e.g., the percent of teachers trained).

Benchmarks are a critical part of the turnaround plan, providing clarity and specificity about whether observable adult actions lead to improved teaching and learning. They can sometimes be hard to articulate. However, the time it takes to refine these benchmarks can pay off during implementation. Precisely articulated interim benchmarks and goals can help the school maintain focus on key aspects of the work, and can help communicate the urgency, alignment, and coherence of everyone's efforts.

What We Mean by Measurable Annual Goals (MAGs) and Interim Benchmarks

The framework in the table below provides suggestions on setting quality goals and benchmarks to support monitoring implementation progress, and determine if their work is having the intended effects. Together annual goals and interim benchmarks help schools and districts answer the questions: what changed, for whom, by how much, and when as a result of the actions we took?

Measurable Annual Goals (MAGs) for Student Achievement These annual goals are indicators that overall student achievement is improving on an annual basis. Resources for setting MAGs: Taken as a whole, MAGs should represent goals for both academic and non-academic areas of student success, and be aligned to the vision for the school.
Interim Benchmarks for School Educators/ Practitioners Interim benchmarks for school educators/practitioners articulate what school leaders, teachers, and other staff will be doing differently as a result of implementing strategies for a particular Turnaround Practice. These benchmarks identify meaningful changes in adult practice, including actions, discourse, beliefs, expectations, and instructional practice, and should be specific, actionable, measurable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). What will be different as a result of the school's turnaround efforts? (each week, month, or quarter).
Interim Benchmarks for Students Interim benchmarks for students are indicators that student learning and tasks are changing as a result of the changes in educator practice, and that the school is making progress toward meeting its MAGs and other indicators of student success. Student benchmarks signal whether the school is on track for end-of-year student results, or that adjustments are needed to achieve these results. As with the MAGs, interim benchmarks for students should address both academic and non-academic areas of student success. These benchmarks should also be specific, actionable, measurable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).

Advice for Setting Goals and Benchmarks

Just as schools are encouraged to select a few high leverage strategies, schools are also encouraged to identify just a few key interim benchmarks to focus on throughout the year. The school should ensure that the data generated to measure each benchmark truly adds value to the school's work, and is worth the effort needed to collect it, as well as the time needed to reflect on it and act on what is learned. Ideally, the evidence for each benchmark will be generated as part of the regular work of educators. If the benchmark requires a new form of evidence that has not previously been collected, it should be clear how the addition of that evidence will help contribute to the types of changes the school is seeking in skills, practices, mindsets, and discourse.

One strategy for identifying the highest-leverage benchmarks and goals is to revisit the themes your team heard from stakeholders and the data you used for your root cause analysis of assets and challenges. Consider which data points provided the greatest insights. It may be that these data points could provide a baseline and inform targets the school plans to reach as a result of implementing the sustainable improvement plan.

As you select your benchmarks consider the following questions:

  • What will be seen if what the school is doing is beginning to make a difference? How will the school know if it has been successful in the short term? How will it know if it has been successful in the long term?
  • What evidence would most clearly and concisely show the school's progress and/or illuminate challenges throughout implementation of the plan?
  • What is the best type of evidence for the identified benchmarks? (e.g., a document/artifact? Interviews/focus groups? A survey? Observations?) Why is this? What is the most effective and efficient way to demonstrate progress?
  • How and when will the school measure progress on the benchmark? Who will be involved in that process?
  • Is it possible to meet all the benchmarks outlined in the plan and still not achieve the measurable annual goals for student learning for the year? If so, do the benchmarks need to be more rigorous? Or perhaps there are other benchmarks that would be better indicators of progress?
  • Schools identified by the Massachusetts accountability system as having a low-performing student groups should include Measurable Annual Goal for identified groups, as well as interim benchmarks to ensure progress is being made for these students.
  • What benchmarks will the district track to be sure its supports to the school are having the desired impact, and to help the school stay on track with its plan implementation?

Benchmarks should build on and reinforce each other, and represent a coherent set of metrics that will help the school monitor progress and impact. Setting goals and benchmarks is an iterative process that is refined as the school continues with the cycle of planning, implementing, reflecting, and revising their work. Each year, in the spring, schools need to assess overall progress on benchmarks and reset them for the following year. Interim benchmarks become more refined and nuanced as the school implements strategies at greater levels of fidelity and quality, and as the school becomes more savvy in the use of data to inform schoolwide work.

Advice for Establishing Implementation Timelines

In addition to setting goals and interim benchmarks to measure impact, it is crucial that schools map out the timelines for implementation of specific strategies throughout the year. Essentially, timelines are process benchmarks that address the following questions:

  • What are the key action steps that need to get done, by when, and by whom?
  • How will the school know if it is doing what it said it would do?

Timelines should be directly linked to the strategic objectives and initiatives articulated in the plan. Taking the time to map out timelines, benchmarks and goals at the outset can give the school a better idea of the scope of work ahead.

Action Plan Guidance

Schools have the option of using a format of their choosing to articulate their strategies, timelines, interim benchmarks, and annual goals. If your school would like an action or logic model template to customize for their own context, we offer these samples below.

Advice for Annually Resetting Goals and Benchmarks

As a result of reflecting on implementation data towards the end of each academic year, schools will need to reset interim benchmarks and goals for the coming year. In addition to the guidance above for setting strong benchmarks, questions to consider are:

  • To what extent did the benchmarks in your plan serve as a coherent set of metrics that helped the school frequently monitor progress and impact?
  • Did the benchmarks help the school track successful plan implementation?
  • Did benchmarks provide adequate insight into the experience of historically marginalized students in the school?
  • Were all benchmarks easy to measure? Were they reasonable? Were they actionable?
  • Were all benchmarks worth the effort they took to measure? Was the school able to take action with the information they provided?
  • Was the data to measure benchmarks and goals available when needed for progress monitoring?
  • Did the goals and benchmarks provide all stakeholders with a roadmap for the year ahead, detailing timelines, benchmarks and goals for the selected strategic objectives and initiatives?

Examples of some of the resources and protocols that SSoS Regional Assistance Teams frequently use with districts and schools they support appear in the Additional Resources at the end of this section.

Initial Sustainable Improvement Plan Requirements:

Required Written Submission

Provide a listing of all strategies that includes:

  • Implementation timelines
  • Interim benchmarks that reflect changes in adult and student behaviors
  • Measurable annual goals

Annual Renewal Requirements:

Required Written Submission

Update the Goals & Benchmarks by providing a listing of strategies for the coming year that includes:

  • Implementation timelines
  • Interim benchmarks that reflect changes in adult and student behaviors
  • Measurable annual goals

Additional Resources Relative to Goals & Benchmarks

While not required, these resources may be helpful as you engage in this stage of the sustainable improvement planning process:

  • Sample Interim Benchmarks

  • Sample Measureable Annual Goals

  • Early Warning Indicator System: These resources can help a school or district use the Massachusetts Early Warning Indicator System (EWIS) and local data to identify, diagnose, support, and monitor student progress in grades 1–12. Resources include data available via Edwin Analytics, an Implementation Guide, and a monitoring tool to track student risk and progress throughout the year as part of a data-driven cycle of inquiry.

District Systems+
Executive Summary+
Monitor Progress+

Last Updated: May 13, 2024

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