Professional development programs are expensive, time-intensive, and generally ineffective. The fact that most PD fails to move the needle on student learning makes it imperative that administrators take the time to establish cycles of meaningful evaluation. But let’s face it, evaluation feels daunting: how do you measure the impact of any given PD program if you rely on a hodgepodge of speakers, tools, and resources? Should you just look at student performance on standardized tests, or are there other means of evaluating if your PD is worth the cost? Is it enough to rely on efficacy research studies, or do you have to go through the hard work of evaluating each program within your own school?
Luckily, the last few years have produced fast, easy, and reliable means of assessing professional learning. Getting on board with any of these methods will not only result in clear expectations and easy ways to measure progress, but it will also help to focus your PD efforts on what matters most to your students. Let’s dive into each metric to get a better understanding of how to drive results in your teachers’ professional learning.
1. Students’ formative data
Summative data, such as scores on standardized tests, offer an important measure of academic performance, but the data is gathered relatively infrequently. It’s not enough to check in on student progress once or twice a year; if the scores on end-of-year tests are disappointing, it’s probably too late to change course for that group of students.
This is why formative data is so critical. It provides a way to check in on student progress much more frequently and make adjustments to curriculum and instruction throughout the year. Edtech tools that are worth their salt will provide you with various measures of student performance such as results on tests, reading habits, and writing output. Once you establish which of those criteria matter most to your students’ learning, it will be easy to track student performance and address gaps as they develop.
For example, let’s say that your goal for the school year is to increase the rigor and complexity of what students are reading. Using a tool like Actively Learn, you can track what texts students are reading and how they are performing on questions that are aligned to standards and Depth of Knowledge. If an administrator looking at this data were to realize that students were reading texts that were far below grade level, or that the questions that students were answering were not appropriately challenging, he or she would direct professional development to address those specific needs.
Micro-credentials are a great way to assess whether teachers are able to successfully implement instructional practice. Some micro-credentials, such as the ones certified by Digital Promise and available in the Actively Learn Professional Learning Center, require educators to reflect on the purpose of their instruction, collect input from students, and present evidence that their instruction meets the criteria for a given practice. This system ensures that educators are able to translate theory into practice and that their implementation is driving learning results.
Micro-credentials are a low-cost way to evaluate instructional efficacy. They save time in administrative oversight because issuers are the ones who are responsible for evaluating the application, providing feedback, and ultimately granting or denying the digital badge. For the teacher, the time spent in putting together the application is arguably worthwhile in that it demonstrates the type of reflection and evidence-based evaluation that should be part of good instructional design.
To implement micro-credentials as an evaluation strategy, first decide which practices are most critical for your students’ success. For example, if you are focused on improving the formative assessment that your teachers provide to their students or want to target effective feedback, you can set earning these specific micro-credentials as the goal for your teachers. Your PD can then be geared to providing teachers the resources and support they need in order to fulfill the criteria and demonstrate mastery.
3. Analysis of assignments
Evaluating assignments is an often overlooked means of measuring professional learning. A well-crafted assignment will demonstrate the complexity of thinking that students are expected to do, the type of scaffolding offered, the personalization or differentiation provided, and the skills that are tested. Unlike a full-blown classroom observation, analyzing assignments takes a fraction of the time and bases the evaluation on an artifact rather than on in-the-moment behavior.
As a reference for implementation, we suggest the Education Trust’s Literacy Assignment Analysis Guide. It provides clear criteria for an effective assignment, such as extended writing, textually-dependent discussion, and higher-order thinking. Using this guide or your own criteria can make it evident to teachers what they are shooting for in terms of their instruction, and where they might be falling short.
Another way to support this method of measuring efficacy is by creating an easy way for teachers to share their assignments and receive feedback. Whether you choose to use a digital tool that enables assignment sharing or prefer to scan or copy paper assignments, creating a digital portfolio to track assignments over time will make it easy to evaluate instructional progress and prevent “pedagogical amnesia”:
“Pedagogical amnesia, characterized by the inability to record and recall the fruits of teaching experience, is one symptom of the multidimensional complexity of teaching. So much happens so fast that it is a blur. Portfolios help make teaching stand still long enough to be examined, shared, and learned from.”
- Darling-Hammond & Hammerness, 2005
4. Classroom Observation
The final way to measure PD results is by observing real classrooms in action. If teachers are able to turn theory into practice by implementing effective strategies into their everyday routine, then you know that your PD is working.
The right way to integrate this measure is by first determining success criteria. For example, let’s assume that the goal of your PD for this year is to transition from lecture to student-driven instruction. The criteria that you might be looking for in your observation is that most of class time is spent on collaborative activities or discussion as opposed to lecture. Or you might be looking to see whether the teacher is using formative assessment to inform instruction and drawing on students’ answers and annotations to explain concepts. Regardless of what the criteria are, it’s helpful for all teachers and administrators to be on the same page about what effective instruction looks like.
Performing several rounds of observation per year and documenting notes as well as areas for improvement will help to illuminate the progress that teachers have made. If all teachers are consistently failing to integrate formative assessment into their instruction or spending most of class time on lecture, then you know it is time to invest in a different professional development strategy.
- Professional Learning Without Coaches: Empowering Teachers to Drive Their Own Learning
- Focus Your PD: The Practices that Pay Off for Learning
Darling-Hammond, L., & Hammerness, K. (2005). The Design of Teacher Education Programs. In Preparing Teachers for a Changing World (pp. 390-479). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.