To date, few organizations have addressed the challenges students face at the intersection of racism, ableism, and classism that are all embedded in America’s public school system. Furthermore, the broader field of education lacks applied research on effective interventions for students at this critical intersection, especially in high school settings.
The Networked Improvement Community (NIC) — serving 75,000 students across 10 public charter districts — is using the processes of Continuous Improvement to systematically address the ways we serve Black and Latino students with disabilities experiencing poverty. In Year 1, we recruited 10 partners and set up the infrastructure needed for this important work. In Year 2, we led schools to explore new practices, interventions, and programs to learn what works and what doesn’t work for their students. This year, we supported schools to expand their efforts to make best practice standard practice across their systems.
Our efforts are working. All partners are making dramatic gains for Black and Latino students with disabilities experiencing poverty, and the majority are meeting or exceeding their goals. With our guidance, our partners are closing achievement gaps, and we’re sharing these emerging best practices so that schools across the country can adapt them for their students.
Sharing Best Practices
Making Best Practice Standard Practice
The past three years have produced over 20 best practices that improve outcomes for Black and Latino students with disabilities experiencing poverty. Each practice — spanning literacy, multi-tiered systems of support, collaborative teaching and teaming structures, targeted intervention for emotional-based disabilities, and postsecondary transitions — breaks out of the status quo in schools today, is based on evidence, and is endorsed by leading experts. When utilized, these practices create greater access for every student, not just those with disabilities.
In 2022–23, the Marshall team began the process of identifying and codifying these practices, recognizing their potential to transform outcomes for students with disabilities. Our vision is to share these practices widely with other schools and to create a powerful network of educators committed to driving progress.
Below are a few of these practices.
We’re in the process of identifying and codifying practices with the potential to transform outcomes for students with disabilities. These practices will be available in 2024. Sign up to be the first to know when these practices and other resources are available.
Many schools have high-level student data, yet they lack a regular collection of targeted data to monitor student progress and plan interventions. This results in a wait-to-fail model for students with disabilities, instead of a system that intervenes early and often to ensure learning.
Create data structures for educators to analyze targeted data, and proactively respond to individualized and diverse needs of students.
Students with disabilities have historically been served through siloed programs where each team focuses specifically on its role in the student’s program, without consideration of the whole child’s needs and experiences. This has led to fragmented school experiences and outcomes for students with disabilities that often harm their progress towards postsecondary transitions. Moreover, the significant staff turnover our nation has experienced since the onset of COVID-19 in 2020 has exacerbated an already staggering special education turnover rate of 25%, with an increasing number of teacher roles being filled by adults without a full teaching credential.
Establish teacher-, school-, and network-level collaboration structures to drive inclusive mindsets and create aligned instructional planning structures.
Despite a significant increase in brain-based literacy research to improve reading outcomes for students in elementary school, few have adapted this critical research to be age-appropriate for struggling readers in middle and high school, especially students with disabilities.
Adapt evidence-based literacy interventions currently used with elementary students to be developmentally appropriate, culturally responsive, and differentiated to meet the needs of students with disabilities in middle and high school.
Students with disabilities experiencing reading growth rates of 2+ years increased from 3% to 35% in 2022–23 at Green Dot Public Schools’ Animo Mae Jemison Middle School. Due to this gain, the network is expanding its literacy screening and use of the Wilson Reading System, its literacy intervention program, to additional classrooms and schools in its network.
Marshall brought together literacy experts and secondary school educators to adapt evidence-based literacy interventions and tools. It also supported secondary English language teachers at Green Dot in integrating brain-based and responsive literacy practices into core instruction.
The dramatic gains and emerging practices above are a result of targeted technical assistance from the Marshall team and sustained cross-team efforts from our partner networks. In 2022–23, Marshall led the NIC partner networks to improve and spread best practices across their schools and organizations. To do so, the Marshall team directly coached school partners to focus their work on a shared understanding of their vision for students with disabilities; prioritize improvement work by setting aside explicit time, space, and resources for team action; gain buy-in from all members of the school system, including teachers, school leaders, and network-level leaders; and effectively use critical tools that drive improvements.
Most notably, the Marshall team:
Many promising practices fail in schools because teams try to spread them too fast without the right systems in place to support their implementation. Unfortunately, this approach can lead to devastating consequences for students at the margins, depleting scarce resources, time, and the will to make meaningful change. Because few practical tools existed to help schools navigate this challenge, the Marshall team created the Spread Planning Tool.
Ultimately, this tool helps schools know when a best practice is ready to be spread as a standard practice. The Marshall team collaborated with data, content and research experts to create the tool, trained over 150 educators across 10+ teams on how to use it, and coached partner schools to make thoughtful data-informed decisions on the readiness and capability of a best practice for their unique student populations. The result? Over 80% of partners are spreading and/or scaling best practices to more students and campuses across their network. Additionally, organizations nationwide are following suit and starting to build similar tools to support their improvement networks.
Through facilitated in-person convenings, learning tours, and cross-network conversations, Marshall led its partners to share the best practices and tools being used across the networks. The conversations led to new ideas for improving practices that strengthened gains at school sites.
As one participant shared, “I learned a lot from [the learning tour]. These two schools [we observed] showed both unique practices and are working on things that are directly tied to what we are trying to improve. Listening to the leaders at the campuses and observing classrooms was very powerful.“
Participants rated these events a Net Promoter Score of 70, which is considered the top tier of excellence. This is a testament to the shared lessons learned and value these events created.
A key component to embedding new practices is to ensure all staff know how to implement the practice. In 2022–23, Marshall trained a diverse and wide range of school site faculty on continuous improvement processes through a professional development series and Professional Learning Communities structures. Additionally, Marshall coordinated and provided targeted technical assistance on the use of data to inform instructional decisions with partner schools. These supportive capacity building interventions resulted in partner networks being able to more quickly apply learning and gather knowledge about what strategies were working for students.
Marshall’s tools and practices are now included in its playbook, widely available for all educators to use.
Consistent, engaged, and diverse leadership is a crucial element in embedding new practices, alongside ensuring that all staff have the knowledge and skills to implement them effectively. Equity work needs to be a shared priority at every level of a school organization: from district leaders to administrators to teachers, school leaders, learning specialists, coaches, and district leaders. NIC partners who were able to deeply embed equity as a shared priority organization-wide realized significant gains for their students with disabilities. To drive this effort, the Marshall team led alignment meetings between its cross-network teams to enable CMO leadership to focus their efforts.
Our partners are deeply committed to improving outcomes for all students, and the Marshall team has the knowledge and experience to help turn that commitment into action. In 2022–23, the Marshall team guided its partners’ improvement efforts, documented the work and learning, and created tools and resources to share widely across the field.
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