Tag: Educator Effectiveness

Compensatory Leadership

Compensatory Leadership

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I had the opportunity to take part in a webinar last week with CCSSO and the New Hampshire State Consortium on Educator Effectiveness (SCEE) team. The NH team lead presented a problem of practice for consultation. In the process, she was asking great questions about the roles of principals in her state, especially in relationship to teacher leaders. Continue reading “Compensatory Leadership”

No Two Students Are the Same:  The Potential of Competency-based Education

No Two Students Are the Same: The Potential of Competency-based Education

Reading Time: 7 minutes

I am a mother.  And this may shock you, I often resort to reading child-rearing books – usually about discipline.  Uncover your mouths.  It’s true.  The other day I came across a statement from Alan E. Kazdin, the Director of the Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic, in a discussion of helping children to develop appropriate behaviors.  Dr. Kazdin says, “Instead of thinking of it as a series of benchmarks that have to be met by such and such a calendar date, think of it as the process of your child achieving a level of mastery of behaviors you want”  (Kazdin 2008).  This certainly seems true as far as discipline and behavior for my own children and it immediately struck me that this idea of mastering behaviors at different times and in different ways can also apply to the way children learn in a classroom.  Any parent with multiple children will tell you that no two kids learn at the same pace or master the same skills in the same way, yet our schools work on a system based around the Carnegie unit – the idea that credit in a subject is gained by the amount of time spent in a classroom and with an instructor.  The notion of children mastering a subject in different ways, demonstrating that mastery, and then moving at an individual pace towards a diploma is not part of the design in most classrooms. Continue reading “No Two Students Are the Same: The Potential of Competency-based Education”

Seeing Through and Beyond

Seeing Through and Beyond

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I just opened an email from a colleague asking me if I could help her find an article she needed for her work with local district administrators across the state. She was looking for The Singular Power of One Goal (Sparks, 1999) to encourage superintendents and principals to consider the importance of establishing a focused school improvement plan. After locating the article in my files and sending it off, I poured a cup of coffee and re-read this familiar work. The article, featuring an interview with Emily Calhoun, is just as current today as it was twelve years ago, and the message is more important than ever.

Dr.Calhoun is a national expert and author who supports schools, districts and state agencies in designing and implementing school reforms that focus on instruction, curriculum and assessment. In this publication, Emily reminds readers of the importance of setting goals sharply focused on student learning. She contends that one powerful student learning goal is sufficient for a school staff to work on. Having too many goals makes it difficult for educators to work collectively to study teaching practices and results. Focusing on one powerful goal enables teams of teachers to engage in highly focused professional learning, dig into the external knowledge base, thoroughly examine student data, and to carefully study the implementation of strategies identified by the faculty.

One of the most important concepts put forward by Emily in the interview is called “seeing through and beyond,” which is a process of identifying all the changes that will be required to accomplish the goal by looking through the goal to the student performances that are expected. The next step is to determine what teacher behaviors in curriculum, instruction, and assessment are needed to promote the desired student behaviors. Continuing the process, the faculty must see right through the teacher behaviors to what the principal and central office need to do. Seeing through and beyond enables program implementers to make better use of data, to design comprehensive staff development, to employ technical assistance and leadership, and to make critical decisions about the effective use of time and resources. A singular goal helps the faculty to focus and to push through to address the things that everyone must be working on to fully accomplish the goal. Of course, limiting the focus of a school’s improvement plan to a single goal is not easily done and achieving the goal is not that simple, and Dr. Calhoun comments on the many barriers and challenges.

When the article came out twelve years ago, districts were struggling to comply with NCLB and having difficulty managing the expectations to meet student achievement goals in multiple subject areas at the same time. Today, districts are still struggling to figure out how to design reforms that accomplish everything that is expected of them, with even fewer resources. The concept of seeing through and beyond is intriguing to think about in our current context.

Schools are being expected to adjust to newly revised student learning standards, modify curriculum, improve formative assessment processes, add more summative assessments, apply new technologies for both classroom and organizational purposes, implement new data management stems, engage parents more fully, respond to revised teaching standards, add new teacher and leader evaluation procedures, deliver intensive professional development, reform hiring and retention practices …and the list goes on.

How might applying the idea of “seeing through and beyond” to policy development change this picture? What if school leaders and policy makers started the policy making process by considering how the policy would enable districts and schools to focus on fewer priorities rather than adding more. Just as school leaders should look through the learning goal and the desired student performance to consider all the actions needed at various levels of the system, policy makers need to see beyond the specific actions and immediate consequences of the policies and reforms they are promulgating. Are there protocols that could help leaders to think about how their policies affect student learning and how they change the behaviors of teachers, principals, central office staff, and other role groups at all levels of the system? Is there a way to consider whether the policies are likely to lead to systemic changes that yield improved practices in instruction and assessment with enough fidelity to the design of the innovation and with enough teaches to make a difference? Reforms where innovations are done incorrectly or partially by many teachers or reforms that are fully implemented by only a small percentage of the teachers responsible for instruction are not going to yield the intended outcomes.

There are processes available to help planners to see through and beyond the policy goal. The new field of implementation science offers strategies for increasing fidelity and ways of accomplishing full scale replication across a large system. The work of Dean Fixsen and the National Implementation Network give policy makers and practitioners a way to intentionally explore and adopt the innovation, consider the various organizational complexities and the context that contributes to the success or failure of an implementation, and address both expected and unexpected barriers to putting a reform in place. Attending to the factors of implementation early in the planning process by using implementation science would give reformers tools they need to increase the likely hood that the policies they advance will make a difference.

In her article from over a decade ago, Emily advised that it takes both leadership and willpower to face the challenges of school reform. It will take leadership to intentionally use today’s implementation science and other processes to “see through and beyond”. It will take will power to narrow the focus of reforms, to selectively abandon projects and reforms that aren’t working, to eliminate barriers to reforms that are likely to accomplish goals of improved teaching and learning and to target actions to the ultimate goal – student learning.

Sparks, D.(1999). The singular power of one goal: Action researcher narrows focus to broaden effectiveness. JSD, Winter, 54-58. Retrieved from http://www.learningforward.org/news/jsd/calhoun201.cfm

Image from Flickr user: Kristin Mckee

Instructional Rounds: A Powerful Reform Strategy

Instructional Rounds: A Powerful Reform Strategy

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Collaboration, networking, school improvement, instructional support, a collaborative learning culture, knowledge building, and rigorous and relevant teaching—these are all attributes and practices school reformers strive for by awarding funds, promulgating rules, instituting strategic plans, launching training initiatives, and extending promises to stakeholders. One approach that truly advances all of these attributes and practices is the instructional rounds process – “an explicit practice that is designed to bring the discussion of instruction directly into the process of school improvement.”[1] Instructional rounds are adapted from a routine used in medical education in which interns, residents, and supervising physicians visit patients, observe, discuss evidence for diagnoses, engage in dialogue to analyze the evidence, and share ideas for possible treatments. Educational rounds brings networks of educators together using protocols and routines to articulate a theory of action, identify a problem of practice, observe classroom instruction, debrief with colleagues to analyze any patterns that emerge, and recommend the next level of work to help the school achieve their desired goals.[2]

Richard Elmore, Lee Teitel, Liz City, and their colleagues from Harvard have developed processes, protocols, and technical assistance resources for establishing networks to implement instructional rounds. They have worked closely with networks and district leaders to apply the practice of rounds, refine the model based on lessons learned, and to expand the community of learners who are able to facilitate the rounds process. Examples of these networks include the Cambridge Leadership Network, the Connecticut Superintendents’ Network, the Ohio Leadership Collaborative, and the Iowa Leadership Academy Superintendents’ Network. I have had the privilege of being a member of the Iowa Leadership Academy Superintendents’ Network – an experience that has allowed me to participate in intensive training provided by Dr. Elmore and the Harvard team, engage as both a member on various rounds teams and as a facilitator of the rounds process in several Iowa school districts, and to continuously learn from my fellow rounds facilitators through our Network meetings.

The instructional rounds model seems to be gaining more traction and is recently being advanced as a model for  school leaders and  teachers as a means to transform educator practice.  What I have noticed in my work with the rounds model in Iowa is that it offers tremendous benefit to the Network members and to the participating schools.  The process focuses the district’s efforts on, what Elmore calls, the instructional core. Engaging in rounds builds the capacity of superintendents to recognize quality instruction, enhances trust among Network members, increases their willingness to take on the challenges of influencing change, and leads to a culture of inquiry that enhances professional learning.

On a cautionary note, I have also noticed some aspects of the model that anyone aspiring to adopt this approach should consider.  Some of the lessons learned from my own work with rounds and from sharing experiences with other facilitators in Iowa are listed below.

  • Though the steps for conducting rounds may seem straightforward, in practice, it is a very difficult program for participants to implement.
  • Establishing a network takes an extraordinary amount of work and leadership. In Iowa, Bonnie Boothroy of School Administrators of Iowa and several of the Area Education Agency Chiefs have committed extensive amounts of time and effort to establish and sustain Iowa’s Network.
  • Being a member of a network takes a lot of time, commitment to learn, and perseverance to follow through and apply new learning. It is not a model for anyone who wants their professional growth to be quick and easy. Becoming a facilitator is an extremely valuable professional learning experience, but the work of developing the skills needed to support a network and run the rounds process can’t be shortchanged.  The “faint of heart” should not apply.
  • New capacity building is needed to do this work. School leaders shouldn’t consider running rounds without background knowledge. Instructional Rounds in Education: A Network Approach to Improving Teaching and Learning a well written book by City, Elmore, Fiarman, and Teitel (2009) is a great resource, but just reading the book is not a substitute for learning how to conduct rounds from those who have had extensive direct experience.
  • Going to scale across multiple districts and running rounds with fidelity is a constant effort and requires ongoing vigilance. Our network meets several times a year to address how best to support the rounds process and we continuously confront issues that have the potential to seriously domesticate the delivery of the model.

It takes a community of committed practitioners for the networks and rounds process to work well. Isolated implementers who just pick up the book are likely to implement the model partially or incorrectly. Plus, the experience of engaging in collective learning in an organized way will serve school leaders well as they work to establish learning communities in their schools.

School reformers might want to take a look at this promising and exciting approach to school reform. While they should be excited about the potential, reformers also need to be cautious about selecting a model that is demanding to implement.  To fulfill the promise of this approach, school leaders will need to make a serious commitment to engage deeply in the work and be intentional about fully learning the model from experts. The policy makers and administrators who are responsible for designing the roll-out of the rounds networks must attend to the all the factors that are necessary to advance  a model to scale and be vigilant about expecting careful replication of the model.

[1] City, E., Elmore, R. , Fiarman, S. and Teitel, L. (2009). Instructional rounds in education: A network approach to improving teaching and learning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

[2] Ibid.

Fullan Challenges Reformers to Think About Whole System Reform

Fullan Challenges Reformers to Think About Whole System Reform

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Seminar Series 204: Choosing the Wrong Drivers for Whole System Reform The aspiration to “close the gap” in test scores between students of color and whites has been the focus of public policy makers for some time.  Policy makers have established the expectation that schools must do more to ensure that all students of every income, race/ethnicity, language background, and disability status graduate from high school ready for college and a career. Schools and the institutions that support schools are under pressure to improve the achievement of all students by improving teacher quality, providing information and supports to parents, establishing standards and assessments, providing intensive supports and interventions to low performing schools, and other reform strategies. There has been an increasing emphasis on closing the gap by improving the quality of teachers and leaders through reforms to educator effectiveness systems including preservice preparation, teacher and leader evaluation, and professional growth systems.  In a recent publication, Michael Fullan challenges reformers to think carefully about the way to set the course for these reforms.  Choosing the Wrong Drivers for Whole System Reform describes how school leaders and policy makers are selecting the wrong drivers to accomplish the changes needed to increase achievement and close the achievement gap. The article prescribes an alternative set of drivers that have been found to be more effective in accomplishing, what Fullan calls, the moral imperative of raising the bar for all students and closing the gap for lower performing groups. For all students to attain the higher order skills and competencies required to be successful world citizens, drivers need to be pursued as part of a coherent whole and be implemented in a highly interactive way.

As part of the recent National Summit on Educator Effectiveness hosted by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) State Consortium on Educator Effectiveness, Fullan discussed the concept of effective drivers and the need for whole system reform in a webinar and a keynote address. He challenged the reformers in audience to think about whether the priorities they have set will:

1. foster intrinsic motivation of teachers and students;

2. engage educators and students in continuous improvement of instruction and learning;

3. inspire collective or team work; and

4. affect all teachers and students – 100 per cent?[1]

I believe that the initial response to Fullan’s presentation has been striking. Individuals who were part of the Summit and read his article are now asking questions such as, “Are we aiming at the whole system or tinkering with selected elements?” “What are the drivers we are investing our time and money in, and should these be replaced with more powerful drivers?” “How can we be more collaborative in our work?” Who are the right stakeholders?”

Some questions I thought of include: If ensuring that all students are able to compete in a global economy is really our goal, what can we learn from Fullan about designing reforms that take on issues of inequity? What would it take to launch a whole-system reform that pushes the deeper changes needed to make a difference for those students who are currently not learning at the level needed to be successful in a changing world? What might happen if we involved more teachers of color in leadership roles for designing reforms? How can we capture the voices of students of color to help design learning experiences that are more motivating and have more real world applications?  What factors contribute to collective team work in a diverse workforce?  How might implementing  the drivers Fullan talks about make a difference in the graduation rates, particularly among Black African American males?

I am looking forward to ongoing discussion about this publication. I am hopeful that it will be the catalyst for important changes in the way we go about influencing the work of policy change in the future.

U.S. Department of Education. (2010).Blueprint for reform: The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development.

[1] Fullan, M. (2011). Choosing the wrong drivers for whole system reform.

Centre for Strategic Education Seminar Series Paper, 204. East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

SCEE National Summit on Educator Effectiveness

SCEE National Summit on Educator Effectiveness

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Two weeks ago, several West Wind Education Policy Inc. staff were in Washington, D.C. to lead the inaugural SCEE National Summit on Educator Effectiveness, Transforming State Systems for the FutureSCEE, the State Consortium on Educator Effectiveness, was convened by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in the fall of2010.

Nearly thirty states convened to dissect educator effectiveness from many different lenses.  With facilitation from West Wind, Council of Chief State School Officers staff, and the national Comprehensive Center network, the 28 state teams set out to think about the current “state of [their] state,” their students’ and educators’ needs, and what effectiveness looks like from many different standpoints.

For West Wind, it was rewarding to see the summit unfold after much planning, conceptualizing,  webinars, blog posts, and more than a little sweat that led up to the Summit.

West Wind was particularly proud of the work we led in four of the six breakout strands:  Teacher Evaluation; Leader Evaluation; Professional Development and Policy and Systems Change.  Deb Hansen was the strand leader for Professional Development, where she worked closely with Stephanie Hirsh of Learning Forward to design an interactive and engaging series of activities for state teams using—believe it or not—the principles of high quality professional development in their delivery.  Circe Stumbo and Deanna Hill coordinated the Policy and Systems Change strand, where we wove into the work not only our framework for Systemic Equity Leadership but also the work of Summit keynoter Michael Fullan.  Fullan’s two articles on whole-system reform helped states recognize the need for thinking broadly about their vision for education and strategically about the drivers they prioritize in rolling out reform.

Playing as a tag-team, Deanna helped Circe to represent West Wind in the set-up session to both the teacher and leader evaluation strands.  There, we were able to interject considerations of equity into the policy and technical conversations about the design of statewide evaluation systems.

All in all, the hope remains that these deliberations, which were initiated from the many discussions at the summit, can bring continued collaboration and participation.  West Wind looks forward to continuing its work with the states as they progress.

Recruiting and Retaining Teachers of Color: A Demographic Imperative

Recruiting and Retaining Teachers of Color: A Demographic Imperative

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Policy makers and educational leaders recognize the need to increase the racial and cultural diversity of the teacher work force in the United States. Recruiting and retaining teachers of color is considered a “demographic imperative” to address concerns about a predominantly white teacher workforce and to counter the mismatch between the racial and cultural backgrounds of students and teachers.[1]

Over 54 four percent of the public school student population in the United States is made up of students of color, yet only 18 percent of the teachers in the nation’s work force are teachers of color.[2]

Percentage Distribution of Full-Time Teachers and Student By Race

National Center for Education Statistics 2007-2008[3]

  White Black Hispanic Asian Two or More Races American Indian or Alaska Native Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders Other
Teachers 82.9% 6.9% 7.2% 1.3% 0.9% 0.5% 0.2% 0.7%
Students 55.5% 15.5% 21.7% 3.7% 21.6% 0.9% 0.2%  


A literature review by Villegas and Irvine (2010) suggests that teachers of color have been found to produce more favorable academic learning results for students of color than their white colleagues. Benefits to students of color when taught by a same-race teacher or when exposed to a teaching force that is racially/ethnically representative of the student population were found to be the result of practices such as:  maintaining high academic expectations, engaging in culturally relevant pedagogy, developing caring and trusting relationships, serving as advocates, mentors, and cultural brokers, as well as confronting issues of racism through teaching.[4]

As a strategy for narrowing the achievement gaps among students, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is advocating for the recruitment of more African-American and Latino teachers. Duncan stated, “If we want to close achievement gaps, if we want to make sure that many more African-American and Latino male students are graduating rather than dropping out … having those teachers, having those role models, having those coaches is going to make a huge difference in their lives.[5]

While it is critical to aggressively recruit teachers of color to provide a diverse workforce, it is also essential that districts attend to issues of retention. A 2010 review of the literature regarding retention and turnover of teachers of color examined important factors that affect the retention of teachers of color.  Betty Achinstein a researcher from the University of California, Santa Cruz spoke about problems in retaining teachers of color, “They’re leaving, and they’re leaving in droves. It’s a deep concern, if we care at all about the imperative to diversify the teacher workforce.”[6]

According to a new study from the University of Pennsylvania,[7] minority teachers, mainly blacks and Latinos, have been changing schools and leaving the profession at higher rates than whites.  The turnover gap is widening.  Richard Ingersoll, a national expert on teacher workforce issues, stated, “There’s been a victory for recruitment but not a victory for retention. If we want to solve this minority teaching shortage that’s been long discussed, then there’s going to have to be more focus on retention. We’re hiring more minority teachers but also losing more of them. It’s like a leaky bucket.” During the 2008-09 school year, over 19 percent of teachers of color changed schools or left the profession, compared to 15.6 percent of white teachers – a turnover rate for minority teachers 24 percent higher than for white teachers .[8]

 The study from the University of Pennsylvania and the literature review from UC Santa Cruz suggest that teachers of color are leaving because of poor working conditions in the high-poverty, high-minority urban schools where they are concentrated. Teachers say they want more influence over school direction and more autonomy in the classroom to teach what works with their students.[9]

As part of their analysis of working conditions experienced by teachers of color, Achinstein and Ogawa (year) interviewed and observed 18 teachers of color over a five year period. They found that these highly committed, well trained, and credentialed teachers of color were frustrated by standardized tests and scripted lessons. Some teachers reported that their supervisors objected when they tried to teach things that were “not in the manual.” Achinstein said, “I was really struck by the teachers of color who wanted to use texts that related to the lives of their kids and build on their linguistic assets, and found they couldn’t because of school policies and structural barriers.” She added, “They’re taking on school roles against their will in ways that perpetuate inequality.” In interviews, the teachers shared that they were required to focus on students who could improve their test scores, and leave the rest behind. It appeared to them that they were being closely watched by administrators to make sure they were following “district mandates.” Of the 18, three left teaching and five others changed schools within five years. The teachers stated that part of the reason for leaving was the negative attitudes of school administrators toward students of color.[10]

Policy factors can contribute to cultural issues that have implications for the workplace and conditions that contribute to teachers leaving their schools and the profession. Policy makers should create opportunities to seek out the opinions of teachers of color about policies and reform practices. At the 2010 annual conference of the National Alliance of Black School Educators, the US Department of Education hosted a teacher roundtable to gather input from educators regarding their views about the nation’s education system and policy issues. Participants in the roundtable included teachers of color representing a diversity of experiences and content areas. Themes emerged from the roundtable dialogue that addressed policies that shape working conditions in the schools that seem similar to those identified by Achinstein, et al. (2010).[11] Several veteran educators pointed out that that the overwhelming emphasis on test scores has eroded the tendency for many teachers to share best practices and serve as the informal mentors to new teachers. According to round table participants, teachers find themselves in competition with each other over whose test scores will be better. They hope that Obama’s reform plans will “rekindle the spirit of cooperation that has been lost over the last decade” and allow teachers to focus less on worrying about how their students were performing compared to the students in other classrooms and more on positive learning outcomes for their students.  A second theme at the round table was the need for effective and authentic systems of evaluation.  Participating teachers expressed their desire for more methods of evaluation that contributed to improving their craft. Teachers at the round table advocated for evaluation systems that give teachers the feedback necessary to make teachers better, rather than a mere checklists.[12] 

In the near future, decisions will be made that will shape federal and state-level legislation and policies relating to the educational workforce.  As these policies are crafted, careful attention should be paid to potential implications for recruiting practices and teacher working conditions that affect retention. Calls to diversify the teaching workforce, reduce the achievement gap, and address inequities in school raises the importance of listening to teachers of color about their experiences in schools.  When teachers of color say they are leaving the workplace because of low expectations and negative attitudes about students of color, lack of support for culturally relevant and socially just teaching, and limited dialogue about race and equity,[13] it is time for policy makers to listen to what teachers of color are saying and take action to make the necessary changes to  keep teachers of color in schools.

[1] Achinstein, B., Freitas C., Ogawa, T., & Sexton, D. (2010). Retaining teachers of color: A pressing problem and a potential strategy for “hard-to-staff” schools.  Review of Educational Research, 80 (1), 71–107. Do1: 10.3102/0034654309355994

[2] National Center for Educational Statistics. (2008) Table A-27-1. Number and percentage distribution of full-time teachers, by   level, sector, and selected teacher characteristics: School years 1999–2000 and 2007–08. Retrieved on January 6, 2011  from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/2010/section1/table-1er-1.asp and

Table A-4-1. Number and percentage distribution of the race/ethnicity of public school students enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade: October 1988–October 2008 Retrieved on January 6, 2011 from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/2010/section1/table-1er-1.asp

[3] Ibid

[4]  Villegas, A., & Irvine, J. (2010) Diversifying the Teaching Force: An Examination of Major Arguments. Urban Review, 42, 175–192. doi 10.1007/s11256-010-0150-1

[5] CNN Wire Staff (August 28, 2010) Education secretary says U.S. needs more minority teachers. CNN Politics. Retrieved on January 6, 2011 from http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/08/28/duncan.minority.teachers/

[6] Burns, M. (2010, December 28) Minority teachers: Hard to get and hard to keep. Miller-McCune.

Retrieved on December 28, 2010 from http://www.miller-mccune.com/education/minority-teachers-hard-to-get-and-hard-to-keep-25852/

[7] The Ingersoll and May study is still in draft form and has been presented for review to the Penn Consortium for Policy Research in Education and the Center for Research in the Interest of Underserved Students at UC Santa Cruz.

[8] Burns


[10] Burns

[11] Achinstein, B., Freitas C., Ogawa, T., & Sexton, D. (2010). Retaining teachers of color: A pressing problem and a potential strategy for “hard-to-staff” schools.  Review of Educational Research, 80 (1), 71–107. Do1: 10.3102/0034654309355994

[12] Johnson, J. (2010, November 30).Black educators share teachers’ concerns and hopes. ED.gov. Blog. US Department of Education. Retrieved on December 28, 2010 from /blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/jemal.jpg/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/jemal.jpg

[13] Achinstein

Measuring Effectiveness: What Will It Take?

Measuring Effectiveness: What Will It Take?

Reading Time: 10 minutes

[box class=”grey_box”]Along with Peter McWalters of CCSSO, Circe Stumbo authored this article featured in Educational Leadership, which is published by ACSD.[/box]

As the dust settles from the flurry of activity surrounding the education stimulus package and the new programs it created—such as Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation, and the School Improvement Grants—a clear message has taken shape: Federal policy now focuses on teacher “effectiveness” rather than teacher “quality.”

The centerpiece federal law for K–12 education, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), set teacher quality as a major policy priority when it was reauthorized as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001. Teacher quality largely refers to how well teachers know their content as measured by the postsecondary courses they have taken. The shift toward effectiveness focuses on how well teachers perform with students. Rather than measuring inputs (such as how many academic degrees the teacher has or how long he or she has been on the job), we should measure the outcomes of a teacher’s work to see how effective the teacher is (the extent to which the educator has met crucial student needs, such as increasing student achievement). This is analogous to the shift from paying attention to student inputs (how many courses a student has taken, or “seat time”) to looking at outcomes (how much the student knows and can do, or performance).

Recent Advances

Although measuring outcomes rather than inputs has been the expressed intention of standards-based reforms for at least two decades, policy changes that make that shift real have been slow to come to fruition. The year 2010 sped up the pace of reform. The new attention to effectiveness is most obvious in the call for improving teacher evaluation. Although evaluation has traditionally been a local responsibility, federal programs have been calling for states to require evaluation systems that include specific measures of teacher effectiveness, such as student achievement data.

For example, section (D)(2)(ii) of the Race to the Top application (U.S. Department of Education, 2009) asks states to “design and implement rigorous, transparent, and fair evaluation systems for teachers and principals that . . . differentiate effectiveness using multiple rating categories that take into account data on student growth . . . as a significant factor” (p. 34). Although there is no clear definition of “significant,” some of the winning Race to the Top states set the weight of student performance at 50 percent or more of a teacher’s evaluation score.

The focus on teacher effectiveness does not end with the stimulus fund programs. The administration’s A Blueprint for Reform (U.S. Department of Education, 2010) lays out proposals as Congress engages in its periodic review of ESEA:

We are calling on states and districts to develop and implement systems of teacher and principal evaluation and support, and to identify effective and highly effective teachers and principals on the basis of student growth and other factors. (p. 4)

Through ESEA, the effectiveness agenda could become enduring policy.

Seven Challenges Ahead

Proposals for change in the way we evaluate teachers are particularly knotty when teacher evaluation is connected to high-stakes decisions such as tenure, promotion, removal, or compensation. As part of each teacher’s regular evaluation, some districts already look at student test score data that demonstrate how much students advanced while working with that teacher (value-added data). However, districts tend to use that information to determine things like a teacher’s professional development needs.

When decisions have higher-stakes consequences, such as a teacher potentially losing her or his job, they heighten the demand for measures of teacher performance that are valid, reliable, credible, fair, and legally defensible. As states move to take a more active role in teacher evaluation, they face major challenges in meeting this demand. These challenges raise questions that range from the psychometrics of creating valid and reliable measures of effectiveness to the purpose of public education.

Challenge 1: The Limits of Student Assessment Data

Sophisticated value-added modeling— using student assessment data, adjusted for some student and school characteristics, to determine how much growth in student performance occurred with a particular teacher—is relatively untested as a high-stakes measure, as demonstrated by the controversy that arose when the Los Angeles Times released value-added assessment data by teacher (see http://projects.latimes.com/value-added/). According to highly regarded testing experts, the evidence supporting the validity and reliability of value-added modeling results is weak enough that such results should not yet be used as the major measure of teacher effectiveness (Baker et al., 2010).

Similarly, testing experts such as W. James Popham and members of the Commission on Instructionally Supportive Assessment argue that the types of standardized exams used in most value-added assessment systems are not “instructionally sensitive.” Popham (2007) defines “instructional sensitivity” as “the degree to which students’ performances on a test accurately reflect the quality of instruction specifically provided to promote students’ mastery of what is being assessed.”

Unfortunately, too many standardized exams do not demonstrate whether a teacher’s instruction had an effect on the student’s performance. With this kind of assertion waiting in the wings, educators are likely to challenge the use of summative statewide standardized exams in high-stakes evaluations.

Challenge 2: Many Untested Subjects

The most obvious problem associated with attributing individual teachers’ performance to individual students’ test scores is connecting test scores to teachers who teach untested subjects. Every state administers English language arts and mathematics tests in grades 3–8 as well as once in high school. Thus, preK–2 and three years in high school are mostly untested. Further, although many states administer tests in science and social studies, they are not administered at every grade level and may not provide the right kind of information for teacher evaluation in those subject areas.

We can see how these difficulties play out if we look at a student in a traditional junior high school. Last year, Jacob, the son of one of the authors, was a 7th grader. His favorite class was Global Studies. In 7th grade, students are required to take two full-year courses in literacy and language arts and just one Global Studies course for one trimester. The Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) cover social studies. However, as the ITBS website states, “The content of the [social studies] questions is taken from the areas of geography, history, government, economics, sociology, and the other social sciences” (Iowa Testing Program, n.d.). Is it reasonable to believe that Jacob’s Global Studies teacher, with just 60 days with each child, stands a chance at preparing students to succeed on such a general exam? To what extent are Jacob’s scores on the ITBS an accurate measure of his teacher’s performance?

It is possible to find alternative measures of student performance that can be compared across classrooms beyond statewide, multiple-choice standardized exams, such as the National Writing Project’s rubrics and juried competitions to judge senior year capstone projects for graduation. Some states (such as Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island, and Nebraska) and high-performing countries (such as Finland) are engaged in this work, but it is both complicated and expensive.

If we are using such student performances for high-stakes decision making, we will need to make sure that the determinations are valid (that we measure what we mean to measure) and reliable (that the measure will yield the same results on repeated trials). For the arts, physical education, and other untested subjects, the development of such measures of student performance has yet to be completed.

The federal Race to the Top program acknowledged this challenge. In both the state and assessment consortium grants, it provided funding that could be used to improve the type and quality of assessments. Still, this is a massive undertaking.

Challenge 3: Quality of Evaluators

A scan of the literature on teacher evaluation demonstrates that teachers do not routinely and consistently receive quality evaluations. Several studies examine deficiencies in administrators’ ability to conduct quality evaluations (see Brandt, Mathers, Oliva, Brown-Sims, & Hess, 2007; Danielson & McGreal, 2000; Little, Goe, & Bell, 2009).

Lack of evaluator training is a threat to the reliability of the evaluation and objectivity of the results. An untrained observer may introduce bias into observations; the observer’s expectations of a teacher may influence the observation to a greater degree than the actual teacher behaviors displayed (Mujis, 2006). Researchers at the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality (Little et al., 2009) found that a “reliable classroom observation protocol may be wildly inaccurate or inconsistent in the hands of an untrained evaluator” (p. 21).

However, districts rarely require evaluators to be trained. Only 8 percent of the districts in a study of midwestern districts had written documentation detailing requirements for training evaluators (Brandt et al., 2007; Loup, Garland, Ellett, & Rugutt, 1996). In many of the 12 districts examined in the Widget Effect (Weisburg, Sexton, Mulhern, & Keeling, 2009), evaluation training was a one-time endeavor provided either when an administrator was new to the position or when the district implemented a revised system of teacher evaluation. Inter- and intra-rater reliability is also increasingly needed as evaluations inform high-stakes decision making, but this has not been developed yet (Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation, 1994; Mathers, Oliva, & Laine, 2008; Mujis, 2006).

Recognizing this challenge, Iowa, Minnesota, and North Carolina are providing training for evaluators, but few other states have taken up a similar mantle. We predict that evaluator training will become a priority for many states.

Challenge 4: Individual Versus Team-Based Accountability

It’s difficult to attribute student performance to a specific teacher in secondary school or in virtual programs because students in these environments have multiple teachers daily. But even in elementary school, which traditionally assigns students to one teacher only, students who need additional learning supports might work with an adult in addition to the teacher of record on basic skills in English language arts or mathematics.

Let’s look again at Jacob’s junior high school, which is organized by trimesters. Jacob had 11 different courses last year, meaning 11 different teachers. All 7th graders in his school take two courses in English language arts. Which of his two English teachers can claim success with Jacob on the basis of his language arts scores on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills? Moreover, can his Global Studies teacher lay claim to success in any of those areas—or is social studies the only test that matters to her? The Iowa Testing Program states, “The questions on this [social studies] test measure objectives of the social studies curriculum that are not measured elsewhere in the ITBS tests” (Iowa Testing Program, n.d.). This implies that her instruction may have an effect on Jacob’s scores on other tests, but it’s unclear how to discern that effect.

Trying to attribute student performance to a specific teacher also runs counter to the collaborative way we think about teaching today. Teachers who collectively engage in participatory decision making, lesson design, data analysis, and analysis of student work are better able to deliver rigorous and relevant learning for all students and personalize learning for individual students. The new core teaching standards reflect this understanding, calling for teachers to participate actively as team members in decision-making processes.

Most teacher evaluation systems have been designed to assess individuals, but the collaborative culture envisioned by the new core teaching standards (and by the administration’s reauthorization blueprint, for that matter) will require us to explore a next-generation, team-based approach to performance review.

Challenge 5: What Else Matters?

Up to now, under NCLB, teachers have defined teacher quality as knowing their subject matter. The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) has recently revised its model core teaching standards, which go beyond possessing content knowledge to incorporate knowledge of how to teach one’s subject matter (for example, how to identify students’ common misunderstandings and help students move beyond them) and “how to connect concepts and use differing perspectives to engage learners in critical/creative thinking and collaborative problem solving related to authentic local and global issues” (CCSSO, 2010, p. 15). Presumably, students whose teachers have this set of skills would perform well on exams.

But even in the most stringent state policy propositions, one-half of a teacher’s evaluation is based on criteria other than student performance. How a teacher helps students to become motivated to learn, persist in their work, strive to be lifelong learners, express themselves artistically, behave civilly, and not bully others—these factors matter to parents, students, and communities. The Obama administration captures these sentiments in its call for a more holistic understanding of education. States have asserted their interest in citizenship education, not just college and career readiness. And teachers point to an obligation to support a culture of learning in their school communities as well as to develop their profession. As the focus on teacher evaluation rises to the state and federal levels, we will need to articulate the full range of teacher practices and student outcomes that we want from our education system—and determine how we can measure them.

Challenge 6: Working Conditions

When developing an approach to teacher evaluation and its high-stakes consequences, states will need to consider the systems in which teachers work. Have teacher evaluation systems taken into account circumstances beyond teachers’ control? These range from having access to appropriate resources (such as a heated classroom) or equipment that enhances learning (such as computers); to access to professional communities of support (such as other teachers with whom to collaborate, behavior specialists, and other resource staff); to the alignment of education programs among the school, district, and state.

And what about other conditions over which teachers have little control, such as student readiness? Are students hungry or suffering? Is the school climate conducive to student learning and teacher collaboration? Research suggests that improved working conditions significantly influence a school’s ability to reach achievement goals (for a full summary, see Emerick, Hirsch, & Berry, 2005), yet we have few strong models that account for working conditions in evaluating teacher effectiveness.

Challenge 7: Engaging All Stakeholders

Teacher evaluation has primarily been a local responsibility, but federal programs such as Race to the Top signal a shift toward using evaluation to meet state and federal goals. Aligning these multiple levels of authority to support the dual purposes of evaluation—professional growth and accountability—will require adjusting the purpose, design, and mechanisms of evaluation systems. It will also require a culture of shared responsibility and mission as more players claim a stake in the outcomes of teacher evaluation and take a more active role in designing evaluation systems.

No matter how we proceed, we need to engage all stakeholders in the discussion. Stakeholders include professional standards boards, boards of examiners, professional organizations, membership associations, unions, boards of regents, teacher educators, professional developers, local school boards, and teachers and administrators. Only then can we clarify feasibility, mobilize interest, anticipate and prevent barriers, and ensure high-fidelity implementation.

What Next?

We raise these challenges not to sound an alarm, but to suggest an agenda for cooperative research, design, development, and assessment of state policy and local practices. When grounded in agreed-on standards for teaching—such as the recently revised Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC) Model Core Teaching Standards— and developed in ways that overcome the challenges cited, evaluation can be an effective lever for state and local policy.

Having just completed the initial stage of revising the standards, CCSSO is now turning its attention to crafting a developmental continuum across a teacher’s career, pegged to the standards, as well as rubrics for evaluating progress. An additional goal is to work to validate the standards in practice. We expect these efforts, as well as the efforts of states already using the draft standards in their teacher evaluation pilots, will lead to a rigorous foundation for a system of teacher performance.

We further expect the assessment community to work vigorously to design multiple measures of student performance in both tested and untested subjects and to develop value-added assessment systems that have greater reliability. Two assessment consortia received funding through Race to the Top to engage specifically in this work. In addition, groups such as the Teacher Performance Assessment Consortium—a partnership among the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, the CCSSO, and Stanford University— are developing improved teacher performance assessments and portfolio systems. Projects such as the Measures of Effective Teaching, developed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are evaluating video samples of practicing teachers against validated rubrics, student surveys, and student performance.

Finally, we will need to learn from experts in the business community, who have long been working on team-based accountability systems, how to shift the model from the individual as the sole unit of authority and responsibility to next-generation systems that recognize the importance of professional collaboration, transparent practice, reflective and collective inquiry, and joint accountability.

See References

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National Teaching Standards

National Teaching Standards

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[box class=”grey_box”]Circe Stumbo and CCSSO’s Peter McWalters penned this article for the American School Board Journal (ASBJ) for its October 2010 issue. The article discusses the influence school board members can have on the Model Core Teaching Standards developed by the Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC). This article is available for purchase through the ASBJ.[/box]

School districts and school boards traditionally have had the authority to evaluate their teachers and principals, but new programs coming out of the U.S. Department of Education, including Race to the Top and proposals for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, call for states to play a stronger role in evaluation as a way to push for improvements in education.

This development is a double-edged sword: It could strengthen the ability of local leaders to transform education, but it also has the potential to override local authority.

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) has crafted a set of standards for teacher practice that could help school leaders deal with the increased federal and state demands while still maintaining local control.

The council’s Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC), made up of representatives of the teaching profession, including practicing teachers, teacher educators, and state education agency staff, spent the past 18 months updating the standards, which were first drafted in 1992 and adopted by at least 38 states. The updated standards focus on how teachers can help students achieve to standards, including the Common Core State Standards released this year.

The consortium is seeking extensive input for the revised standards, including from school board members and administrators. Please consider providing your opinions and perspectives before the public comment deadline of Oct. 15. The consortium will revise the model core teaching standards based on comments received, then will help states adopt or adapt them to transform teaching and learning across the country.

ASBJ Subscribers may continue reading. If you are not a subscriber, please purchase the article to continue reading.

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