Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Reward for Good Assessment – Grant Money

Last time, I wrote that late spring is a critical time for writing summer-school and fall grants. It is also a critical time for assessing all the programs you already have in place. By this time in the school year, you should have at least a semester or a full year of data. You should know whether or not you've met your goals. Assessment of your efforts during late spring is important information that will drive your next round of grant writing.

As regular readers of this blog are no doubt aware, I write frequently about assessment. I don't apologize for that because good assessment is essential to writing good grants. The following are four ways in which strong assessment can help you acquire the grant money you need.

First, good assessment lets you know where you've missed the mark. It can help pinpoint the obstacles to achievement that your district or campus faces. To get a handle on those obstacles, they have to be measured. How many students are failing? Is attendance rising or falling? Are disciplinary problems getting more serious each year? Did the new reading program close the gap between disadvantaged students and others? There are a multitude of areas that need to be assessed in any school. To write that grant application, first and foremost you need to be able to document where achievement gaps exist.

Good assessments also let you know how bad the problems have gotten. For example, it is a problem if your attendance went down by 1 percent during the last year. It's a huge problem if it went down by 7 percent. It's a problem if your failure rate is 5 percent. It is a big problem if your failure rate went from 5 to 10 percent during the past year. The larger problems are usually the ones that warrant grant money. If the problem is large enough, it is doubtful that enough money can be diverted from the regular budget to cope with a serious or widespread problem.

Assessments allow you to match up problems with granting entities that are interested in helping you solve those problems. Some grants are primarily for helping disadvantaged students catch up in reading or math. If your needs assessment shows you have that particular problem, it makes it easy to match your needs with a grantor. The same is true for problems in readiness, technology, the arts, or almost any other area. By clearly defining your problems with a needs assessment, finding grant money becomes much easier and less time consuming.

Finally, good assessments give you data you need to support your grant application.Exactly how big is the problem you're trying to fix? Exactly how much will it cost to implement a program that shows promise of addressing that problem? This type of data comes from a thorough needs assessment and goes a long way in your application to convince others that you are fully aware of the problems you face and that you have a good plan for fixing them.

It's true that now is the time you should be writing grants for your summer-school and fall-semester programs. It is imperative, however, that you do a thorough needs assessment at this time of year so you can measure the problems you have, use that data to find the grant money you need, and successfully apply for that grant money.