Professional Development: Alabama

2011 Retaining Effective Teachers Policy

Goal

The state should require professional development to be based on needs identified through teacher evaluations.

Meets a small part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Professional Development: Alabama results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/AL-Professional-Development-9

Analysis of Alabama's policies

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.

Citation

Recommendations for Alabama

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.

State response to our analysis

Alabama asserted that information available in the Evaluator Guide for EDUCATE Alabama specifies that professional learning plans (PLP) are the product of individual educator self-assessments and school-system-level professional learning goals. "Educators cannot proceed with the PLP process, assigning evidence, etc., prior to a sign off by both the instructional leader and the teacher. This process ensures that the professional development is tied to individual need to a far greater extent than would a memorandum or letter from the State Department of Education." The state added that the following statement, which can be found on page ii of the Evaluator Guide, reinforces the requirement that teacher professional development is aligned with findings from teachers' evaluations: "For currently employed Alabama educators, the activities chosen to improve practice must be supported by data from local schools. Professional leaning plans (PLPs) must be approved by the employing superintendent." Finally, Alabama asserted that EDUCATE Alabama has multiple online professional learning modules tied to each indicator under each of the five Alabama Quality Teaching Standards. The modules are available to every instructional leader and teacher to support teacher-based best practice, based on the needs identified.

Last word

Self-assessment is important, but professional development linked to areas of development identified through formal evaluation will be more valuable than if based primarily on teachers' own perceptions of what those areas are. Although it seems that Alabama intends for teachers to receive feedback about their performance and to have meaningful professional development, the state should consider codifying policy that requires teachers' evaluations to inform professional development activities and ensures that teachers are given feedback on their strengths as well as weaknesses.

How we graded

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.  

Research rationale

For evidence of the benefits of feedback from evaluation systems, and the potential for professional development surrounding that feedback, see T. Kane et al, "Evaluating Teacher Effectiveness." Education Next. Vol 11, No. 3 (2011); E. Taylor and J. Tyler, "The Effect of Evaluation on Performance: Evidence from Longitudinal Student Achievement Data of Mid-Career Teachers." National Bureau of Economic Research (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, "Middle School Mathematics Professional Development Impact Study: Findings After the Second Year of Implementation." Institute of Education Sciences (2011).

For additional evidence regarding best practices for professional development, see "The Deliver, Financing, and Assessment of Professional Development in Education: Pre-Service Preparation and In-Service Training." The Finance Project (2003).