Research Basis for the Plan-Do-Check-Act Model


Plan – Why should educators review student achievement data?

Findings from a study conducted by EdSource, and researchers from Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, and the American Institutes for Research, indicate that, on average, higher performing schools report using data extensively from a variety of student tests and for a variety of school improvement purposes. These schools report that they use assessment data to identify struggling students, and to address their academic needs. The survey polled approximately 5,500 teachers and 257 principals in 145 school districts, an extraordinarily large sample that bolsters the study’s key findings.

Research consistently indicates that assessment information should be used to adapt instruction to meet student needs (Leahy, Lyon, Thompson, & Wiliam, 2005; Barton, 2004). An unattributed report from the New Zealand Ministry of Education (2001) revealed that the purpose of assessment is to provide, “the most appropriate learning opportunities for students; provide feedback to students and identify their next learning.” In a similar report to the U.S. Department of Education, Pamela Frome (2001) asserted that student assessment data must be used to continuously improve instruction and advance student learning.

Frome’s advice is consistent with research from James Popham, Professor Emeritus at the University of California at Los Angeles and a noted expert on educational testing.  Popham states that data from an array of sources should help answer the question, “What is next instructionally?” (Popham, 2006).  Accordingly, Jay McTighe, the former Director of the Maryland Assessment Consortium, indicates that learning requires timely, specific, and understandable feedback from formative assessments (McTighe, 2005).

Data analysis is a critical element in the PDCA cycle, but data are useless unless they are applied to drive a decision-making process (Frase, English, & Poston, 2000).  Standards Plus relies on data analysis for two important reasons: One is to build an instructional calendar to determine the sequence in which the lessons will be taught (Denton, 1999); the other reason is to analyze testlet results to identify students who master, or do not master, a concept.  This information is used to determine who should be eligible for additional instruction (Popham, 2006; Leahy, Lyon, Thompson, & William, 2005; McTighe, 2005; Pamela Frome, 2001).

An effective Standards Plus implementation

requires analysis of formative testlet results to plan future instruction. Teachers’ analysis of student performance data determines the lesson priority, and creates space in the limited amount of time teachers have to teach their students. In the article “Assessment for Learning,” James Popham (2006) succinctly describes the desired purpose of formative assessment. Popham writes: “This innovative approach to classroom assessment is based on a careful analysis of the enabling knowledge that students must first acquire to master a higher curricular aim.” Popham’s analysis is also a succinct summation of the Standards Plus application of formative assessment and data analysis.

Plan – Why is it necessary to arrange the mini-lessons into an instructional calendar?

Multiple research sources prove that the most important factor in students’ ability to master key concepts is to provide appropriate opportunities to learn (Marzano, 2003; Frase, English, & Poston, 2000). Quantitative research also indicates that teachers do not have time to teach all the topics identified in their curricula, and most districts do not control the content each teacher actually teaches (Hirsch, 1996).  These unproductive and unsustainable circumstances can be ameliorated by systematically organizing the essential content in ways that provide students with ample opportunities to learn it (Mehrotra, 2006; Marzano, 1993).  Prioritizing learning topics, sequencing the topics, and placing the topics on an instructional calendar are appropriate methods that guarantee students have the opportunity to master key skills (Cotton, 1995).

Most educators do not teach an articulated curriculum, and teachers arbitrarily emphasize or omit instructional topics at their will (Li, & Fuson, n.d.). This makes it “impossible to know what has been covered” (Marzano, 2003). In The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them (1996), E. D. Hirsch summed up the situation: “The idea that there exists a coherent plan for teaching content within the local district, or even within the local school, is a gravely misleading myth.” Additionally, there is not enough time for teachers to teach all the standards and concepts typically required by most states (Marzano, Kendall, & Gaddy, 1999; Lezotte, 1997). Therefore, building an instructional calendar is essential in all educational settings because it is difficult to find time to teach important skills (Marzano, 2003; Frase, English, & Poston, 2000).

The Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (NWREL) periodically reviews and synthesizes educational research literature. The review reveals classroom, school, and district practices that foster positive student achievement.  A recent NWREL review (Cotton, 1995) condensed research from multiple sources across several years.  The following are four findings about effective practices:

  • Use a pre-planned curriculum to guide instruction.
  • Prioritize learning goals and objectives, sequence them to facilitate student learning, and organize them into units or lessons.
  • Establish timelines for unit or lesson objectives so they can use the calendar for instructional planning.
  • Arrange daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly activities on the calendar to assure that resources are available and instructional time is used wisely.

Standards Plus lessons are aligned to a refined set of essential standards with three or four lessons aligned to each of these standards.  Most standards are revisited several times through additional maintenance and review lessons.  Students who do not master content are placed in multiple re-teach interventions.  It’s clear that the Standards Plus process provides students with multiple opportunities to learn.  Prioritizing topics and placing them on a calendar, as required in the Standards Plus process, ensures that topics will actually be taught.

Do – Why is it important to teach the mini lessons according to the instructional calendar?

Meta-analysis is a statistical process that combines the results of several studies which address a set of related research hypotheses. Robert Marzano and colleagues analyzed thirty-five years of education research through meta-analysis processes and extracted the most effective educational strategies. Marzano et al. found that providing appropriate opportunities to learn is the most important factor for student success (Marzano, 2003).

It’s also obvious that teachers do not have time to teach every concept (Frase, English, & Poston, 2000; Lezotte, 1997), and that most teachers are not required to teach a specified curriculum (Hirsch, 1996).  Additional research reveals that effective schools manage these two issues by identifying key concepts, building an instructional calendar, and ensuring that teachers follow the calendar (Cotton, 1995).

The Standards Plus lessons are written to address a refined set of essential standards, and there are multiple sets of lessons for each of these standards. The Standards Plus implementation model requires an instructional calendar, and incorporates a cyclical system that revisits the essential standards multiple times within a school year.  Additionally, each lesson includes detailed directions that recommend research-based instructional strategies.

Do - Why is it necessary to monitor a Standards Plus implementation ?

A collaborative monitoring process is part of a continuous cycle of inquiry and improvement. It is focused on effective practices and involves collaboration among teachers, administrators, and staff (Blatt, Linsey, & Smith, 2005; Lezotte, 1992).

School staffs must be familiar with their data, and they must have deep conversations about what they will do to improve student achievement. In those discussions, teachers must share ideas about what is expected to happen in their classrooms, and principals need to ensure that teachers are provided with support to help them implement a program (Richardson, 2001). Monitoring program implementation in this manner provides schools with an opportunity to frequently adjust how the program impacts classroom instruction and student learning (Blatt, Linsley, & Smith, 2005).

Monitoring also includes compliance because “systems that do not demonstrate consistency cannot be improved” (Frase, English, & Poston, 2000). Consequently, systematic programs that are not consistently implemented will not be effective. Monitoring for consistency is an important element of the equal opportunity to learn issue (Frase, English, & Poston, 2000). Teachers tend to arbitrarily emphasize or omit instructional topics (Li, & Fuson, n.d.) In this environment, it is impossible to know what topics are actually taught (Marzano, 2003), and unless teachers and administrators monitor what is happening instructionally, and moderate their behavior, they cannot ensure quality, consistency, or rigor.

An effective Standards Plus implementation

requires that site administrators are continuously involved in the teaching and learning process.  As the instructional leader, the administrator monitors Standards Plus implementation success by:

  • Conducting walk-throughs regularly
  • Monitoring classroom and school-wide progress through data analysis
  • Meeting with individual teachers, teacher teams, and students
  • Ensuring that priorities remain clear and the school’s academic mission stays focused
  • Continuously supporting the implementation of the teaching and re-teaching process
  • Providing parents with information regarding the implementation of the Standards Plus program

Check – Why should a school analyze mini-assessment results and schedule re-teach sessions?

Placing a topic on an instructional calendar and teaching it once, does not guarantee that all students have mastered the topic (Marzano, 2003). Many students come to school lacking cognitive skills, and these students do not have efficient strategies to learn concepts with one encounter (Payne, 2001).  Research proves that it is important to teach cognitive skills to these students. Accordingly, it is also important to give these students additional time to learn through repeated instruction (Lezotte, 1997).  Providing ample time to learn is an issue embedded in the research regarding opportunity to learn (Marzano, 2003).

Diagnosis and data driven remediation are necessary strategies to “bring about significant improvement in education” (Guskey, 2005). Creating tutorial groups based on current performance data is effective and efficient (Snow, 2003; Payne, 2001). Timely assessment data should assist teachers as they target specific deficiencies (Barton, 2004), and regroup students for additional instruction (Shellard, 1999).

An effective Standards Plus implementation requires that teachers administer weekly mini-assessments, systematically analyze the results, and assign students to re-teach tutorials based on assessment results.  Specific re-teach topics are identified during systematic data analysis.

Act – Why does Standards Plus include maintenance and reinforcement lessons on the instructional calendar?

Many students do not master essential standards the first time they are taught, and many students need extra time to learn key concepts (Marzano, 2003; Payne, 2001).  Students who demonstrate mastery of a topic after the initial instruction may forget elements of a standard. A Standards Plus instructional calendar includes time to teach prewritten maintenance and to review lessons to address these conditions.