Professional Development: Pennsylvania

2015 Retaining Effective Teachers Policy

Goal

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.

Meets a small part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2015). Professional Development: Pennsylvania results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/PA-Professional-Development-72

Analysis of Pennsylvania's policies

Pennsylvania requires its teachers to be provided a signed copy of their rating form. The state's evaluation framework does not tie professional development to evaluation findings for all teachers. Teachers rated needs improvement or failing must participate in a performance improvement plan. The improvement plan includes, among other things, "recommendations for professional development... based on the results of the rating."

Citation

Recommendations for Pennsylvania

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, Pennsylvania should require that evaluation systems provide all teachers with feedback about their classroom performance, whether or not such information has been requested.

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 the aim of increasing their effectiveness in the classroom. Pennsylvania should ensure that districts utilize teacher evaluation results in determining professional development needs and activities.

State response to our analysis

Pennsylvania recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state added that training and technical assistance provided via its State System of Support (SSOS) emphasizes that explicit feedback be provided to teachers regarding their strengths and weaknesses. However, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has no authority to require that evaluation systems provide teachers with feedback.

Pennsylvania further noted that although not required, PDE has expended significant resources in the development and deployment of training and technical assistance via SSOS and free online professional development continuing education credit-bearing courses that are aligned with the specific teaching standards addressed by its observation and practice model.

How we graded

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.