Building Sustainable Learning Acceleration System


Driving Question: How can your team best start and then engage in continuous improvement?
How and when will you monitor and reassess progress?


Accelerating learning is a comprehensive approach that takes time, vision, and leadership to effectively implement. According to the Brookings Institute, when the components of a system are misaligned, changes in one component (e.g., curriculum reform) may yield few improvements in student learning if the other parts of the system (such as assessment and pedagogy) are not similarly adjusted. Accelerating progress will change the way in which teaching is done, and changes will not be successful if the full team is not committed to leaving business as usual behind. Successful systems will build clear systems to implement and support the enactment of learning acceleration,  set clear goals, and consistently collect, monitor, and evaluate data and outcomes from schools connected to those goals. Monitoring and assessing progress along the way allows systems to more quickly see needs as they arise, adjust, and create targeted supports. This structure is parallel to the way we expect teachers to support students.

Cartoon-like picture of Refine Heading

This section of the PAL will offer

  • Key takeaways for organizing your system to start and continue to grow your learning acceleration programs
  • Curated tips for setting direction and purpose, engaging in continuous cycles of improvement, using data to monitor and adjust, and creating data-driven continuous support
  • Links to additional resources for your review

How Might We Build Sustainable Systems for Learning Acceleration?

  • Get clear on what accelerating learning is and isn’t. As a team, review the Core Beliefs overview and TNTP’s report “The Opportunity Myth.” 
  • Set direction and purpose. Create a common and clear vision for successful learning acceleration for all students in your system. Make sure your vision and your action plan to achieve those goals are reflected in key documents such as your Local Control Action Plan (LCAP). 
  • Alignment requires deep commitment. If you think of learning acceleration as just a “program” for some kids during a moment in time, then the results of these efforts will also only be temporary—and they will fail to create the impact and equitable opportunities that learning acceleration can offer. 
  • Ensure team buy-in. Staff, who will co-create and execute programs, need to be on-board for learning acceleration efforts to flourish.
  • Use a continuous improvement framework. Continuous improvement is a process of identifying what is working and what needs to change, developing a sound evidence-based plan, implementing the plan, and using data to monitor outcomes and make timely adjustments to improve those outcomes. Create a plan for continuous improvement using a model such as the Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle. Frameworks can help your team develop a common language and clear vision of the process that makes the work more efficient and collaborative. 
  • Create a sustainable data collection and analysis system. Know what data you need to collect and from which sources. Use an impact spectrum such as the one described below to help guide your data selection. Set regular times for your team to review and analyze the data to support quick course correction. 
  • Model with adults what you want them to do for kids. Be transparent about how you are engaging in continuous improvement. Provide targeted, data-based, just-in-time, embedded learning opportunities rather than blanketed professional development. These are the same processes we want teachers to employ when making learning acceleration decisions. 

Curated Tips for Setting Direction and Purpose

  • Get clarity. In an organization to improve, leaders and other key participants must set clear and firm intentions. Try these questions as a starting point:
    • What problem are we trying to solve?
    • What changes might we introduce and why?
    • How will we know a change is an improvement?
  • Identify your ideal future state (North Star). Work with your team to identify your aim. What is it you want to achieve through learning acceleration? What would that look like? How would you know you had achieved that goal? As a group, work together to describe the environment, in every sense, that is required for the successful creation of the future state. For each of the supporting conditions and structures in this playbook, list what must be true in order to reach your desired state.
  • Assess your current state.  Begin by working with your staff and community to assess where your system is now in relation to learning acceleration. Where are your strengths? Where do you need to focus? Who is experiencing success and who is not? Use that data to determine clear outcomes. Use the components of this playbook to help you determine what areas to explore and set goals around.
    • Consider to what extent this work is already in place. There may already be a scope and sequence or pacing document created with priority content in mind. If not, the Collaborative for Student Success offers some adapted scope and sequence plans from some reputable curriculum providers. 
  • Create a road map to success. Once you have your goals laid out, create an action plan to help you, your team, and your community, determine how to get there, a timeline for work, and responsible parties. Be sure to include clear deliverables at each step to help everyone stay on track. Create space for the team to meet regularly to discuss the process, problem-solve, and share ideas. 
    • Do not plan to address unfinished learning through “nine weeks of remediation” or another extended period of remedial content for students. It’s tempting to assume that students will need you to deliver the entire scope of content that they missed; however, we know that students spending significant time in below-grade-level content does not lead to grade-level learning. Instead, use the prioritized approach to support your teachers in identifying which unfinished learning they should focus on. 
    • Adjust the calendar as needed. Compare prioritized content to the instructional calendar. Modify the calendars needed to help students reach the demands of accelerated learning. Keep in mind intervention needs, ELD supports, and other scheduling constraints. When there is less to cover, you can adjust your pacing around your instructional calendar.
  • Make the plan specific and comprehensive. Ensure your plan has action steps that are clearly delineated by time and by role. Clarity will help adoption and reduce friction and confusion. Invest the time now to make sure the plan maps out the full year. The best time to plan the calendar is before school starts. 
    • Make it as simple as it can be. Share clear and easy-to-follow steps to make it manageable.
    • Make it core. Resist the urge to make learning acceleration an add-on. Accelerating learning is the philosophy of how we view teaching and learning. Instead of merely finding a spot to plug in tutoring or blended learning, take a moment to embrace the philosophy of no longer “re-teaching for mastery” for students who have gaps. Instead, strategize based on the belief that, given the right support, students will access grade-level content and that this is the way to break the cycle of perpetual remediation. 
    • Leverage your federal and state funding. FutureEd offers a whole playbook with tips on how to use relief funds
    • Align your existing work to the philosophy of accelerating learning. Check your LCAP, tech plan, and MTSS vision, and make sure you update your LCAP, policies, and MTSS language over the next year to match.
    • Communicate succinctly. Share these priorities and how your team will strive to meet them with your larger community (staff, families, partners, etc.). Here is sample communication you can use. 
    • Commit to continuous improvement. Signal to folks early that this will be an interactive, iterative process that will be linked to real-time data from progress with kids. See more on this topic in this section.
  • Identify needed resources. As a group, brainstorm what your functional, human, and organizational needs are to reach the desired state. Take into account how you will structure the school day and instructional time, how you will use and leverage community-based organizations, how families can contribute to learning acceleration, and how you will engage in continuous improvement. In terms of financial resources, FutureEd offers a whole playbook with tips on how to use relief funds. Everybody has a role to play. The person often best positioned to support acceleration for students will be the teachers with direct knowledge of the student and the content. However, other staff members will be great support as students complete grade-level work, have questions, need to talk through topics, or have misconceptions that need to be clarified. 
    • Set the expectation that teachers use curricular materials you provide. Encourage your teachers to use the curricular materials you provide and ground your professional learning in supporting them to use those materials well. Teachers often spend a tremendous amount of personal time developing their own lessons even though evidence suggests that teacher-created materials are not as strong as those pulled from high-quality curricular resources. Look at this example of how professional learning improved coherence in mathematics for one California school district during the pandemic.
    • Use curriculum with fidelity. If you are using a district-adopted curriculum, use the curriculum with fidelity. This allows time to plan for scaffolds and extensions that help the learning go deeper. If your school does not have an adopted curriculum, use Student Achievement Partners EQiP Math and ELA rubric guidance to evaluate teacher-created resources and make sure they are rigorous and aligned to big ideas and key concepts.
  • “Find the motivation” (unpack emotions and create buy-in): This is an ongoing part of the change management process; make space for and acknowledge emotions at every stage.
    • Address your team’s emotional shifts at different stages of change. Change is something that happens to people, even if they don’t agree with it. Transition, on the other hand, is internal: it’s what happens in people’s minds as they go through change. Change can happen very quickly, while transition usually occurs more slowly. This resource on Bridges’ transition model can help you identify what emotions usually surface during different parts of the transition process and plan how to address them ineffective and thoughtful ways. 
    • Engage in continuous dialogue. Keep the communication flowing at every stage. 
    • Build motivation by discussing questions like these with your team: 
      • What is at stake if we don’t do this work? 
      • What will have the biggest impact on achieving our collective vision? 
      • What could an ideal future look like if this is successful?
      • How can we celebrate small victories along the way?
  • Create school systems to support your strategy. Your strategy will only work as well as your systems. Do you have a structured intervention block? Do you have fully prepared teachers working with the highest need students? Do you have a vertical alignment meeting structure set up for your teachers? Do you have a system for reporting and monitoring student performance on the standards you’ve prioritized? Your schools will need these systems and more to ensure that students master grade-level standards this year. 
  • Create a comprehensive plan that takes into consideration the unique demographics of your community. Given time and resource constraints for some LEAs, the included tips may provide a starting point for leadership teams as they roll out a full reevaluation of their scope and sequence. For a deeper dive on prioritizing standards, see these CDE’s resource
Roadmap for Equitable School Systems by the Pennsylvania Department of Education

Curated Tips for Engaging in Continuous Improvement

  • Iterate cyclically to fine-tune competencies. Keep using the data to help assess and adapt. Get feedback and continue to work together. Be sure to host meetings and staff conversations with both administrators and teachers to discuss data, celebrate successes, work through challenges, and continue planning together.

  • Leverage an existing continuous improvement toolkit for expediency. Instead of creating a continuous improvement process from scratch, consider using existing models and toolkits to help ease the lift like the Plan-Do-Study-Act improvement process. For something more thorough, consider CCEE’s toolkit for continuous improvement.  

Curated Tips for Using Data to Monitor and Adjust

  • Determine what data to collect. Continuous improvement, like learning acceleration, is driven by regular data collection and analysis. Consider using an impact spectrum like this one adapted from the work of Teacher Development Network LLC to consider the range of data you might collect now and over time:

    •  Implementation data

      • Professional learning metrics: How are we supporting staff in learning to accelerate learning? (Consider data sources that show how much, how often, and on what educators are receiving professional learning and coaching to develop their skills, as well as the response to those trainings.)

      • Program implementation metrics: How well is the program being implemented? (Consider data sources that show you how the program is rolling out in alignment with goals and action plans, such as systems and structures developed to support the initiative at the district, school, team, and classroom level.) 

    • Impact data

      • Teacher practice metrics: How and in what specific ways is the practice of teachers improving? (Consider triangulating data from several sources including self-report/surveys, observations, evaluations, and so on.)

      • Student learning metrics: How and in what specific ways is student learning improving? (Consider triangulating data from several sources including pre-formative and post-testing , teacher reports, specific population progress, etc.)

  • Consider data sources you already have and build from there. Do you already gather data on professional learning, give an annual survey, or review testing data? If so, consider how you might use this data to establish a baseline from which to set goals. You might also be able to harness these same sources to support you in gathering data related to your learning acceleration efforts. Remember that data collection takes time and several sources to fully understand what is happening. Start with what you have and build sustainably from there.

  • Analyze, reflect, and act on the data. Create structures to review, synthesize, and analyze the data. Set aside time with appropriate stakeholders at strategic points to look at findings, ask questions, make adjustments, and determine next steps. Make sure the process is clear and transparent to all involved. Determine when and how you will share your findings with others. Sharing and including appropriate stakeholders in the creation of your plan helps make everyone accountable.

Curated Tips for Data-Driven Continuous Support

  • Identify priority knowledge and skills for adults. Map out the adult learning competencies necessary for effectively meeting your accelerated learning goals. Use the topics described in this playbook to guide your thinking. Align your desired outcomes and your LCAP as you create a plan for support and professional development.  
  • Collect data on the current state and needed support. Work with your staff to  
    • survey what is hard, what feels manageable, and what they want to learn in relation to identified competencies;
    • do walkthroughs of classrooms to observe grade-level instruction and implementation of curriculum to understand how teaching and learning are currently being enacted; and
    • collect lesson plans, materials, and work samples for review and/or have teams/PLCs review these materials together and make recommendations for professional learning needs.
  • Create a goal-aligned professional learning plan. Work with educators and leaders to determine the best way to support teachers in gaining the identified competencies, given the needs and assets in your community. 
    • Prioritize key needs and offer training to address identified knowledge gaps.
    • Utilize coaching and mentoring systems to help teachers and teams implement new learning in their classrooms. PD is important, but it is not enough to make change happen all on its own. Targeted one-to-one coaching from highly trained mentors and coaches is crucial to helping teachers enact new ideas and grow more quickly.
    • Rethink schedules to allow teachers time for collaboration, planning, learning, iteration, and coaching during the school day as they adapt to and refine these new practices. Once your programs are off the ground, these tools from Instruction Partners can help you improve your PLCs, coaching practices, and other staff supports.
  • Offer high-quality professional learning. Organizations focusing on accelerating learning for students cannot do so without high-quality professional learning for staff.  According to research from the Institute of Education Sciences, high-quality professional learning:
      • is tied to specific content and outcomes;
      • incorporates active learning;
      • is job-embedded;
      • is collaborative;
      • provides models;
      • includes coaching;
      • is sustained and continuous; and
      • is aligned with school goals, standards and assessments, and other professional learning activities.
  • Offer meaningful choice. Choice generates engagement, especially for adult learners who know their own strengths, needs, and learning preferences. Cedar Rapids Community School District created a BINGO board to encourage educators to select content and learning experiences based on their specific needs. This slide deck from Dallas ISD illustrates a creative, supportive, personalized way to present PD experiences and engage educators.
  • Be patient and persistent. Making big systemic changes such as the move to learning acceleration takes time to enact. Here are a few reminders to keep you going when the work is not easy:
    • Make sure your plan has opportunities for regular meaningful staff collaboration.
    • Use best practices for meetings, as suggested in this sample agenda to help guide the work forward.
    • Frustration and disagreement are part of the process and they don’t mean it isn’t working. Acknowledge the depth of mindset and practice shift this new phase of learning requires of teachers. Veteran teachers will feel like novices again, tried-and-true practices for student engagement may not work, and technical hurdles will create frustration. Provide ample support and resources for the team during the change process and encourage them to keep going.
    • Model strategies you are asking teachers to use to engage learners.
    • See the Creating a People-Centered Culture section of CCEE’s Field Guide for ways to celebrate success and improve morale. These are hard times, and small acts of kindness go a long way. 

Additional Resources


The Playbook for Accelerating Learning
The Playbook for Accelerating Learning was developed by the California Collaborative for
Educational Excellence for California LEAs in collaboration with technical assistance partners.