Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Road to RAMP: Goal Oriented

This is the third in a series of reflections on the RAMP process.

There are twelve components to the RAMP application.  Twelve.  Thirteen if you are re-RAMPing.  You would think that with that many components, you might be able to have some low scores on a few and still come out on top in the end.

You might be wrong.

The third section of the RAMP application is the one where you list your program goals, which should include goals that seek to close an identified achievement gap or gaps.  In my previous RAMP post, I talked about how to find data to determine where your school's needs are in order to develop appropriate interventions.  The program goals take this to the next step and formalize what this data is telling you and what your aspirations are with regards to improving and changing the outcomes.  The thing that you may not realize is that these goals will also take over your entire application.  I am finding that our goals are literally driving the majority of our RAMP train--they are a main part of not only the program goals component, but they also then appear in your annual agreement and as a part of your advisory council.  Additionally, you will very likely have have small groups and curriculum lessons that help to support your goals.  As at least one of your goals should seek to close an achievement gap, that takes care of component number eleven.  Finally, component twelve, the reflection piece, will no doubt also include some musings on your goals.  Thus, it is extremely important to make sure, from the start, that your goals are solid, because if they are not, they could cause your entire RAMP train to derail before it barely has time to get out of the station.

Here are some tips to help you formulate goals that won't cause you to jump the track:

  • Base your goals in outcome data.  In my previous post, I talked about the differences between process, perception, and outcome data.  Your program goals for RAMP should be based on outcome data, meaning that they are based in academic data such as grades, test scores, graduation rates, or enrollment in advanced course work, as well as in attendance or school safety.  There is nothing wrong with perception data, but it is not as results oriented as outcome data.  Part of RAMP is showing how you and/or your department are able to effect systemic change within your school community--not just how people think or feel, but about how they act and achieve.
  • Make sure there is a demonstrated need.  This ties into the previous bullet point.  Your outcome data needs to show that there is a demonstrated need that justifies your focus and time on a particular project.  Too often we set a goal for something without having a justification for why it is important.  If your goal is to try to decrease the number of suspensions by the end of the year, yet in your school there were only two students suspended the previous year, there may be better uses of your time and year-long focus.
  • Use the SMART goal formula.  Many of us work on SMART goal writing and reflection with our students.  I have even heard of elementary students writing SMART goals.  We should expect the same of ourselves.  The SMART goal acronym stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.  You want the goal to be very clear, simple, and precise.  For example, "The Smith High School Student Services Department will increase the enrollment of hispanic students in Advanced Placement classes by 10% from the previous year by June of 2013." "By June of 2013, the Chavez Middle School student services department will reduce the number of full-day absences by 15 % amongst students who have already amassed five or more in the first quarter.  If you are confused about SMART goals and want a place to start, take a look at this handout.  There is also more information in the ASCA National Model, 3rd Edition.
  • Make sure they can be tied back to your Vision and Mission.  If your goals cannot be linked in some way to your Mission and Vision, one or the other (or maybe both) will need some serious reflection and discussion.  Hopefully, your Mission and Vision statements discuss your role as a school counselor or school counseling team in helping to remove academic barriers for all students and in creating a positive school climate for your community--this is a great place to start.
  • One small-group or one classroom lesson do not a program or achievement goal make.  These goals should be large, over-arching goals that encompass large portions of the school year.  No matter how amazing you or your team are, the chances are very slim of a one-shot lesson or a four-session group in November being the sole agent of change with regards to an identified area of outcome data.  However, lessons and small-groups may certainly be a component of your full intervention plan and provide necessary support to your goals.
  • Let the goal simply state the aspiration.  Let the program plan discuss the intervention, methods of data collection, etc..  The goals should be relatively short statements that explain what you hope to improve, with whom, and give some indication of why it may be necessary.  The interventions and the finer points are going to be flushed out in much more detail in the program plan that accompanies it.  You can access the achievement gap/program plan template here--they are also accessible with the purchase of either the hardcopy or digital edition of the ASCA Model, 3rd Edition.  
  • Regularly review your progress through the year, and keep notes on your reflections.  We monitor our goals and check in regularly with each other through our department collaborative team meetings.  Through these conversations we keep notes so that as we approach the end of the year, we have information that helps to inform our RAMP narratives as well as our final reflections for our DATA reports.  Further, it helps to keep all of us in our department on track with where we feel we currently stand with the goals.  Because we are looking at outcome data, we are able to regularly see if we are on target to meet our end-of-year aspirations and adjust our interventions as needed.
My wish is that by the end of the year, we have been able to demonstrate, through hard data, our department's impact on the academic achievement of our students as well as our contributions to creating a positive, safe, and college and career going culture within our school.  By giving a lot of time to the writing and designing of our goals, and by having others review them and give us constructive feedback, my hope is that they not only reflect well in one component of the RAMP application, but shine through all twelve.

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