How Needs Assessments Can Boost Student Outcomes

  • September 6, 2017
PUHS Institute 157 Web Blog

This week, the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, released a fascinating report, The Every Student Succeeds Act Creates Opportunities to Improve Health and Education at Low Performing Schools. It looks specifically at how ESSA’s needs assessment requirement can be used to boost outcomes for children. The National Collaborative on Education and Health, which we co-convene with Trust for America’s Health, was actively involved as advisors in the development of this report.

ESSA requires states to identify low-performing schools and requires districts to perform a needs assessment to identify areas of underperformance and determine what steps should be taken to raise achievement. That is why the Health Impact Project conducted a health impact assessment (HIA) of how needs assessments might affect achievement and related health outcomes across diverse student populations. HIAs bring together research, health expertise and stakeholder input to identify the potential and often-overlooked effects on public health of proposed laws, regulations, projects, policies and programs.

The findings of the assessment, which are highlighted in the report, suggest that districts could more effectively improve schools if they examine factors outside the classroom that affect academic achievement and if they establish partnerships with social service agencies, public health departments, hospitals and other community organizations to address identified problems.

Based on the findings from the HIA, the report highlights some specific steps to leverage the possibilities of ESSA’s needs assessment requirement. For instance, the Department of Education can emphasize the importance of root causes in needs assessment design and can leverage the work of other federal agencies and departments, such as those working health and human services. State Boards of Education can move this process forward by developing guidance and a template for including health and wellness-related root causes in the needs assessment, partnering with other state agencies to improve data sharing and ensuring the improvement plans for low-performing schools respond to the root causes found in the assessment. Districts can facilitate partnerships between schools and organizations through memorandums of understanding, coalitions, wellness policies and staffing. Schools can work with districts to engage stakeholders, such as social workers, school nurses, parents and community organizations, in collecting and analyzing data and developing strategies.

Identifying health-related root causes of student underperformance is an essential step to addressing them. But, the report points out, addressing these needs is complicated and requires resources. It identifies ways to mobilize stakeholders to effectively share data, create joint solutions and mobilize appropriate resources. Check out the report for great case studies of states and districts that are using needs assessment and stakeholder involvement to address the root causes of student underperformance.