Sam Ritchie

Samuel Ritchie is a consultant with 35 years of experience as a practitioner. For most of those years, he was the director of technology at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Illinois.

Assessing Your School’s PLC Progress

“What should we do next?” is a question I frequently hear as a PLC consultant. But without data, I can’t answer this question. I have to understand where a school is on the PLC continuum. I liken this to using common formative assessments to find out what my students know. Only then can I provide guidance (next steps) and support to help them close the gap between where they are and where they want to be.

I became involved in PLC progress assessment just as I was nearing retirement. Rick convinced Wendell Schwartz and me to join him in Missouri for a project called High Schools with Results. Our role was to visit certain schools once a year and conduct an audit of their PLC progress. The resulting report helped the schools assess their progress the following year.

Several years and reports later, I continue to be involved. The current PLC at WorkTM Progress Report reflects the maturing of the process over the years while continuing to include the original elements designed to involve administration, guiding coalition, and faculty. The elements are:

  1. Pre-visit Questions– Questions are provided to the school regarding topics to be discussed during an initial phone conversation between the school and the site visitation team.
  2. Data Picture of Our School– Submitted prior to the site visit using the form found in Learning by Doing, Second Edition on pp. 24-26. Download a PDF here.
  3. Online PLC at WorkTM Staff Survey– staff complete the survey prior to the site visit. It covers the three big ideas (Focus on Learning, Collaborative Culture, and Focus on Results).
  4. Team Products and Artifacts– Such as norms, SMART goals, common formative assessment with associated data, etc. are organized for review during the site visit. Related reproducibles from Learning by Doing can be found here.
  5. Site Visit– Two person visitation team spends a day at the school during which they:
    1. Review team products and artifacts.
    2. Meet with building leadership (guiding coalition) and multiple focus groups representing the demographics of the school. Information from the pre-visit questions, data picture, survey results, and products and artifacts are used to guide the discussion during these sessions.
    3. Share the survey results.
    4. Observe teams and classes as schedule permits.
    5. Conducts an exit interview with building leadership.
  6. Written Report - Provide the school with a full report outlining recommendation areas and potential next steps.
  7. Follow-up conference call - The call should include the site visit team, school, and a Solution Tree representative.

One of the most difficult aspects of the Progress Report process is to take “evaluation” out of the school’s outlook. I prefer to have the school look at the Progress Report as a common formative assessment. Let me explain. Common assessment means each school is being assessed using the same process and the same criteria (PLC continuum). Formative assessment means it is used to inform the school of its progress so that appropriate steps can be taken to advance the school along the PLC continuum.

Assessment research is clear. Assessment to reduce achievement gaps must meet four conditions: (Stiggins & Chappuis, 2005)

  1. Assessment development must always be driven by a clearly articulated purpose.
  2. Assessments must arise from and accurately reflect clearly specified and appropriate achievement expectations.
  3. Assessment methods used must be capable of accurately reflecting the intended targets and are used as teaching tools along the way to proficiency.
  4. Communication systems must deliver assessment results into the hands of their intended users in a timely, understandable, and helpful manner.

The PLC at WorkTM Progress Report meets these four conditions and its purpose—to provide schools with next steps and support they need to close the their knowing-doing gap.

So can a school conduct its own progress report and glean the same information? My answer is yes if they can implement all elements (multiple data points are key) of the process with fidelity. However, there is a benefit to having “new eyes” examine one’s practices.

Solution Tree associates have considerable experience with many other schools that are engaged in the work of building professional learning communities, which enables them to offer a basis of comparison and suggestions that have helped others move forward.


DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., and Many, T. (2010). Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at WorkTM, Second Edition. Bloomington, IN:  Solution Tree.

Stiggins, Rick and Chappuis, Jan 2005 Using Student-Involved Classroom Assessment to Close Achievement Gaps, Theory Into Practice, 44: 1, 11–18.

No responses yet.