Back to School Planning: Monitoring & Evaluation

July 20, 2020
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ClassLink, in partnership with CoSN and SETDA, recently released version two of the back to school plan rubric. Evaluation is one of the core elements included in the tool. In this post, we dive deeper into the factors districts should weigh when monitoring and evaluating the success of their plans for the upcoming school year.

You've spent a lot of time and energy to create a plan to address the challenges of the upcoming school year. How will you know if your plan is working? Or when you need to adjust course? Building in progress metrics and other forms of monitoring is crucial to raising red flags. Spend the time now to select the right metrics and set up systems to monitor your progress towards achieving your goals. Think critically about the assumptions you made when you chose strategies for student safety and success. Ask your team to explicitly name why they believe the strategies will result in your desired results. Combining these assumptions with measures of implementation and progress will enable you to pinpoint how to proceed when faced with subpar outcomes.

What are we trying to accomplish?

The first post in this series addressed setting priorities and goals. At this point, many districts have established their goals. In reviewing the plans released so far, almost all districts include goals on student and staff wellness. Many include goals on student learning. Efforts to monitor and ultimately evaluate will tie back to your goals. If the goals you set are not measurable, you should work now to explicitly define what you would expect to see if the goal was achieved. For example, our district's goal is to keep students and staff safe by ensuring no transfer of the virus occurs in our buildings. Or our district's goal is to address unfinished learning and support students to master grade-level standards such that 75 percent of students are on track to master grade-level standards by December 2020. Without a definition of success, you will not know when you succeed or if your goals need to evolve. These top-line measures will guide the metrics you collect on each of the strategies used to achieve your goals.

Are we on the right track?

Fundamental to monitoring progress are formal and informal opportunities to review the success of your customized reopening approach. In our rubric, we suggest potential progress metrics for each core element of the reopening plan. For instance, reviewing family feedback can help you gauge the success of your communication strategies. More formally, you can track district plan page views and the number of students who "show up" to the right digital or physical location on the first day of school. Monitoring the success of your core elements is critical to achieving your goals. If families do not know the district's plan, it is unlikely to succeed in hitting its top-line goals. To prepare for progress monitoring now,

  • Select progress metrics for each plan element
  • Establish a method to allow for families and staff to provide ongoing feedback
  • Designate or create a system to track progress metrics and feedback
  • Determine ways to measure the fidelity of implementation of the plan’s strategies. In other words, is your district actually doing what you planned to do?
  • Schedule recurring time for your leadership committee to review ongoing progress and the plan's implementation

Inevitably, through monitoring, you will discover some things are not going according to plan- you are not tracking towards where you want to be. The next question will be why. Here your leadership committee can discuss implementation and assumptions. If the issue is implementation, is it due to insufficient resources, motivation, capacity, or something else? Pinpointing the underlying problem and addressing it may get things back on track. If the implementation is sufficient, a more significant issue may exist with the strategies selected. In this instance, you may decide to revise your approach to certain plan elements.

Did we succeed?

Districts should also plan to evaluate their plans at a reasonable juncture, potentially at the end of the fall semester. A systematic, formal evaluation will examine whether the district achieved its overall goals. It will help answer,

  • What went well?
  • What factors facilitated success?
  • What can be improved?
  • What challenges prevented success?
  • Did we set the right goals?
  • What did we learn that can inform updates to our plan and district strategies?

Monitoring and evaluation may seem like activities to handle once the plan is in full swing. Still, like all other critical elements, these practices require thoughtful planning. Central to this preparation is explicitly naming why you think your strategies will lead to success and what success looks like. By establishing a framework for monitoring, you equip your team with a critical tool to proactively respond to issues that threaten your ability to safely and successfully serve students.


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About the Author

About the Authors

Mary Batiwalla

Sr. Director of Data & Analytics



For over a decade Mary has dedicated her career to education, serving as a practitioner, researcher, and executive leader. In her most recent role as Assistant Commissioner at the Tennessee Department of Education, she led assessments, accountability, and data governance.