Going the Distance to Hold Teachers Accountable

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Highly Qualified Teachers: Louisiana

Louisiana receives national recognition for its flexible online professional development program that helps improve the quality of classroom teachers statewide.

Like many states, Louisiana is challenged by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) requirement which states that a highly qualified teacher be placed in every classroom, particularly in rural and urban settings. The Louisiana Department of Education (LDE) responded to this challenge by exploring the possibilities of online professional development; subsequently, the Grade-Level Expectations Educational Model (GLEEM; www.d'e.state.la.us/lde/lcet/2063.html) was developed. The GLEEM is a statewide online professional development program designed to:

  1. Provide educators with a deeper understanding of grade-level expectations (GLEs) and state comprehensive curriculum;
  2. Enable educators to increase their understanding of effective instructional and assessment practices as they relate to the comprehensive curriculum; and
  3. Broaden educators' knowledge of standards, benchmarks, GLEs, and instructional technology through applications in the development of standards-based lessons and assessments.

As one Louisiana school technology coordinator explained, "GLEEM has afforded our teachers an opportunity to participate in a high-quality professional development experience that fits their needs and busy work schedules."

Louisiana's State Superintendent of Education Cecil J. Picard is also excited about the prospects of virtual learning's benefits for teachers across the state. "GLEEM is one of the important innovations that will allow teachers the flexibility to take courses specifically focused on enabling them to understand and implement the GLEs and state comprehensive curriculum," he said. "I realize that teachers play a significant role in students' lives; therefore, it makes sense that we are focusing much of our attention on improving teacher quality. GLEEM is one of our many efforts to do just that."

Making the GLE Connection

The GLEEM consists of five two-week online modules. Each module consists of learning experiences that focus on a discrete topic (or series of topics) that prepares educators to improve curriculum, instruction, and student achievement.

The first module provides teachers with an awareness and understanding of the state's GLEs in standards-based curriculum and instruction. This module focuses on the "big idea" of the instructional implications of GLEs and vertical scaffolding.

The second module focuses on the GLEs and their relationship to effective classroom practices and strategies. In this module, the emphasis is placed on understanding the "Louisiana Components of Effective Teaching" (www.d'e.state.la.us/lde/uploads/5564.pdf) and the principles of the "Universal Design for Learning" (www.cast.org/research/udl/index.html).

The third module, "Enhancing a Standards-Based Lesson Plan," allows teachers to improve their lesson activities using standards-based instructional resources to address all learning styles. In this module, teachers begin developing a GLE-aligned lesson plan using Making Connections (http://mconn.d'e.state.la.us), the state's online resources center for model lesson plans, Web site resources, and statewide assessment items.

In the fourth module, teachers learn to identify effective assessment techniques by applying the concept of "backwards design" in the development of a model lesson plan.

The fifth, and final, module allows teachers to "make the GLE connection" by applying and evaluating their knowledge of effective, GLE-aligned instructional and assessment strategies to their practices for classroom implementation. Participants then finalize their model lesson plan, which may be published on the Making Connections Web site upon review and approval.

The GLEEM represents a collaborative effort across several divisions within the LDE. Through a series of planning meetings, representatives from the divisions of educational technology, professional development, and student standards and assessments worked together to develop the framework for the model. In addition, a team of Louisiana teachers convened last fall to assist the LDE in the development of these modules. "This initiative represents a leadership opportunity for both the LDE and Louisiana teachers," explained State Superintendent Picard.

Benefits of a Blended Learning Initiative

In partnership with the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL), the LDE was also able to conduct three unique implementation phases of the GLEEM beginning in January. During the first (beta test) phase, K-12 teachers across grade levels and content areas piloted the modules. One beta-test participant noted, "I have learned so many more things that I know will help me be a more effective teacher. This, in turn, will make my students better learners."

During the second phase, a select group of educators, consisting of curriculum supervisors, content specialists, technology facilitators, and teachers from across the state, will be trained in all five modules of the GLEEM. Upon successful completion of this phase, those individuals will have an opportunity to utilize their demonstrated knowledge and experience in curriculum and instructional technology by serving as online instructors during the statewide summer pilot, which is the third implementation phase. In total, more than 300 teachers will be impacted by the GLEEM during its first five months of implementation. "The potential impact this initiative can have on teachers statewide is phenomenal," said Janet Broussard, state director of educational technology for the Louisiana Center for Educational Technology, a division of the LDE.

Focusing on teachers' needs. The GLEEM is not only offered online, but also in a face-to-face delivery format. Participant's learning experiences in both models include reflective readings, research-based strategies, curriculum resources, and enrichment activities. Educators successfully completing the GLEEM modules are eligible for continuing learning units (CLUs). These CLUs may be applied toward relicensure requirements, as well as toward those requirements under NCLB's High Objective Uniform State Standard of Evaluation (HOUSSE) guidelines. "We are committed to providing Louisiana teachers with high-quality learning experiences that focus on their specific needs, as well as support their efforts in becoming highly qualified," said Picard.

The potential of learning communities. Another benefit of the GLEEM online model is that it allows educators to explore the potential of learning communities-as they relate to professional development and student learning-through collaborative learning experiences. As one participant stated, "I had not been fully convinced about the benefits of online learning until participating in the GLEEM. I've had the opportunity to work supportively with colleagues from across the state through this experience, and it has been invaluable to me."

Holding Districts and States Accountable

Louisiana's efforts to improve teacher quality have recently been noted as being the best in the country, according to the Quality Counts 2005 report (Education Week, 2005, www.edweek.org/rc/index.html). The report cited Louisiana, which jumped from No. 5 in 2004 to No. 1 in 2005, as being "among the most aggressive states in holding districts and schools accountable for the quality of their teachers"-noting that the state's accountability system rates districts, in part, on the number of fully certified and out-of-field teachers they employ.

"I am proud that our accountability system is now embedded into our daily educational activities, which includes improving teacher quality, and that we are receiving national recognition," said Picard. "Now, we must look for ways to continue to improve student achievement and foster sustained education reform."

And although the GLEEM is still in its infancy, it has been successful in assisting the state with its teacher quality efforts. "Teachers throughout this state have benefited from a comprehensive vision for teacher quality," said Louisiana's State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Glenny Lee Buquet. "We have been able to establish programs that are recruiting, training, and supporting one of our most valuable resources: our Louisiana classroom teachers."

Nicole Honoré is assistant director of leadership and online learning for the Louisiana Center for Educational Technology, a division of the Louisiana Department of Education. E-mail: nicole.honore@la.gov

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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