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4 Ways to Measure K-12 Instructional Program Success

For instructional leadership in school districts, measuring and improving student achievement and connecting instructional programs to student outcomes is key.

To accomplish this goal, there are four ways to measure success:

  • Calculating Instructional Spending and Cost-Effectiveness
  • Tracking Instructional Allocations Across Locations
  • Aligning Spending to District Strategic Plans
  • Supporting Financial Literacy and Acumen

Calculating Instructional Spending and Cost-Effectiveness

Should a particular program be continued, expanded, reduced, or discontinued? With a clear understanding of the balance between a program’s cost and its effects, a Chief Academic Officer (CAO) and Instructional Leadership will have the right information to make these tough decisions.

In that light, ESSA is a CAO’s best friend.

The federal ESSA legislation is interested in the effectiveness of every dollar. This law includes provisions to implement programs with “strong,” “moderate,” or “promising” evidence of positive outcomes for students, as determined by existing scholarly research. Thus, it will be more important than ever for a CAO to understand which programs are being implemented and to continuously monitor their results against their costs.

Specific questions that instructional leadership should ask regarding this point are:

  • Are we spending money on software, curriculum, training, or other materials that are well-researched and/or proven to get results?
  • Are these programs cost-effective relative to other programs?

Instructional Resource Allocation Across Schools

All students deserve equitable resources and an equal opportunity for a great education. Do you know which instructional resources are being purchased to support instructional goals? How are instructional resources selected? Can your district account for where instructional resources end up and who they serve?

A specific question that instructional leadership should ask regarding this point is:

  • Are instructional resources being equitably distributed across schools, according to student and school needs?

Strategic Alignment

For CAOs and Instructional Program Managers, teacher and student success is the bottom line. That means instructional resources must be aligned with district goals for student achievement.

Specific questions that instructional leadership should ask regarding this point are:

  • Are you able to track resource alignment across schools?
  • Can you evaluate which resources are most effective for improving student performance?

In our district, we are working on strategic plans for each instructional program that aligns to the system vision. This approach parallels a school improvement plan that a principal creates for their school. With this model, each instructional program will collect data and milestones to measure progress. One key component of this process is aligning and evaluating spending based on their program’s strategic plan.

Specific questions that instructional leadership should ask regarding this point are:

  • Are instructional program budgets aligned to address academic goals for the district?
  • What percentage of instructional budget was spent on resources to address the academic goals and priorities for the district?

Financial Behavior

Academic program leaders often manage large budgets. Unless they majored in accounting in college, they may not feel ready for the responsibility of managing millions of dollars. Access and control of fiscal decisions should match the level of financial responsibility that is placed on department leaders. Having readily available account information (budget, expenditures, encumbrances, and available) is vital for department-level decision making.

Specific questions that instructional leadership should ask regarding this point are:

  • Does instructional program leadership understand financial management?
  • Do instructional program managers have easy access to their financial transactions and account status?
  • How does your district prepare instructional program managers and principals to budget and manage money allocated for their programs?


The work of a Chief Academic Officer and their team of instructional leaders is central to the success of a school district. The mission of their work is to support and improve teaching and learning. The selection of curriculum materials and resources, planned professional learning, and implementation of instructional programs are keys to long-term student and district success. By ensuring they can answer the preceding questions, CAOs will ensure their districts are best serving the needs of their students.

Interested in learning more about our Strategic Services?

We’ve spent years supporting professional learning for district administrators and developing innovative financial management solutions so that school districts can conduct real-time financial analysis.

About the Authors

Image of Ebony Langford-Brown Ebony Langford Brown is the Executive Director for Curricular Programs and School Improvement for Howard County Public Schools. In her current role, she provides supervision and oversight for the development and implementation of Pre-K – 12 curriculum. Prior to this role, Ms. Langford Brown served as an elementary teacher, instructional leader, school-based administrator and as the Director of Instruction and Achievement Montgomery County Public Schools where she oversaw curriculum and program implementation for more than 50,000 students enrolled in 132 elementary schools. Ebony holds a B.S. in elementary education from the University of Maryland – College Park and an M.A. in sociology and education from the Teacher’s College at Columbia University.

Image of Lisa Katz Lisa Katz is the Director of Education for Allovue. She began her teaching career as a social studies teacher, served as a program specialist in the Division of Instruction for the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE), served as the Program Director for Secondary Teacher Education at the University of Maryland College Park and most recently as a Digital Learning Program Leader and Specialist for Howard County Public Schools. In her various leadership roles in curriculum and instruction, both at the state and local level, Lisa has maintained and managed department budgets, Title funds and federal grant funds tied to USDOE and MSDE initiatives.