The University of Iowa

Maintain Focus and Commitment with an Improvement Plan: The PROPeL Initiative

Educators meeting

Through an improvement plan, team members implementing a literacy initiative agree on the steps they will take toward achieving the SMART goal.


Posted on: November 14, 2017

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a series of posts related to our newest initiative, Practitioners and Researchers Overcoming Problems of Literacy (PROPeL).

A school improvement plan is “a road map that sets out the change the school or teacher needs to make to improve the level of student achievement” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2000, p. 6). School improvement plans focus on specific areas of growth and are known to have a positive influence on student success (in the case of a literacy initiative, student literacy success). Determining their improvement plans will be an ongoing process for our PROPeL partner teams, as the plans will change, grow, and be refined during implementation. A strong improvement plan will include not only the school personnel but also the public stakeholders. As stakeholders work to implement the plan, specifics of the plan should continue to be discussed and revised as needed.

Why Are Improvement Plans Important?

A strong school improvement plan is essential to each PROPeL team’s mission as they implement their literacy initiatives. First, the improvement plan maps the path the team will follow on the way to reaching its SMART goal, thereby helping the team stay on track. Consequently, members share a common understanding of the steps they will take on the way to achieving this goal. Second, the improvement plan holds team members accountable for their individual responsibilities. Finally, the team’s plan can also be used to communicate the team’s work to the broader school community and public stakeholders.

Improvement Plan Components

Prior to creating the improvement plan, teams will complete steps of the PROPeL literacy initiative process that will generate critical components of the plan. Below is a brief review of five improvement plan components we have discussed in detail in previous blog posts.

  • Challenge Statement: (a) defines the literacy challenge being addressed by the team and (b) provides information about the population affected by the challenge and the circumstances in which the challenge occurs
  • Root Cause: a deep and fundamental reason for the problem addressed in the challenge statement.
  • SMART Goal: a specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-specific goal that describes a team’s aims in the improvement plan. 
  • Progress Monitoring for SMART Goal: the regular rate of progress students must make to meet SMART goal benchmarks and ultimately achieve the SMART goal.
  • Evidence-Based Practice: An evidence-based literacy practice is one that (a) researchers have demonstrated to be effective at improving the targeted literacy skill(s) in similar settings and with similar populations and (b) teams will implement in order to achieve the SMART goal.

Establish Fidelity of Implementation

An important part of planning to implement an evidence-based practice is to establish what it means to deliver that practice with fidelity. Fidelity of implementation is generally defined as the extent to which implementation of an intervention or treatment adheres to its intended design (Century, Rudnick, & Freeman, 2010; Gearing et al., 2011). Establishing and tracking fidelity of implementation can help teams understand how the evidence-based practice is being implemented (O’Donnell, 2008) and provide feedback to teachers in order to improve instruction (Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010). In the improvement plan, the team will describe how fidelity to the evidence-based literacy practice will be monitored and measured. More details on fidelity monitoring will be shared in an upcoming post.

Outline Improvement Plan Tasks

After establishing fidelity of implementation, the team will outline a timeline of tasks and assign team members their roles for implementation of the plan (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2000). The tasks will include anything that must be completed in order for implementation of the evidence-based practice and for progress monitoring and implementation fidelity measurement to occur. Examples of tasks to consider include:

  • Creating or facilitating professional development
  • Creating or ordering materials
  • Developing measures
  • Analyzing data
  • Conducting observations

When identifying and assigning a task, it is critical for all PROPeL team members to understand the task’s purpose. Therefore, teams will explicitly include this information in the improvement plan. Teams also will designate a supervisor for each task. This will ensure that tasks are completed in a high-quality and timely manner, and that team members feel supported in completing assigned tasks. In addition, the team will collaborate to identify all resources, including personnel, necessary for successful completion of the task.

Content below exemplifies a complete outline of an improvement plan task. In this example, the team implementing the literacy initiative concluded that teachers needed to participate in professional development on implementing small-group instruction. The outline clearly illustrates the specifics of how and when the task will be implemented and measured.

Figure 1. Example task for an improvement plan

What Is the Specific Task/Activity Why? By When? By Whom? Who Will Supervise? What Resources Are Needed?

How/When Will Implementation Fidelity Be:

(a) Monitored?

(b) Measured?

How often?

Teacher training on how to implement small-group instruction

Teachers do not feel adequately prepared to meet the needs of students with learning disabilities

Small-group instruction is not currently a part of Tier 1 in Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS)

August 2 and 3, 2017 Dr. Deborah K. Reed, Iowa Reading Research Center District curriculum director Training site materials

(a) Monitored: principal observation

(b) Measured: implementation fidelity protocol

Timelines: first Monday of every month

Evaluate Progress

The PROPeL team will meet to continuously evaluate implementation of the improvement plan. During these meetings, team members will provide updates on task completion or progress, implementation fidelity data, and student data demonstrating progress toward the SMART goal. The team will collaborate to reflect on this information and assess what is or is not working. Consequently, the team may use available data to decide that certain revisions to the plan will increase the likelihood of attaining the SMART goal (Hanover Research, 2014). All key information from these meetings will be recorded in the improvement plan.

Document Team Membership

The final component of the improvement plan is a list of all members of the literacy initiative and their positions. It is essential for all team members to feel a sense of ownership of the team’s work. As teams implement the improvement plan, they may decide that additional members with specific roles or skill-sets could make positive contributions to the team. The names and positions of these team members will be added to the improvement plan.

Throughout a literacy initiative, it is easy for teams to lose focus and waver in their investment. Competing priorities and day-to-day school activities and operations can get in the way of achieving long-term goals. An effective improvement plan outlines the heart of the work, maintains focus on what is important, and establishes a timeline for the implementation and evaluation of key components. Moreover, it establishes the contributions of all team members and creates ownership of the literacy initiative. When a team invests the time to create a thoughtful and thorough improvement plan, all stakeholders share a map to the team’s success.


Century, J., Rudnick, M., & Freeman, C. (2010). A framework for measuring fidelity of implementation: A foundation for shared language and accumulation of knowledge. American Journal of Evaluation, 31, 199-218. doi:10.1177/1098214010366173

Gearing, R. E., El-Bassel, N., Ghesquiere, A., Baldwin, S., Gillies, J., & Ngeow, E. (2011). Major ingredients of fidelity: A review and scientific guide to improving quality of intervention research implementation. Clinical Psychology Review, 31, 79-88. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2010.09.007

Hanover Research. (2014). Best practices for school improvement planning. Washington, DC. Retrieved from

Kretlow, A. G., & Bartholomew, C. C. (2010). Using coaching to improve the fidelity of evidence-based practices: A review of studies. Teacher Education and Special Education, 33, 279-299. doi:10.1177/0888406410371643

O’Donnell, C. L. (2008). Defining, conceptualizing, and measuring fidelity of implementation and its relationship to outcomes in K–12 curriculum intervention research. Review of Educational Research, 78, 33-84. doi:10.3102/0034654307313793

Ontario Ministry of Education (2000). School improvement planning: A handbook for principals, teachers, and school councils. Toronto, ON: Education Improvement Commission. Retrieved from