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Response Planning

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How to Use the Response Plan Toolkit

The Response Plan section of the Learning Impacts Toolkit is intended to provide structure and support as schools and district leaders create Response Plans for addressing long-term impacts of COVID-19. The Response Plans are intended to articulate the school or district’s key focus areas to address impacts of COVID-19.

It is important to note that this toolkit may be used to draft a Response Plan, as well as complete a school and district’s Unified Improvement Plan (UIP). This approach is intended to reduce duplicity and increase streamlined communications.

  • Principal and school leaders: You may use this to structure your ongoing annual planning process and ensure your team is reflecting on key areas of need that have arisen due to COVID-19. This may include adding or restructuring use of resources. The details of your Response Plan can be included within components of your UIP.
  • District leaders: District leaders may find this useful in providing more structure to your district response plan for addressing long-term impacts of COVID-19, including ongoing improvement planning and budgeting.

Response Plan Overview

The Response Plan section of the toolkit is designed using best practices from school and district improvement planning processes that begin with the Establish the "Why."

Establish the Why

Districts and schools are encouraged to first establish "why" creating a response plan with a shared purpose and approach is needed. There are two key steps to establish the "why."

Step One: Reflect and Regroup

Create a shared purpose for the response plan: consider how the school or district’s identified needs align with the community’s vision for graduates. Identify what this means for how we respond in this moment of identifying and responding to learning opportunities due to the pandemic.

Based on these questions, identify guiding principles that will anchor the rest of your planning. Examine the key verbs in your mission and vision that can be used as guiding principles to focus resources toward identified needs. Consider how the toolkit can be utilized in applying for various funding streams from federal and state sources.

Reflect and Regroup: Guiding Questions

  • What went well in our response for 2020-2021?
  • What can be improved?
  • What can we learn from it?
  • How does what we learned apply to our mission and vision?
  • What do our reflections reveal for how we respond to this moment?
  • What questions are we seeking to resolve through this plan?

Sample Narrative: Our district has identified multiple areas of academic need due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has amplified previously identified concerns as well as to create new challenges that the district wishes to address through expanded learning opportunities and the associated resources to provide these opportunities. To access funds for expanded learning opportunities, the district is using this response plan template as a key part of any application for such funding.

Step Two: Define Success

Generating new definitions of success may help establish expectations for the response plan components, including:

  1. Academic Knowledge/Content
  2. Transferable Skills/21st Century Skills
  3. Intrapersonal and Social and Emotional Skills and Mindsets
  4. Finance
  5. Talent and Human Capital

Generate New Definitions for Success: Guiding Questions

  • How does our definition of success drive what we need to monitor and measure? What data will we need?
  • What does a student-centered purpose look like for our community?
  • What is our purpose assuming?
  • Who needs to be involved and during what points in the process?
  • What barriers do we anticipate facing?
  • What policies, culture and instructional practices need to be analyzed and adjusted?
  • How can we continuously involve students, staff and the community to inform and adjust our approach?

UIP User Guide

UIP Info and Description

Review Slides 5 & 6

Schools and districts utilize this section to provide details about the school/district context and to answer questions about grant history and improvement plan requirements.

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Identify and Prioritize the Needs

Once the "why" has been established, districts and schools may more readily engage in a thoughtful process to identify and prioritize the needs of the school community within the response plan. Using a robust data analysis process and identifying root causes are important steps of the response plan.

Step One: Data Analysis

Area 1. Assessing students' academic progress, growth, well-being, and engagement.

Guiding Questions:

  • What are your initial thoughts/reactions to each set of data or all the different data sources reviewed?
  • Is this what you expected to see? If so, how? If not, how?
  • Is there a particular piece of data that catches your attention?
  • What do these data not tell us? What are the limitations of these data?
  • What explanations do you have about what you see?
  • Interpret the data in light of discussion in section one "Why".
  • Consider your own perspectives that they bring to the data.
  • What thoughts/assumptions do these data confirm?
  • Are there any limitations to our considerations?
  • Are there any perspectives we haven't considered?
  • Do we need additional data to answer our question(s)? What additional data might inform this? Are we currently collecting these data OR do we need to collect new data?
  • Discuss areas where expectations were not met or areas where you would like to improve.
  • What possible trends are you seeing when reviewing student academic data, relative to literacy, math, student engagement, student social, emotional and behavioral needs?
  • Consider how these results differ from past student performance (e.g. prior to COVID-19).


Area 2. Engage Students

Guiding Questions:

  • How are the perspectives of students included in the conversation about learning impact?
  • What is the process to ensure that students can voice their needs to those guiding response planning?
  • How will you match resources to students' needs?
  • How will you ensure that students who are not actively engaged are recovered?
  • (For Secondary) What resources might you use to ensure that students are not falling further off track to graduate?


Area 3. Engage Parents and Community

Guiding Questions:

  • How are families and staff currently partnering for positive student outcomes? (Identify starting points with the FSCP rubrics listed below under resources.)
  • Is there a gap between families’ perception of school outreach and staff’s perception of outreach? If so, what may be the disconnect?
  • Do families and staff have the capacity and resources they need to partner for positive student outcomes? If not, what extra supports are needed?
  • Consider how these results different from past family, school, and community partnerships (e.g. prior to COVID-19).


Area 4. Engage Educators

Guiding Questions:

  • How will engage your teachers in response planning?
  • How will you utilize existing data, such as staff responses TLCC survey to ensure that staff needs are being met?


Step Two: Root Cause

Guiding Questions:

  • What process might we use to help us identify root causes?
  • What are the gaps in performance relative to the student, staff, and parents and community data analysis?
  • What might be the root causes of the student, staff, and parents and community data analysis?
  • What additional data might we need to validate our root causes?
  • Are these root causes focused on adult actions under the control of the district or school?


UIP User Guide

Data Narrative

Review Slides 7-13

This section is accessed by clicking on the Section III tab, then clicking through the sub-navigation.

The online UIP includes six components that weave together to create the Data Narrative:

  1. Brief Description
  2. Prior Year Targets
  3. Current Performance
  4. Trend Analysis
  5. Priority Performance Challenges
  6. Root Causes

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Consider Return on Investment (ROI)

Return-On-Investment (ROI) is a tool for improving resource efficiency to maximize the impact of limited resources. This approach begins with considering the fundamental needs of students that need to be addressed. It is not intended to determine which program is better, or what resources will meet the need.

Education Resource Strategies (ERS) issued a publication in October 2014 entitled Return on Investment in Education: A "System-Strategy" Approach to K-12 ROI that provides useful information in considering ROI. Below is a summary of guiding questions in the publication that may be used by districts to think about ROI as they consider both existing practices and new practices.

Guiding Questions to Support Determination of ROI:

Identify the core need

  • What fundamental student performance needs is the district focusing on, and what is the theory of change for addressing it?
  • What fundamental student needs are being targeted?
  • What performance target does the district want to reach, and what outcome measures will be used to gauge progress and success?
  • What evidence- and/or research-based strategies might meet the identified need? See CDE’s ESSA Planning Requirements page for more information on strong evidence-based practices and ESSA’s levels of evidence.​

Consider a broad range of investment options

  • What are the investments the district has currently made to address this need, and what else could be done?
  • What is our theory of action for meeting this student's needs?
  • What seems to cause the need?
  • Have you conducted empathy interviews to determine and better define the problem you are working to solve?
  • What activities or programs can we stop to create staff capacity?
  • What does the district currently invest in this area or toward this end?
  • What people, time, and money does the district currently invest in programs, instruction, and support targeted at related outcomes?
  • Do current investments align with the district's theory of action, and is there evidence that current investments are working?
  • Are there things that are not working well? If these are discontinued, can these resources be redirected toward more productive options?
  • What evidence- and/or research-based practices might be more effective than current programs/investments?
  • What broader alternatives can be imagined that would address the same set of student needs?
  • How does what is currently being done support or interact with the proposed option? Are there dependencies that should be clarified?
  • What would have to be true of any new investment for it to be better than what is currently being done? How likely is that scenario?

Define ROI metrics and gather data

  • What are the relative returns (costs weighed against benefits) to the set of current/potential options?
  • In defining an RIO metric, three major questions should be considered. First, what is the likely impact on student learning? Second, how many students will this impact? Finally, How much will it cost to fully fund the initiative?
  • Teaching and Learning Toolkit - shows the cost, evidence strengths, and impacts (months) from the Education Endowment Foundation
  • What is the likely Impact on Student Learning?
  • What kind of data is currently available on the impact of the various policies, investments, or initiatives that have been identified? What’s the source?
  • How relevant is the data to the particular student performance need the district has identified? Was the same question studied or an analogous one? How closely does it match the district’s current context, capabilities, and planned change?
  • How reliable were the observed outcomes? Was there wide variation in results across studies? Were they gold standard randomized controlled studies, small local pilots, or anything in between?
  • Did fidelity of implementation play a role in outcomes?
  • What are the mitigating or enabling factors?
  • Does this policy generate a one-time or a multiple-year impact on student learning?
  • How does combining various policies affect the expected impact of each on student performance?
  • How transferable are the observed outcomes to our context? What are the limitations? Or what could go better?
  • How Many Students Will This Impact?
  • What student group(s) will benefit from the investment?
  • Are there students who are not targeted but will also be affected?
  • How Much Will it Cost to Fully Fund the Initiative?
  • Start-up or Transition Cost:
    • What are the start-up/one-time costs required to initiate and transition to a steady state?
    • How long will the district need to invest above steady state and at what level to achieve the planned sustained student improvement?
  • Ongoing or Sustaining Cost:
    • What is the annual recurring cost to sustain the initiative at steady state? (e.g., staff, materials, PD, regular updates) Is it expected to rise or decline over time?
  • Indirect Cost:
    • What else will need to be spent to achieve the desired result?
    • Is there infrastructure on which this initiative depends? Will that need to be upgraded?

Weigh investment options

  • What other factors do we need to consider, in order to select from among the options?
  • Which option(s) have the highest likely return in the district’s current context?
  • How does this choice fit with other district priorities, performance targets, and constraints?
  • What is likely to happen if the district does not move forward with this option now?

Make investment decisions

  • How can the district free existing resources to do what it wants to do?
  • Is the district pursuing high-cost strategies that are not shown in the literature to be effective?
  • Is the district investing a lot of money, per-pupil, in areas that may not be district goals?

Districts may also find additional resources to fund priority investments by identifying misalignment, those accumulated spending patterns based on historical policies and practices, but which no longer achieve the necessary student impact results nor align with current strategic priorities.

UIP User Guide:

Data Narrative

Review Slide 14

Priority Performance Challenges

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Make a Plan to Address the Needs

Components of a High-Quality Action Plan to Address the Identified Needs

The following items listed below are recommended components of a response plan. As you will notice, many of the areas are parts of the improvement planning process. Many schools may be able to build their response plan into their UIP. Brief descriptions of each category as well as resources for each that may help the team in creating a plan are below:

Timeline: The plan should include a timeline of key events and activities aimed at implementing the strategy.

Human Resources/Talent: The additional staff members, training, or support that are needed should be included, especially given the funding available that is targeted to learning impacts.

  • Professional development
  • Teacher evaluation
  • Leadership structure / ownership

Communications: The goal of this section is to articulate and plan out how the team will ensure that the entire community (families, board, district staff, school staff) understand what the team is focusing on, what it is addressing, and how this will help the community impact students and staff.

Sample Communication Tool:

N+1 Tool

Budget/Fiscal Resources: The intention is to identify the large funding sources that are being used to support this initiative and strategy. The team may consider starting with the stimulus funds and include other large sources. This is to help ensure continuity and to communicate how the district/school is using the funds to address COVID-19 impacts.

Progress Monitoring/Benchmarks: The length of the plan is determined by the team and there is space to identify what practices, changes, or intermediate outcomes might be visible that help the district see progress. This is recommended both at intermediate and end of plan components.

Targets/Outcomes: Student level targets and outcomes should be set to identify the goals of the overall response plan.

Sample Tools or Approaches:

UIP User Guide


CDE has created a template for a district level response tool that could be used to create, document, and monitor the district’s response plan. This excel template can be used in place of action steps and implementation benchmarks within the online UIP system if the Major Improvement Strategies are the same.

  • Template #1: This is a template built off of a Performance Management tool that helps leaders organize, monitor, and adjust strategies over time.
  • Template #2: This is a template built off of a word copy of the UIP that has been adapted to help districts and schools with response planning.

UIP User Guide

Action Plans

Review Slides 17-21

Next, use the Planning Form to create the Action Plan. For each major improvement strategy, implementation benchmarks and action steps must be completed.

Implementation benchmarks detail a progress monitoring plan for the major improvement strategies. They should indicate what practical measurements will be used to track the implementation of the strategies, and should assign timelines and key personnel to monitor progress.

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