frontier set site visits and the use of the institutional transformation assessment tool

October 29, 2018 at 5:32 PM

Dear Frontier Set site leads,

In sharing this message with you, we have three goals, specifically to:

  1. Explain the role site visits play in the Frontier Set,
  2. Update you about the Institutional Transformation Assessment Tool (ITA), and
  3. Invite you to an upcoming ITA update webinar.

First, we hope that fall has been off to a strong start for you and your students! For us, campus in fall triggers special memories: it is when the empty hallways of summer fill themselves with life again with many excited, and sometimes anxious, faces. There is an undeniable energy that comes with welcoming students during this crucial time of their lives. It’s when everyone on campus gives their best because they know how impactful the first couple of weeks of college experience can be for students who might be wondering whether college is for them.

At all 31 Frontier Set sites, you and your colleagues are particularly intentional about welcoming students back Because you have committed to dramatically increasing student success and erasing attainment gaps by transforming your institutions. This is all because you know doing so will lead the way toward a better equitable future for the students you serve.

The importance of site visits: sharing what works – and what does not

As a Frontier Set site, your institution has committed to taking a hard look at your data and owning the stories it tells—both good and bad—and using that understanding to move forward in new ways. Because the field needs your leadership to set an example for other institutions grappling with similar challenges.

An essential part of helping us understand transformation is when your site engages in open conversations about your successes and challenges during site visits, specifically with the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and your respective intermediary partners.

These partner organizations serve as connectors and communicators—they encourage sites as they pilot new strategies and initiatives. The network they helped create provides a structure for sites to check in with others and ask about different approaches. This habit of sharing is essential to the Frontier Set, and will continue to build upon itself, spurring more demand for insight around student success.

AIR and intermediary site visits are promoting a continual cycle of evaluation and growth. It is during these visits that you and your colleagues share your promising practices (and the indicators that support them) and areas of improvement in the overall institutional context. You do so for your own reflective practice and so that others across the Frontier Set can learn from you, adapt promising practices, and continue to improve and accelerate their own transformation.

Use of the Institutional Transformation Assessment during upcoming Fall and Spring site visits

During past site visits, AIR employed the ITA that was developed through research and observations of our partners to:

  • Provide individuals on campus with an opportunity to reflect on the ongoing initiatives at their institution,
  • Bring together a group of leaders from across campus in a “consensus meeting” to discuss the institution’s role in improving student success, and
  • Celebrate strengths and prioritize areas for improvement and start moving toward action.

After initial testing with a smaller number of institutions, last academic year’s site visits were the first full application of the ITA in a national initiative. The Frontier Set was chosen because it includes sites who are at the frontier and willing to try new approaches to accelerate transformation. Our hope is that a much-improved version of the ITA will be one of the tools that institutions outside of the Frontier Set will use to identify promising practices and opportunities for improvement and to accelerate the course of transformation.

We thank you for testing the ITA and the patience and grace that goes along with it. We recognize and empathize with the challenges of using a tool that is still in development. We at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the American Institutes for Research, and the intermediaries heard your feedback during our group meetings, one-on-one conversations, and convenings: a desire for improved indicators (i.e. questions and response options) from an assessment design and equity perspective; for a smoother user experience within the online assessment; for more clearly articulated context on the ITA.

How the Institutional Transformation Assessment will be improved this year

This summer, based on working with you, AIR identified the indicators that you called out as being the most challenging to interpret. We then worked with AIR and other experts (for example, Association for Institutional Research on Institutional Research capacity and Education Commission of the States for developmental education) to make these changes. All in all, we improved over 20 indicators in the ITA, which you will see the next time you take the ITA. While there is more work to be done to improve the indicators, we believe that this effort provided a big step in the right direction.

Based on input from Frontier Set institutions (through AIR), and other partners using the tool, we added or updated several critical features. They include but are not limited to:

  • Revamping individual and consensus reports;
  • Adding a “I don’t know” option;
  • Adding a progress bar to show where in the survey a user is; and
  • Making it possible to revisit a section, to mention a few.

Additionally, we worked with Dr. Adrianna Kezar from the University of Southern California to provide context for the individuals at the institution taking the ITA.

When to expect to take the ITA again

That said, while the ITA has been significantly improved since you last took it, we will closely collaborate with the and AIR to draft a plan for using it again in Spring of 2019 and beyond.

Next steps: a webinar on November 16 to look more closely at ITA updates

We are excited to share this progress with you. will host a webinar to walk through the updates on, as well as open it up for Q&A on November 16 (Friday), from 10-11am PST. The link to join the webinar is here ( The webinar will also be recorded for those who aren’t able to make it and will be posted on the Education Community platform at education.

We look forward to working with everyone here on the ITA. While it isn’t perfect, we believe that it is an effective tool for facilitating reflective conversations on campus. We welcome your feedback during and after the webinar on how to continue improving this tool to make it as useful for you as possible.

Now back to the hallways! We are so grateful and excited to work with you as our partners who are deeply committed to serving the students we all care about.


Patrick Rossol-Allison | Senior Program Officer, overseeing the Frontier Set Evaluation
Hyunjun Kim | Program Officer, overseeing development of the ITA


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