Bridging Practice and Policy Holistically with a Guiding Framework

By Sharmila Mann

When effective practice informs supportive policy, it’s a win for students, practitioners and policymakers alike. Unfortunately, the space between practice and policy can feel like a chasm. Creating channels that connect policymakers and practitioners with guiding documents to support their collaborative work can help bridge the chasm and create a more interconnected, continuously improving system. 

Strong Start to Finish’s new “State Policy Framework for Developmental Education Reform” is just such a practice-to-policy bridging tool. It was developed to support postsecondary leaders in their efforts to scale effective reform practices. The Framework examines the intersection of postsecondary policy at the state and system levels with four developmental education reform practices: multiple measures for placement, acceleration through co-requisite models, alignment of first credit-bearing math courses to degree pathways, and strategic use of data. The effectiveness of each of these practices in supporting student momentum and attainment, particularly for marginalized students most likely to be placed in developmental education, is supported by robust research evidence.  These three strategies — scaling evidence-based practices, addressing efforts at a state and system levels, and supporting students who are marginalized — are key to addressing inequities in postsecondary systems.  

The new publication offers a holistic view of policy challenges and opportunities across these four practices. This approach reflects our understanding that the effects of individual reform practices are amplified when multiple reforms are implemented collectively. In addition, when reform practices are examined individually, policies developed to be supportive of one practice may unintentionally impede the implementation of other effective practices. Examining these four strategies collectively creates a space for practitioners and policymakers to address policy challenges more effectively.  

The Framework brief is designed for practitioners and policymakers and organized around the four practice strategies. Each section contains: 

  • links to research supporting the effectiveness of the practice in improving student outcomes, especially for marginalized students.  
  • common policy challenges and opportunities that arise on the path to scaling the practice.  
  • examples of state and system policies that are supportive of effective reform practices.  

Policymakers can use the Framework to more clearly understand effective practices and the research that backs them up. They can learn why certain policies may be serving as barriers to implementation and what changes can be made to alleviate those barriers. Policymakers can also discover opportunities to develop supportive policies for effective practices. Practitioners can use the brief to understand the elements of supportive policy associated with each of the four effective reform practices. Additionally, practitioners can build their toolbox of policy language and examples to help them communicate their needs to institutional, system and state leaders.   

The Framework brief concludes with a rubric for policy review. The rubric is presented as a series of questions that can be used by policymakers and practitioners, working independently or collectively, to critically examine existing policy structures. The questions direct the user to think deeply about the location of a barrier — Is it policy? Is it practice? Is it at the institution, system or state level? — and lead them back into the report to support the quest to develop more supportive policy structures.  

Strong Start to Finish (SStF) created the Framework to be a clean, concise, and user-friendly tool. It is meant to support policymakers and practitioners in bridging practice and policy in service of scaling effective and equitable practices. SStF hopes that reading the framework will help you develop a better understanding of the intersection of practice and policy in the developmental education space. More importantly, however, SStF encourages you to use the Framework to guide your own process of inquiry. Whether policymaker or practitioner, the Framework can support you in leading conversations with your peers and colleagues about how best to leverage policy to support scaling effective reform initiatives.