Upstream Thinking . . . How to know you’re succeeding?

“Getting short-term measures right is frustratingly complex.  And it’s critical.  In fact, the only thing worse than contending with short-term measures is not having them at all.”

~Dan Heath

In past editions of the Blueprint Bulletin, you have familiarized yourself with Chicago Public Schools where their graduation rate was 52% in 1997.  By shifting to upstream thinking, eliminating problem blindness, taking ownership for the problem, and putting systems in place, by 2018, their graduation rate increased to 78%.  You might be asking, “so what does this have to do with short-term and long-term measures?”  So glad you asked!  CPS’s leaders focused on and cared about reducing the dropout rate . . . this was their ultimate goal (long-term measure).  Unfortunately, they couldn’t wait four years to see whether or not the strategies that they put in place were actually working.  CPS used short-term measures and interim targets to progress monitor which guided their work and allowed them a chance to adapt.  Putting this into perspective, connections can be made to Michigan’s Integrated Continuous Improvement Process and using improvement cycles to monitor.  Let’s break this thinking down . . .

  • Long-term measure/outcome:  Decreasing dropout rate
  • Interim targets/measures:
    • a freshman’s completion of five full-year course credits
    • a freshman is not failing more than one semester of a core course, such as math or English
  • Short-term measures/outcomes:
    • Weekly attendance and grades

Using a systems approach that focuses on the interconnectedness of systems, processes, and people, CPS created the Freshman On-Track system.  CPS knew that freshmen who are on-track by these interim targets at the end of their freshman year had an 81 percent chance of graduating.  In other words, they are 3 ½ times more likely to graduate than students who were off track.

How might you use the improvement cycle IPOF (input, process, output, feedback) iterative model to monitor the short-term measures/outcomes which will ultimately lead the district to meeting its interim and long-term measures?  As you reflect on what this IPOF might look like for your district, here are a few considerations:

Feedback – Based on data collected, adjustments will be made to input and/or process.  

Heath states, “Getting short-term measures right is frustratingly complex.  And it’s critical.  In fact, the only thing worse than contending with short-term measures is not having them at all.”  With CPS, the ultimate goal is to decrease dropout rates and increase graduation rates.  By breaking down strategies into manageable chunks and using short-term measures that can be progress monitored on a short-term cycle, CPS was able to get closer to meeting their goal. 

The Leader’s and Teacher’s Corner sections will support you with deeper thinking around how to know you’re succeeding by “pregaming” your measures, using “paired” measures, and avoiding “ghost victories”.