Administration | Feature
Can Technology Predict Teacher Success?
Busy districts are turning to technological solutions to help them vet and select applicants for teaching positions
- By Bridget McCrea
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Inundated with job applications and short on time and human resources, school districts across the country are turning to technology to help them sort through possible candidates and determine their potential effectiveness in the classroom. Here’s how three districts are using software to predict and track teachers’ impact on student learning.
With 160 schools to staff and 145,000 students to serve, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (NC) gets a high volume of applications for teaching positions every year. To help streamline the hiring process, the district’s principals have long relied on technology to filter and prioritize candidates before any interviews or follow-up calls take place. Up until October 2012, the district used an applicant-assessment tool that did a fair job of vetting candidates — but didn’t include any parameters related to student outcomes. Feedback from users was lukewarm, said Talla Rittenhouse, executive director of sourcing and onboarding for the district. Eventually the system was mothballed, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg shopped around for a solution that was based on student outcomes. In June 2013, it found what it was looking for in the TeacherMatch platform, which uses Educators Professional Inventory (EPI) assessments to identify top candidates and predict those candidates’ impact on student achievement.
TeacherMatch allows principals to review a list of candidates, prioritize those individuals and then set up interviews based on that prioritization. “They aren’t making hiring decisions on the system,” said Rittenhouse, “but they are deciding which candidates to interview.” TeacherMatch stores a score for each applicant, so if the district is having a tough time finding a middle school science teacher, for example, Rittenhouse can look at recent “finalists” who would be good matches for the positions. “If a candidate has a good TeacherMatch score — but wasn’t ultimately hired — I can go back and give him or her a second look,” said Rittenhouse, “and consider that person for a school that he or she didn’t previously apply to.”
One Piece of the Hiring Puzzle
Another tool designed to help districts hire teachers who will have a positive impact on student learning is Hanover Research’s Paragon K12 solution, which ranks applicants according to the statistical likelihood of their positively impacting student outcomes. The platform also provides information on each candidate that a hiring manager can use to assess cultural fit and to set up in-person interviews. This month, Fairfield Public Schools (CT) will roll out the solution in its 17 schools.
According to Ann Leffert, director of human resources, the 10,000-student district has been using Hanover Research’s products for several years, and was previously using a system that conducted side-by-side comparisons of potential job candidates based on how those candidates “feel” about the teaching profession. “We’ve been using that system for quite a while as part of our application process for certified staff members,” said Leffert. “When Hanover Research approached us about its teacher effectiveness tool, we thought it sounded very exciting and useful for what we were trying to accomplish.”
Once in place, Fairfield’s teacher assessment tool will allow prospects to apply online through the district’s website. As part of that process, applicants will take an online survey that will be used to rate potential hires in several different areas. The survey responses, said Leffert, will help the district determine each candidate’s potential effectiveness in the classroom. “Ultimately,” she said, “we’re hoping it will improve our ability to judge a prospective teacher.”
Leffert is quick to point out that the district doesn’t plan to begin making hiring decisions based solely on the numbers or rating generated by its new automated system. “Even with all of the technology that’s at our avail, we still rely heavily on face-to-face interviewing and candidates’ sample lesson plans before we make the final determination,” she said. “We view the technology piece as a viable management tool and just one piece of a bigger puzzle.”
Gaining an Edge
Two years into using TeacherMatch as an applicant-assessment tool, Distinctive Schools of Chicago has found new ways to make the most of its technology investment. Take professional development, for example. According to Joseph Wise, chief education officer, PD for the organization’s five schools (which serve 3,000 students) has gotten easier thanks to TeacherMatch’s personalization capabilities.
“It gives us a better shot at creating the most appropriate professional development opportunities and coaching for our teachers,” he explained. If, for example, a teacher ranks extremely high on the “classroom management” scale, said Wise, why would you put extra time into that person’s professional development when the teacher in the next classroom needs more enrichment in that area?
Distinctive Schools also uses the assessment tool to clue teachers into their own strengths and weaknesses. Once hired, candidates are given their TeacherMatch assessments to review, giving them insights into their own capabilities and allowing the district to hone future professional development opportunities around those results.
Wise said Distinctive Schools is also using TeacherMatch for its original purpose, and is seeing good results. New candidates spend about an hour applying online and taking the related survey, and Wise’s team receives the color-coded results of those activities. Like a stoplight, the scale ranges from green to yellow to red. Using this scale, Wise said, “We can quickly select all of the green candidates and get an edge on hiring over another competitive school district. That expedites our ability to staff up with the best potential candidates in the pool.”