How to Improve the Design and Delivery of High-Quality Technical Assistance
Educators often use the term technical assistance to define services delivered or received in the pursuit of school- and district-improvement initiatives. More specifically, technical assistance can be defined as any assistance that identifies, selects, or designs research-based solutions and practices to support school improvement (Mattson & McDonald, 2005).
This month’s newsletter focuses on the critical role collaboration plays when school districts and technical assistance providers formulate, implement, and evaluate a technical assistance plan. Collaboration requires an investment of time on the parts of both the district and the provider; however, it increases the likelihood that the resulting technical assistance will be designed appropriately, delivered efficiently; and, most importantly, result in an improvement in targeted areas.
The evidence suggests that the risks of failure are high when collaboration is not present. If a technical assistance provider makes unilateral plans, these plans may be difficult for the district to integrate into its current practices; or the assistance suggested might not address the problem facing the school district. Research indicates that the degree of success in a technical assistance plan implementation is related to the amount of buy-in from the district (Datnow & Stringfield, 2000). Research also indicates that collaboratively assessing client strengths and progress and clarifying what the technical assistance will offer are strategies that increase trust in technical assistance providers (Laguarda, 2003). Collaboration may be one of the most important mechanisms determining the success or failure of technical assistance.
Beverly Mattson and Linda McDonald presented Planning and Evaluating Effective Technical Assistance for School Improvement at the 2005 National Association of State Title I Directors (NASTID) Conference. They identify the essential steps in developing effective technical assistance as investigation, planning and implementation, evaluation. Portions of their presentation are highlighted here to illustrate how working together through a structured process can help both the district and the provider achieve the goal of designing and implementing technical assistance that results in improvement.
Mattson and McDonald identify collaborative investigation of needs as the first step in determining what technical assistance should take place. Working together as a team, the district and provider should study strengths and weaknesses, seek data and input from many sources (e.g., teachers, students, parents, administrators), and determine what is working for the district and what should be changed. Once these data are collected and analyzed, the highest priority needs should be identified (Mattson & McDonald, 2005). Only at this point can the team get an accurate picture of what should be addressed through technical assistance. For example, during the investigation stage, a district might discover that a specific group of students consistently misses annual achievement targets. Although many identified needs contribute to this problem, the team, using the process described above, determines that their most important need is professional development that focuses on differentiating instruction. By addressing this top-priority need, the team believes they stand the greatest chance of closing the achievement gap between these at-risk students and the rest of the student body.
Reprinted with the permission of the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. © 2008 Learning Point Associates. All rights reserved.
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