Case Study

Lessons from a Minnesota Networked Improvement Community

By Dominique Bradley and Susan Burkhauser
September 2021
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In the 2019-2020 school year, the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest, in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Education, facilitated a networked improvement community (NIC) of four State-Approved Alternative Programs (SAAPs). SAAPs serve students at risk of not graduating high school and have much lower graduation rates on average than traditional high schools. Organized around a long-term goal of raising graduation rates at participating schools, the NIC’s work aligned with actionable evidence principles:

  • The NIC was data-driven and participant-centered and therefore grounded in practitioner learning needs. The NIC teachers selected the evidence-based practice of one-on-one student goal setting as the “change idea” or intervention to implement and test over the course of the project. 
  • The NIC structure enabled timely improvements in instructional practice. With support from REL Midwest facilitators, participants engaged in three rapid cycles of testing, developed and carried out implementation plans, and tracked data. 
  • The cycles of small-scale testing provided an accessible and user-centered approach to analysis and interpretation. After each implementation period, participants convened as a full group. They discussed patterns in the data and used data-based observations to modify implementation plans and assess their success in meeting targeted student outcomes. 
  • Participation in the NIC built participants’ capacity for continuous research and development. By the last implementation cycle, nearly all NIC teachers came to see the relevance of documenting, analyzing, and reflecting on the data they collected and how they could use it to improve implementation and instruction. NIC participants learned to use the tools of implementation science, which they can use to test interventions in their classrooms. 

Anecdotal evidence from NIC teachers and administrators suggests that the goal-setting activity positively impacted student mindset and self-confidence, trust between students and teachers, and teachers’ ability to connect with their students. At the time of this writing, data were not yet available to measure change in graduation rates since NIC implementation.