Best Practices in School Improvement Planning

School improvement planning is a systematic, data-driven process for planning and evaluating improvement over time. Distinct from institutional research and auditing, improvement planning aims to reduce the gap between a school’s current level of performance and its potential performance.

At its most effective, school improvement planning is a dynamic practice that engages data and people in the improvement process. However, many plans fail to address the processes for improvement, instead focusing solely on the outcomes of improvement.

To help districts use school improvement planning most effectively, Hanover reviewed the literature and spoke with education experts to determine not only what administrators should consider when developing their school improvement planning framework, but also how to achieve each specific improvement goal.


1. Set the Foundation

Uncover areas for improvement 

Conducting a needs assessment will identify current gaps and their driving factors.

  • Emphasize student learning and performance over specific teachers’ practices and actions.
  • Compare different schools within the system to identify trends in school climate and culture, curriculum and instruction, leadership, family and community engagement, professional development and staff capacity, and assessment techniques.
  • Use third parties to evaluate school data, instruction, internal processes and procedures, and external policies or community factors that may impact success.

Set rigorous yet attainable goals

Focusing efforts on a few key goals supports positive morale and continued improvement.

  • Target two to five priority areas. Reading achievement, math achievement, and school climate are common areas of improvement plan focus. It is helpful to select priority areas based on existing school and district initiatives to prevent stakeholders from being overwhelmed by new concepts.
  • Align your long-term goals with the academic calendar, but divide short-term targets by quarter, month, and even week.

2. Develop an Improvement Culture

Establish support structures

Engaging staff as partners in improvement ensures buy-in and engagement with the process.

  • Create leadership groups comprising of the principal, assistant principal(s), and teacher advocates.
  • Build district implementation taskforces of 8-12 individuals that are responsible for communicating with schools, and delivering ongoing support through site visits and training sessions.
  • Provide access to professional development opportunities before launching your plan to ensure principals are prepared to exert transformational, instructional, and strategic leadership.

Use data to drive decision-making

Implementing, measuring, and assessing school improvement across a variety of metrics provides critical information for improvement plans.

  • Understand student learning trends by analyzing assessment data, curriculum delivery, social and emotional learning, and attendance and drop-out rates.
  • Identify strengths and challenges in your school climate by surveying parents, teachers, and students, as well as the community.
  • Develop benchmarks to monitor plan implementation by setting and measuring pre-determined success metrics.

3. Act upon Improvement

Respond to progress

Conducting continuous evaluations allows administrators to react to successes and failures in real time.

  • Conduct teacher, parent, and student surveys annually or bi-annually to inform the implementation process.
  • Evaluate how the district is adhering to the processes mapped out in the plan rather than focusing solely on student achievement.
  • Make data-driven adjustments to school budgeting, staffing, instructional, and community involvement policies as needed.

Communicate with your stakeholders

Being transparent about change amplifies credibility and community buy-in for your plan.

  • Promote “quick wins” to your stakeholders when data indicate positive results.
  • Survey internal audiences to measure the impact of professional development and identify the support structures needed for effective plan integration in the classroom.

Effective school improvement planning hinges upon the ability of districts to use data to understand their School-Improvement_thumb-020515district or school, set goals, and evaluate progress against these goals. Yet many administrators struggle to implement a systematic process to collect, analyze, and communicate with stakeholders the right data to catalyze school improvement. To aid in this process, Hanover developed a worksheet outlining important research questions and common data points for making data-driven school improvement plans.

To learn more about using research in the school improvement planning process, contact


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