20 August 2005

Implementation Dip

Is it a condiment---something that goes well with crackers? Perhaps it's an elegant dance move. Or maybe it's a derogatory term for someone who works to put something into practice: a stooge. The "implementation dip," as it turns out, is an explanation for a negative change in test scores after new instructional practices are begun.

The concept belongs to Michael Fullan, an expert on instructional leadership and change. (I wonder if anyone has called him an "implementation dip"?) "According to Michael Fullan, the early stages of an innovation are likely to involve participants in considerable difficulty and frustration. The real benefits of the new approach may not be realized or noticed for months. In fact, early attempts may result in failures of various kinds. Fullan suggests that participants need to know something about the change process and this implementation dip before they proceed so as to minimize problems with the next peril . . . disillusionment." (source)

I mention this because a colleague of mine told me yesterday that it might help explain the backslide in our Science WASL scores. The idea is that teachers are doing some different things and learning to modify their instruction. Since this is new, even if it is "good stuff" that they're doing, they can't be expected to have mastered it yet. In the meantime, there can also be a bit of rebellion on the parts of the students. They are used to having classes run in a particular way or assignments in a predictable structure. Changes in expectations for their performance can cause them to "push back" against these changes. All of this adds up to a "dip" in the data during the early stages of implementing the newer program.

I need to do some more reading about this idea. It does seem appealing, of course. How nice it would be to think that the drop in scores this year is actually a good sign. It's too depressing to consider how hard we worked in the past year and that we didn't get something positive out of it. Maybe we just need to remind ourselves that change takes time and that if we're looking for immediate gratification, we're looking for the wrong thing. Maybe we need to cut ourselves some slack and keep pressing forward. I'd like to think that we're doing the best we can.


Anonymous said...

Reading a couple of his papers from his website, he seems to think that most problems in schools are solved by better leadership. That doesn't seem like a farfetched idea, but I wonder how he thinks these better leaders are going to find their way to the right spot in the school bureaucracy? All it takes is one dull, unimaginative (but not otherwise incompetent) school principal and, by his formula, a whole school is denied improvement for a decade or more.

If I was trying to solve this problem I would sure look for a bottom-up solution before I looked for a top-down one.

Nils Peterson said...

We (Washington State University Center for Assessment and Innovation) have been thinking about how individuals vs teams cope with implementation dips and see a value in collaboration and diverse teams in bringing resources to help recover capacity -- we is smarter than me

Nils Peterson