Professional Development: Massachusetts

Retaining Effective Teachers Policy


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.

Nearly meets goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2013). Professional Development: Massachusetts results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from:

Analysis of Massachusetts's policies

Massachusetts specifies that its evaluation cycle must include goal setting and development for teachers, who all receive "Educator Plans." Such plans are designed to "provide educators with feedback for improvement, professional growth, and leadership; and to ensure educator effectiveness." Plans developed by evaluators "shall use evidence of educator performance and impact on student learning, growth, and achievement in goal setting with the educator."

Improvement plans are required for all teachers rated unsatisfactory. These improvement plans must "outline actions the educator must take to attain these goals, including but not limited to specified professional development well as other supports that may be suggested by the evaluator or provided by the school or district."


Recommendations for Massachusetts

Ensure that professional development is aligned with findings from teacher 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. Massachusetts should ensure that districts utilize teacher evaluation results in determining professional development needs and activities.

State response to our analysis

Massachusetts noted that the state has recently released a new resource that "directs districts to align professional development activities with findings from teachers' evaluations." According to the state, the new resource states, "The evaluation process highlights educators' professional development needs and should be leveraged to identify patterns in professional development needs within a school and across the district. The data from educator evaluation—meaning areas of need—should inform the school and district professional development offerings, making them more meaningful and timely for educators."

Last word

While it is important that the state is highlighting the importance of aligned professional development in resources, the point should be articulated in state policy so that districts are clear how they must proceed.

Research rationale

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.