Scaling and Sharing:

The Basics of Phase 5

What is the purpose of this phase?

You and your team will understand when and how to scale a successful improvement test.

When should this happen?

After you have run two or more PDSA cycles and you have a change idea that is ready to be tested across broader contexts.

Who is involved?

The improvement team leader and all team members.

What will you do?

Determine a strategy for scaling your work, such as creating a narrative or shareable document.

You’re ready for Phase 5 when you have:


created a driver diagram


completed a minimum of two PDSA tests and reflected on them using the Post-Test Reflection


completed the Choosing Measures for Improvement activity in Phase 4


identified a change idea that has led to success with students at the initial small scale

Key Terms


The deliberate scaling up of a change idea.


Slowing down scaling to refine the change idea within a context or group of users it has been introduced to.


Expanding a change idea beyond your improvement team.

annotated diagram of PDSA cycle

Scaling and Sharing: 

Summary of the Concepts

Too often in education, a new idea is identified, lionized, frantically implemented on a large scale, then abandoned when it fails to meet the particular and varied needs of students and schools. In Learning to Improve, Bryk et al. call this the “chronic problem of promising reform.” Improvement science embraces a more effective approach. 1. We identify a successful change idea as a first step in understanding how to make that improvement happen consistently and effectively across contexts. 2. We focus on low-stakes testing, regularly accessible evidence, and the inevitability of setbacks and dead ends, which allows us to introduce a change idea to new and varied contexts and slowly build expertise as we go. Our movement to scale is defined by deliberation; widespread adoption is the result of widespread adaptation, with teams continuing to tweak and refine their change ideas to work across classrooms, grades, and schools.

Overview of the Tools

scaling pre mortem activity image
storytelling toolkit tool
what next tool

Scaling Pre-Mortem

90 minutes

What is it? A “pre-mortem” assessment of your scaling ideas and a list of action steps for avoiding pitfalls and maximizing success. What does it do? Helps team members plan for and mitigate possible issues with scaling efforts. Why use it? To predict the factors that could lead to both a successful and failed scaling effort; to help visualize action steps to guide work in the future months. When should we use it? When you have a change idea that has been successfully developed through testing and shows clear promise OR when you are planning to take that change idea from its early testing ground and expand it across your community.

Storytelling Toolkit

What is it? A tool that provides steps, advice, and guiding questions to support you in preparing to tell the story of your improvement team’s work. What does it do? Provides guidance on turning the success and insights from your work into a document or a narrative that can be shared, spread, and used to sustain your success. Why use it? To tell the story of your team’s improvement work to a broader audience.

“What Next?” Leadership Reflection 

What is it? A tool that lays out common challenges along with a menu of possible action steps to meet those challenges. What does it do? Helps develop a plan to move the work forward when:
  • you’ve hit a plateau;
  • you want to renew team members’ engagement;
  • you’ve learned new information or developed new questions about the work.
Why use it? To overcome challenges and move the work forward in a collaborative way.

PDSA Testing Ramps: Four Keys to Progress

The PDSA testing ramp is the central concept behind scaling through rapid testing. Whereas the PDSA cycle focuses on a single change idea, a PDSA testing ramp represents a series of those cycles strung together, allowing a team to grow the impact of their work by moving between tests aimed at optimizing their change idea for a given scale and context, and ramping it up to a growing range of users and contexts. Four key ideas to help guide your team through testing ramps are:  
  1. Perfect the small scale first. Each change idea should be tested on a small scale, e.g., one or two students or a single class. Collected evidence should yield consistent results before scaling.
  2. Move up the ramp incrementally. Identify a change idea that is reliable in one context and expand it into new contexts and user populations.
  3. Gain expertise by expanding into varied conditions. Increasing the number of users affected by the change idea or trying it in new contexts increases your team’s practical understanding of the problem. Capture your learning by updating your driver diagram so it remains a living, relevant document.
  4. Strategically involve new collaborators to implement your changes. Use the process of refining your idea to slowly bring new school community members into your team’s work. Be sure to give them time with the change idea on a small scale before they fully adopt it.
These are general descriptions of how ramping up change ideas tends to work. Think of them as guidance, not as substitutes for your best judgment.

PDSA Testing Ramps in Practice 

Each change idea has a different trajectory during its journey to scale. This can be intimidating, as there is no consistent path to follow—your team must be comfortable operating without precise guidance or the certainty of success—but the ramping process will also provide excitement as you genuinely break new ground and become leaders of change within your school. The below example is presented less as a guide and more as a single possibility that represents common circumstances you might encounter when you begin to bring your change idea to scale.
life cycle of a change idea

PDSA Testing Ramp Example: Increasing Math Persistence

Step 1

A teacher team explores why students freeze up when they encounter challenging math problems. Their idea: provide in-class time for students to make revisions on their quizzes using problem-solving strategies to persist through challenging math problems.

  • 1st PDSA test
    One teacher offers 15 minutes to three students. The students are grateful; they review quiz feedback but don’t make corrections.
  • 2nd PDSA test
    Teacher clarifies that the 15 minutes is to complete the revisions and shares explicit steps to follow. The number of revisions increases from zero to three.
  • 3rd PDSA test
    Test is run to monitor and polish how teachers support students during revisions. Revision rate increases from three to four per student, and students start to use the practiced strategy in other classwork. Time to scale up!

Small-scale tests like this typically look at qualitative data (counting the number of revisions made) to see how the change idea works.

testing ramp example step 1 summary

Step 2

Team decides to ramp up by increasing the number of students from three to nine.

  • 1st test
    Test is run with nine students in the same 15 minutes. Teachers realize a third of students need significant coaching to make the revisions, and without that coaching, they rarely revise the questions with the most important skills.
  • The team updates the change idea to include more targeted guidance: instead of offering students general feedback, the teacher will offer three pieces of skill-based feedback to create more focus.

In medium-scale tests like this, teams often pay more attention to the differences between students or contexts, trying to understand for whom and under what condition the change works.

testing ramp example step 2

Step 3

Team refines the change idea to deal with unexpected results and give more targeted feedback.

  • 1st test (cycle)
    Leads to improvement in the quality of revisions, especially after one teacher gives her student the answer to a particularly hard word problem, asking her to focus just on the strategy and thereby helping the student overcome her anxiety and look at the task differently.
  • 2nd and 3rd tests
    Team makes revealing the answers to word problems a standard part of the revision process (based on student interest) and starts encouraging students to find multiple strategies that lead to correct answers.

An improvised solution to a challenge faced by a studentfor whom the change was not working—became a powerful insight that drives further tweaks and refinements.

testing ramp step 3

Step 4

The team ramps up and introduces the change idea to the whole class. The expertise they’ve gained has prepared them for the modeling and differentiation they’ll need for the larger group.

  • By the 2nd test
    20 out of 24 students are completing “high-quality” revisions and over half the class is showing improvement on Exit Tickets and subsequent quizzes.

In large-scale tests like this, teams are typically looking for evidence of effectiveness, trying to collect slightly more rigorous measures to demonstrate the impact of the change.

testing ramp step 4 example

Step 5

  • Working at scale
    After success at scale, the team further optimizes the change idea for the whole class by providing aligned practice problems for students who either finish early or don’t need as many revisions.

Working at scale also provides the opportunity to test the hunch that adding a few minutes, or pair-sharing or group discussion, might reinforce the students’ focus on strategies. The two tests are met with mixed results, unfortunately. The sharing isn’t consistently high quality and is demanding on the teacher.

 The team is convinced scaling by subtraction is wiser than adding yet another moving part to a successful strategy, so they pare the practice back to its essential elements and declare this change a success.

The team demonstrated they could use revisions to help students apply strategies to persist through and solve difficult problems, and, most importantly, that dedicating time to this skill has a real, positive effect on their students’ learning.

testing ramp step 5 example

This is the end of the story of the team’s ramp, but not the end of their improvement journey.

After you ramp up, you can:

  • return to the theory of improvement and choose a complimentary change idea to test.
  • use something you learned along the way to spark new investigation into the problem and generate a new change idea.
  • continue to ramp up the change idea by spreading it into a new context.

Envisioning Your Way Up a PDSA Ramp:

Three Dimensions of Successful Scaling

Testing ramps provide the structure for tackling the learning and implementation challenges that occur along several dimensions of improvement. By naming the kind of improvement you are aiming for in each test rather than trying to do everything all at once, you simplify the task and increase your chances of success. As you think about your own PDSA ramp, make use of the following descriptions to narrow your focus for each part of the ramp.
Ramping refers to the process of deliberate scaling up of a change idea. Ramping is done through PDSA tests that alternate strategically between periods of: a) testing with more users, b) testing in new contexts, c) testing to optimize the change idea within its current context and scale, and d) spreading a successful change idea to others.
PDSA ramping image
optimization graphic
Optimization refers to the critical step of slowing down scaling to refine the change idea within a context or population of users it has been introduced to. Once you have successfully optimized your idea in one context, then you are better prepared to continue ramping.
Spreading refers to the related process of expanding a change idea beyond your improvement team. Spreading outside of your direct control presents new and different challenges:

a) simplify the changes for efficient understanding and learning. “Scale by subtraction” to determine the ideas that are nonnegotiable and the ones that can be adapted for new contexts.

b) delegate responsibilities and enlarge your focus to include the necessary learning of the new people implementing the change. The spread of a change idea can never outpace the expertise in carrying it out! Be sure to provide the time and support to your colleagues.

c) document your learning through narrative. Stories are the quickest and most memorable way to share your successful practice. Collect them as they happen so you have a powerful tool for spreading your success.

spreading graphic