top of page

From Fuzzy to Focused in 4 Easy Steps

Updated: Apr 4

Do you feel conflicted about when to do a needs assessment and which data to use for developing district and campus improvement plans for the next school year?

You’ve probably heard improvement planning is an ongoing process. Not only is it ongoing, it’s also overlapping!  It would be nice if things were clear cut and tidy, and everything happened sequentially within a 12-month timeframe. However, the reality is that between administering state assessments and waiting for results, it’s already time to be planning for the next school year!

Collecting input from surveys, conducting program evaluations, using both formative and summative data, waiting for data reports, administering re-tests, and trying to get stakeholders together to analyze the results are all factors contributing to the nature of the "ongoing" process of a needs assessment.

Creating a Timeline

One tool that can be effective at clarifying the process is a timeline. Knowing in advance which activities should be occurring, and when, can help keep everything on track. A graphic, such as the the Comprehensive Needs Assessment Development and Review Timeline illustrated below, shows how the moving parts overlap and connect together to create a continuous improvement cycle.


Step 1: Prepare for the Data Analysis

Plan the dates for distribution of surveys and conducting program evaluations in advance of the Comprehensive Needs Assessment (CNA). These, along with many other data sources will need to be assembled (in advance) for analysis by the decision-making team. Although assessing progress is ongoing throughout the year, a formal CNA is needed to do a deep analysis of multiple measures of data. Think of it as a "State of the Union," that is, "State of the District" (or campus) moment in time.

Step 2: Set dates for the formal Comprehensive Needs Assessment.

The date set for the CNA will (partially) determine which data to use. Formative data and local assessment summaries can be used at the end of the year, prior to receipt of state assessment results. The CNA can be updated when final ratings are received.

The district (or campus) decision-making team should include all stakeholders required by federal (and state) law. A thorough CNA should include identifying strengths, problem statements, and root causes of prioritized needs. And remember, the CNA must be completed PRIOR to applying for federal ESSA funds. This includes input from consultations with Private Non-Profit schools and including their identified needs.

Step 3: Set date for board approval of Performance Objectives and/or District and Campus Improvement Plans.

School boards adopt budgets in summer. Since improvement plans contain budgeted items, the timeline is helpful to both central office staff and campus principals. The District Plan should set the vision, mission, and goals of the district, and campuses should align their goals to support the district goals. Each campus can customize performance targets and strategies specific to their grade levels so everyone is focused on the same outcomes.

Step 4: Set dates for Formative Reviews of Strategies.

Once all the plans are finally finished and approved by the board, it is already time to begin conducting formative reviews of the strategies. Ongoing analysis of what is happening is critical to ensure initiatives are being implemented consistently across the campus (and district) and to assess where the trouble spots are.

Creating a Timeline can be an effective tool to clarify the continuous improvement cycle. There is no one right or wrong way, but seeing how the parts overlap and connect together may help your team be more flexible and bring things into focus!

You can have access to templates for the timeline, checklists, handouts, powerpoint, surveys, and more provided by Hinsley & Associates, LLC, by joining the Virtual Academy.

91 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page