School Leaders Could Do Better at Using Evaluation Systems for PD Guidance

Just as Dorothy already had what she needed to return home from Oz, schools and districts are already equipped to help teachers identify areas for continuous professional growth; they just need to know how to use their resources — and specifically, their evaluation systems — more effectively. That appears to be the finding of a new brief published by MDRC, a non-profit that does research to improve programs and policies that affect the poor.

As MDRC researchers Rachel Rosen and Leigh Parise wrote in "Using Evaluation Systems for Teacher Improvement," as stipulated by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), districts have put "robust evaluation systems in place," and most administrators "feel prepared to use them." However, they're not necessarily using the results of the evaluations maintained in their systems to guide teacher PD.

First, some background. During the years of No Child Left Behind, several programs, including Race to the Top and NCLB waivers, introduced strong motivation for states and districts to develop teacher evaluation systems. Then ESSA introduced a shift in how teacher professional development should be addressed by districts. Rather than defining PD as a "transfer of knowledge" for teachers, PD was envisioned as a "process of continuous improvement."

Now, back to the research. A survey in five school districts in four states with participation of 6,658 secondary school teachers and 149 principals uncovered a gap between the two roles in how they view the relationship between formal evaluations and PD. As the brief stated, "An average of 74 percent of principals reported that teachers' formal evaluations had a moderate to large influence on teachers' [PD] assignments, but only an average of 36 percent of teachers thought that formal evaluations influenced their [PD] to a moderate to large extent." This suggested room for improvement in communication about PD "choices and assignments," the researchers noted.

Among principals, an average of 92 percent "reported that they and their leadership teams were either somewhat or very successful at using formal evaluations to give teachers suggestions about how to improve their performance." Teachers, however, were less positive. Only 69 percent of teachers reported receiving constructive criticism from evaluations either most or all of the time, substantially fewer than principals' ratings of their administrations would suggest."

Also, while most teachers (an average 56 percent) said they received useful PD suggestions after being observed in the classroom as part of teacher evaluations, the range across districts varied widely, between 42 percent and 69 percent. One in five teachers on average said they "never received useful suggestions" for PD after classroom observations (with a range across districts of between 13 percent and 33 percent).

While "some districts are using evaluations constructively to advance teachers' knowledge," the paper asserted, "others are struggling to establish systems that can realize the vision of teacher growth outlined in ESSA."

What needs to be done, the researchers suggested, was to have districts "build on their existing systems" and then use teacher evaluations to guide PD, "fostering a cycle of continual improvement like that envisioned by ESSA."

The seven-page brief is openly available on the MDRC website here.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.