Assessing School-Level & District-Level Needs

You can position yourself well for aligning your role with the NASP Practice Model by linking your services to the identified needs of the school or district. An initial step in this process is identifying needs and priorities by reviewing your district's and/or school building's school improvement plan. Your review should look carefully at how you and the other district school psychologists can support the goals and activities of the school improvement plan.

You cannot realistically meet all of the identified needs of the school by yourself. However, the NASP Practice Model offers a good schema for identifying the services you can provide to address those identified needs. The NASP Practice Model reflects the collaborative nature of this work. A school psychologist within a district can work together with other school psychologists and specialized instructional support personnel to ensure that the full range of necessary services is provided.

Recommended Steps for Completing a Needs Assessment

A comprehensive needs assessment can serve numerous purposes, including identifying strengths and weaknesses of your school or district and helping prioritize areas of concern. Needs assessments can be specifically targeted around an area of interest for your school (e.g., perceived safety among students, discipline data, reading fluency among specified grades) or be more broad and exploratory. You must work collaboratively with school leadership in this process, while demonstrating how you can help meet the identified needs, goals, and priorities using your expansive skillset.

Step 1: Identifying and Engaging the Appropriate Stakeholders
Be sure to include school administration/leadership and other specialized instructional support personnel (SISP) throughout this process to be sure that the identified target areas are aligned with the school's priorities and goals.

This article in NASP's Communiqué offers general guidance on initiating conversations with school administration about needs assessment. Additionally, the IDEA Partnership has created a collection of resources that can be used to help people understand the role and value of specialized instructional support services and personnel. This collection includes guiding assumptions, needs of the field, a glossary of related terms, a PowerPoint presentation, and dialogue guides.

Step 2: Identifying Relevant Data Sources (Ideally From Multiple Perspectives and Stakeholders, Including Students, Educators, and Families)
Note: Not all data sources listed must be collected. If additional data are needed, develop a plan collaboratively with school leadership and other stakeholders that is consistent with any existing strategic plan.

Many resources with school indicators of progress include data that already exist and just need to be analyzed with an eye toward how you can contribute to school improvement. Examples include:

  • Demographics: Enrollment, attendance, retention, ethnicity, gender, free and reduced meals, cultural and linguistic diversity, graduation rates, dropout rates, special education data, student mobility, at-risk populations
  • School climate: discipline referrals, perceived safety and connectedness among students and staff, classroom management
  • Student learning and achievement: grades, universal screening measures, formative assessments, disaggregated data by various groups (age, ethnicity, access to interventions), data trends over time, state testing data, teacher observations
  • Family and community engagement: opportunities for involvement, attendance and actual involvement from families and community in school functions and decisions, availability of language interpretive services, existing community partnerships
  • Staff quality, recruitment, and retention: staff attendance and turnover rate, professional development, mentoring opportunities for new staff

Examine these tools for adoption or adaptation to fit the needs of your school, while acknowledging that some states may have a mandatory or recommended needs assessment established.

Needs Assessment Tools and Guidelines:

  • North Dakota Needs Assessment Guide and Tools-This resource offers a description of critical issues, considerations, and steps in conducting a needs assessment in schools. Includes self-reflection questions, types/sources of data to consider, and sample needs assessment surveys and decision matrices. Sample documents are all one page or less. Resources (both paid and free) are provided as well.
  • NCLB Comprehensive Needs Assessment - Texas Education Agency-This resource offers a summary of the legal mandates associated with school-based needs assessments, followed by detailed steps to complete a needs assessment. Various data categories and probing questions are provided to generate dialogue within your school/district when considering the focus of your needs assessment. A self-reflection worksheet is also provided.
  • ASCD School Improvement Tool - online assessment tool-The ASCD School Improvement Tool is an online needs assessment survey based on ASCD'S Whole Child Tenets (healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged); indicators of sustainability; and indicators of the school improvement components of school climate and culture, curriculum and instruction, leadership, family and community engagement, professional development and staff capacity, and assessment. You can take the survey individually or register your school to have various staff complete the survey. You can then also view results through a report feature within the website. This site requires development of a free login and profile.
  • North Carolina Department of Public Instruction - Needs Assessment School Improvement Rubric-This resource offers a detailed needs assessment rubric designed around five dimensions: (a) instructional excellence and alignment, (b) leadership capacity, (c) professional capacity, (d) planning and operational effectiveness, and (e) families and community.

School Climate Assessments

Collecting and Using Systems-Level Data

Once you have collected data, you need to organize it in ways that will help others understand the strengths and needs of your school. Here are some critical questions to guide your data analysis process.

  1. Define expectations and goals among the available data (e.g., the school's goal for parent participation in back-to-school night is 90%).
  2. Identify gaps between expectations/goals and actual data (e.g., actual parent participation in back-to-school night is 30%).
  3. Identify the school's strengths and weaknesses.
  4. Identify trends, if available.
  5. Examine how the available data relate to the strategic goals and priorities described in the school improvement plan.

Step 3: Resource Mapping
Schools already have a variety of personnel, programs, and services available to students. Resource mapping consists of evaluating those available resources, how they are being used, identifying redundant or overlapping services, and how they can be integrated and used most efficiently and effectively. An important component of resource mapping is identifying the current levels of (a) mental and behavioral health supports and services for students and families, and (b) academic interventions and services. Consideration should be given to what supports and services are available at the student, classroom, school, and district-wide levels.

As an example, through the resource mapping process, a school may recognize that an administrative procedure is in place for crisis response within the district that also provides a set of procedures for each school building. However, they do not have a full-time mental and behavioral health professional to provide classroom or more intensive student-level support on a consistent basis following a crisis, nor do they have a long-term recovery plan.

Another school may identify a growing population of students that qualify as homeless and a substantial increase in students from immigrant and refugee families during the needs assessment. The resource mapping process can help identify what personnel and supports are available and how to use existing resources, such as school psychologists, to address growing needs.

The UCLA Center for Mental Health in the Schools developed a comprehensive overview of resource mapping titled Resource Mapping and Management to Address Barriers to Learning: An Intervention for Systemic Change.