The state should ensure that teachers receive feedback about their performance and should require professional development to be based on needs identified through teacher evaluations.
It is unclear whether Alabama's new teacher evaluation system—EDUCATE Alabama—will require that teachers receive feedback about their performance.
As part of Alabama's new teacher evaluation system, the state does require each educator to develop a professional learning plan, which is created via a dialogue between the teacher and instructional leader and must be based on the "Educator Self Assessment." The state does not specify that professional development activities must be aligned with findings from teacher evaluations, nor does Alabama mandate that teachers rated less than effective receive targeted professional improvement plans.
Require that evaluation systems provide teachers with feedback about their performance. In order to increase their effectiveness in the classroom, teachers need to receive feedback on strengths and areas that need improvement identified in their evaluations. As such, Alabama should require that evaluation systems provide teachers with feedback about their classroom performance.
Ensure that professional development is aligned with findings from teachers' evaluations. Professional development that is not informed by evaluation results may be of little value to teachers' professional growth and aim of increasing their effectiveness in the classroom. While Alabama has taken steps in the right direction by requiring that all teachers develop professional learning plans, the state should ensure that districts utilize teacher evaluation results in determining professional development needs and activities.
Ensure that teachers receiving less than effective ratings are placed on a professional improvement plan. Alabama should adopt a policy requiring that teachers who receive even one unsatisfactory evaluation be placed on structured improvement plans. These plans should focus on performance areas that directly connect to student learning and should identify noted deficiencies, define specific action steps necessary to address these deficiencies and describe how and when progress will be measured.
Alabama indicated that teacher feedback is integrated throughout the EDUCATEAlabama process. According to the state, immediately following a teacher self-evaluation, utilizing the Alabama Continuum for Teacher Development, the teacher and her or his instructional leader must discuss the self-assessment and agree on three to five indicators that will be the focus of professional learning for the upcoming year. The instructional leader must sign off on the Professional Learning Plan (PLP) before any additional work can be done. Alabama stated that the PLP then becomes the driving force of professional development and learning for the remainder of the year. The state asserted that because EDUCATEAlabama is a formative assessment system, it does not result in a single determination of effectiveness, but it does provide teachers and instructional leaders with a multidimensional view of each teacher's strengths and weaknesses.
While connecting professional development to teachers' self-evaluation is a better approach than no targeting at all, which unfortunately is common practice in too many places, it will not help teachers to address weaknesses and deficiencies of which they are not aware. Giving teachers actionable feedback on observations and connecting professional development to areas identified through observations and objective performance data is key to helping all teachers grow and improve.
Professional development should be connected to needs identified through teacher evaluations.
The goal of teacher evaluation systems should be not just to identify highly effective teachers and those who underperform but to help all teachers improve. Even highly effective teachers may have areas where they can continue to grow and develop their knowledge and skills. Rigorous evaluations should provide actionable feedback on teachers' strengths and weaknesses that can form the basis of professional development activities. Too often professional development is random rather than targeted to the identified needs of individual teachers. Failure to make the connection between evaluations and professional development squanders the likelihood that professional development will be meaningful.
Many states are only explicit about tying professional development plans to evaluation results if the evaluation results are bad. Good evaluations with meaningful feedback should be useful to all teachers, and if done right should help design professional development plans for all teachers—not just those who receive poor ratings.
Professional Development: Supporting Research
For evidence of the benefits of feedback from evaluation systems, and the potential for professional development surrounding that feedback, see T. Kane, E. Taylor, J. Tyler, and A. Wooten, "Evaluating Teacher Effectiveness." Education Next, Volume 11, No. 3, Summer 2011; E. Taylor and J. Tyler, "The Effect of Evaluation on Performance: Evidence from Longitudinal Student Achievement Data of Mid-Career Teachers," NBER Working Paper No. 16877, March 2011.
Much professional development, particularly those that are not aligned to specific feedback from teacher evaluations, has been found to be ineffective. For evidence see M. Garet, A. Wayne, F. Stancavage, J. Taylor, M. Eaton, K. Walters, M. Song, S. Brown, S. Hurlburt, P. Zhu, S. Sepanik, F. Doolittle, and E. Warner, "Middle School Mathematics Professional Development Impact Study: Findings After the Second Year of Implementation." Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, May 2011, NCEE 2011-4024.
For additional evidence regarding best practices for professional development, see K. Neville and C. Robinson, "The Delivery, Financing, and Assessment of Professional Development in Education: Pre-Service Preparation and In-Service Training" The Finance Project, 2003.