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.
Arkansas requires that a teacher's summative evaluation provide "feedback that the teacher can use to improve teaching skills and student learning." In addition, the teacher's professional learning plan is required to "clearly link" professional development activities and the teacher's individual professional learning needs as identified in the evaluation. Teachers with Basic or Unsatisfactory ratings in one evaluation category or in a majority of descriptors in a category are placed in "intensive support status." The evaluator and teacher develop goals cooperatively for the teacher's improvement plan.
Unfortunately, Arkansas only requires annual summative evaluations for new teachers, probationary teachers and teachers who have recently successfully completed intensive support status. All other teachers are evaluated at least once every three years.
Require that evaluation systems provide teachers with feedback about their performance. Arkansas is commended for ensuring that professional development is informed by teachers' evaluations. However, there is no assurance that teachers evaluated every three years will receive feedback in the evaluation off-years that could be useful for improving their practice. Arkansas should consider requiring that all teachers be evaluated and receive feedback about their performance annually (See Goal 3-C).
Arkansas asserted that the Teacher Excellence Support System (TESS) does require that teachers will receive feedback each year. Teachers develop a professional growth plan (PGP) with their administrator to identify needs from both formal and informal evaluations. In addition, teachers will document progress on their PGP and update their evaluator during their mid-year progress review. Areas identified on an educator's PGP will also be the focus of informal observations and feedback regarding performance.
The state added that at any time the evaluator believes there is evidence to support several areas of growth not addressed on the PGP, the evaluator may place the teacher in a different evaluation track.
Arkansas continued that although a summative evaluation for
teachers in the interim appraisal track is required only once every three
years, nothing precludes a district from conducting a full summative evaluation
more often. During the two years of interim, evaluators conduct multiple
informal observations and provide feedback to teachers. Observations focus on
identified components of the professional growth plan. A midyear review
is conducted with all teachers to analyze progress, and evaluators will make
recommendations for continued work or revisions to goals. An end-of-year
conference is also held to determine the extent to which goals were met and to
revise plans for the next year. Feedback from informal observations and
evidence from professional growth-plan progress is the focus of the annual
evaluation feedback regarding performance.
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.