Thursday, June 7, 2012

Implementation Dip - It's Not Just Test Scores, It's Any Change

I read this article yesterday by Andrew Ujifusa entitled New Tests Put States on Hot Seat as Scores Plunge. Basically, states that have implemented new standardized tests to address revised academic standards, such as the Common Core State Standards, have seen a drop in student scores, so panic has ensued.

What I want to know is: has no one ever heard about the implementation dip?

Whenever you try to implement something new, there is going to be a period of adjustment, scores will go down if we are talking tests, classroom behaviors will change and achievement will go down if new teaching strategies are being implemented - in short, any time you try something new, it is NOT going to go exactly as planned!  Mistakes will happen, things will be bad before they get better - it's part of the whole change process.  Which is why we need to be implementing changes slowly, early, and over time so that things that go wrong can be adjusted.

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What is the implementation dip?  Michael Fullen (2001), in his book Leading in a Culture of Change defines the implementation dip as the following:
"...a dip in performance and confidence as one encounters an innovation that requires new skills and new understandings" (p. 40).
This occurs whenever something new (meaning new to you, not necessarily brand new) is introduced, so in an educational setting this means new standards, new tests, new/different instructional strategies, new technologies, etc. Anything that is different and requires different skills and understandings is NEW to those who have to implement it. This will entail an implementation dip that if not planned for and supported, will mean ultimate failure.

I think this explains why many new/different approaches/tools/strategies that have been put in place or adopted by schools and districts don't work or are not sustained over time - no one expects, accepts, and works through the implementation dip. For example, when students take new tests and scores go down, the teachers are blamed, rather than understanding it is a normal process of a new test.  Or if new technology or curriculum is introduced and grades go down, again, it is blamed on the teachers or the technology itself, when in fact, it is a natural outcome of trying anything new. What often happens after this 'failure' is  these new strategies/tools/standards are then tossed out for the next great thing around the bend (or the teachers are tossed out, if we look at what's happening these days). This philosophy only perpetuates the inconsistencies and inequities in our educational system when what we should be doing is buckling down and really working through the implementation dip.

How do we break this cycle and really give new things an honest attempt?  Here are some suggestions.

1) First, make sure whatever the 'new' thing is - standards, curriculum resources, technology, instructional strategies - has really been researched and planned out to ensure it is a good fit for your school, the teachers, the students. Make sure you have the infrastructure to support the change (hardware, software, materials, personnel, etc.) and have planned for training and support. If that is NOT thought of ahead of time, then you are never going to make it through the implementation dip.  (See my post @testsoup blog Going Digital: It's All About Planning).

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2) Training and support - whoever is expected to use/implement anything new needs appropriate training to not only learn the skills, but to understand how this 'new' thing relates to what they do/teach and how it will help students.  Training should entail learning of skills, developing lesson plans, PRACTICE and working together.  Change requires collaboration, a team effort - so administration needs to be involved and supportive, teachers need to be involved and supported. This might mean coaching or modeling, co-teaching, collaborative planning and lesson study - working together to figure out what's needed, how it fits into the school goals and structures, and when things get sticky and tricky, knowing someone will be there to work through it and help find alternatives.

3) Time - training should NOT be a one shot deal in the summer or that first week back at school. It should be ongoing and collaborative.  Implementation should not be done all at once - take your time, do it slowly - start small and add on, which will allow for fixing of things that may not work well the first time. Time for practice, time for reevaluating and adjusting strategies. Time is crucial - don't be in a rush. If you want positive change and results, allow for the implementation dip and the time to work through the tough changes.

4) EXPECT and ACCEPT FAILURE.  And then do something to fix it. With time and support, failure is not an option because there will be the support to figure out what didn't work and the time to adjust and fix it and help it work. This means scores going down, or a noisy classroom, or a failed lesson - it happens, it's okay - now move on and figure out how to make it work next time.  Creating this culture of perseverance is key to any 'new' thing being successful.

There are more suggestions I am sure.  I would suggest reading Fullen's book - it's a great resource for planning for change. But I think the most important thing to remember is that planning, training, support, time, and failure are all key components to the future success of anything new.

Fullen, M. (2001). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.