Only in its second year, Differentiated Assistance continues to evolve as an effective strategy for district teams to analyze student outcome data, prioritize improvements, and then align strategies to improve student outcomes.
Differentiated Assistance is one component within California’s Statewide System of Support, the state’s new accountability system that builds capacity within districts to self-identify areas of focus and continuously improve through the use of data. Districts become eligible based upon student performance on a set of state and local measures, which is displayed on the California School Dashboard.
Continuous improvement and content area experts from the San Mateo County Office of Education work alongside district administrators to review student data, identify key challenges and opportunities, use a systemic approach to address locally identified needs, and engage local educators and communities in decision-making. The assistance varies across eligible districts, though all participate in some type of self-assessment intended to help districts identify systemic barriers and challenges interfering with student success.
“The overarching goal is to identify the root cause in a particular area that a district identifies,” said David Brashear, Systems of Support Director at the County Office. “It gives district leaders a baseline around the functioning of the district, which is used to help guide conversation and make decisions moving forward.”
The County Office plays an important role in this work by providing an outside perspective, suggesting key strategies to address district root causes, and helping districts use tools such as their local control accountability plans (LCAPs) and other frameworks to create one cohesive system. For example, Burlingame School District’s Differentiated Assistance sessions are informed by a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) framework, which the district is developing with the county’s guidance.
“I would liken it to the saying, ‘You cannot see the forest through the trees,’” explained Brashear. “When you are in the system, it is difficult to see that something may not be functioning well. You may recognize that things are happening, but not see how they are connected until you step all the way back.”
Last year, several districts received Differentiated Assistance, including Ravenswood City School District, whose data on the 2017 California School Dashboard showed room for improvement in the performance of students with disabilities. Ravenswood district leaders chose to focus on aligning and improving school climate and were able to identify specific strategies to increase student outcomes. Their 2017 efforts are reflected in the 2018 fall Dashboard release, which shows that their students with disabilities made significant improvements.
The Statewide System of Support is still in its early phases but as County Offices of Education develop greater capacity and flexibility to provide personalized assistance, school districts will be better supported in their continuous improvement efforts.