Professional Learning

Overview

Professional Learning

Area 1

Introduction and Look-Fors

To support states as they implement their college- and career-readiness standards, SREB worked with education leaders in SREB states and national experts to identify four areas of work through which states can foster high-quality professional learning for all educators on state college- and career-readiness standards.

  • Area 1: Establish clear expectations for high-quality professional learning for all educators.
  • Area 2: Provide guidance, technical assistance and other support to strengthen local professional learning.
  • Area 3: Offer professional learning to develop educators’ understanding of the state standards and skills to implement them—and to build local capacity to lead high-quality professional learning.
  • Area 4: Use data and accountability for continuous improvement.

For each of the four areas, SREB developed a set of expected actions—“look-fors”—for state leaders to take that fulfill their leadership in the area. Through Internet research and interviews with state education leaders and educators, SREB gathered data on efforts in 15 states in each of the areas in 2014-15 and 2015-16.

Moving Forward—Six key state actions for improvement

In the report, Professional Learning: Trends in State Efforts, SREB described trends in state efforts and recommended actions to strengthen state leadership of professional learning in each of the four areas of work (access the full report through the link to the right). Below, SREB’s recommendations are synthesized to highlight the most critical actions across all four areas of work for enhancing state leadership of professional learning on state college- and career-readiness standards. While many factors inform a state’s approach to leadership of professional learning, any state could draw on the following recommendations and on the strong state efforts highlighted throughout this tool to meet the specific needs of their own state. 

  1. Foster more data-based decision making about professional learning and strengthen shared accountability for excellence at the state and local levels.

    • Systematically monitor the quality and implementation of state professional learning in order to make adjustments along the way and address emerging needs.
    • Rigorously examine measurable outcomes of state professional learning, including whether educators found it useful and relevant, and whether it impacted teacher knowledge and practice, as well as student outcomes.
    • Support enhanced monitoring and evaluation of professional learning at the local level through guidance, tools and assistance to school and district leaders.
    • Strengthen shared accountability for excellence.
      • Require the inclusion of findings from robust implementation monitoring and rigorous program evaluations in state reporting structures, such as school and district improvement plans, funding applications and program reports.
      • Increase feedback channels within the state education agency’s professional learning and technical assistance services, so the state education agency can gather more data and provide timely feedback to local leaders on their practice.
  2. Integrate the use of guidance and tools, technical assistance, professional learning and feedback in a seamless cycle of collaboration to foster continual improvement.
    • This integration provides multiple points at which educators can engage with new knowledge, implement their learning and reflect on their practice—increasing the chance that new learning will impact teaching and student achievement.
  3. Enhance the use of technology in professional learning.
    • Update the state’s digital, on-demand resources continually to enhance the amount, reach, relevance and efficiency of state support for educator learning.
    • As new technologies emerge, state education agencies should keep pace by using them strategically in their programs and services to support educator development. In doing so, states can enhance their services and also provide local leaders with models for using technology effectively to improve educator and student learning.
  4. Provide ongoing professional learning for educators to address statewide needs and fill local gaps. 
    • Teachers need to deepen their understanding of the standards, effective instructional strategies, analysis of data to guide instruction and the use of online instruction and assessment formats. They need time to collaborate, practice what they learn and receive feedback.
    • School and district leaders need to better understand the standards, effective instructional strategies and how to provide actionable feedback to teachers. They need support for improving the professional learning they offer locally so that it meets the state’s standards for professional learning.
  5. Focus on equity and excellence for all students.
    • Offer more guidance and tools, as well as professional learning, to help all educators learn about differentiating instruction, especially for English learners and students with disabilities, so that schools can better serve their increasingly diverse student bodies.
  6. Devote resources strategically to professional learning.
    • Use data to identify the biggest needs and gaps in the professional learning of educators statewide, where the state can provide the most critical support.
    • Work with stakeholders, including educators, legislators, regional education centers, universities, trusted partners such as external funders and national education organizations to target resources for professional learning. Resources could include funding, time, technology, local and cross-state partnerships, staff positions and expertise, and other supports.
    • Strategically leverage resources and design initiatives creatively so that the efforts can be sustained over time.

Area 1: Establish clear expectations for high-quality professional learning

Trends in state efforts

  • State leaders have increasingly grounded their leadership in professional learning on updated standards.
  • These standards set expectations of excellence for practitioners and professional learning providers and serve as a basis for holding the state, districts, schools and providers accountable for delivering high-quality learning experiences to meet the needs of students and educators.Two states launched major initiatives to improve professional learning on college- and career-readiness standards.

Strong state efforts

Seven states have undertaken strong efforts in this area: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and West Virginia.

  • These states have gone beyond adopting state standards for professional learning and established additional policies to assist districts and schools in implementing the standards. These additional policies, such as a statewide definition of professional learning and requirements for local professional learning systems, foster quality and consistency of practice statewide.

Read more about the look-fors that SREB used to assess state efforts.

Recommendations to strengthen state leadership

After adopting state standards for professional learning, state leaders should consider providing guidance, structures or reforms to help districts, schools, educators and providers implement them, for example, through

  • supplementary policies or guidance, such as statewide definitions of professional learning;
  • requirements or recommendations to help districts strengthen their practice, such as requiring that districts have a professional development coordinator; and
  • a statewide initiative to support systemic reform to improve professional learning.

State Highlights

Kentucky began systemic reform of professional learning in 2009 in response to legislation. Guided by a professional learning task force, education leaders in Kentucky worked with Learning Forward, external funders and other partners, including the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Governors Association and the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education. Six peer states, including Georgia, served as critical friends, providing feedback and ideas to the Kentucky team as it developed its plans. Kentucky developed a comprehensive system of professional learning; it also adopted Learning Forward’s standards for professional learning.

Since 2010-11 all districts in Kentucky have established a leadership team. Team members participate over a three-year period in monthly role-specific, face-to-face leadership network meetings and ongoing follow-up sessions. They also receive regular technical assistance and support for sharing their new learning about teaching the Kentucky Academic Standards and implementing high-quality professional development with colleagues in their schools and districts.

From 2010-11 through 2012-13, the networks focused on English language arts and math. In 2011-12 through 2013-14, the networks focused on early childhood. Since 2013-14, the networks have focused on science and social studies. Though trained English language arts and math teachers have cycled out of participation in the networks, the state education agency expects them to continue to support professional learning efforts in their schools and districts. In 2014, the state Board of Education revised its regulation on professional development, establishing a statewide definition of professional learning, and required districts to designate a professional development coordinator to ensure implementation fidelity.

Kentucky’s statewide definition of professional learning: “Professional learning is a comprehensive, sustained and intensive approach to increase student achievement that strengthens and improves educators’ effectiveness in meeting individual, team, school, school district and state goals. It is ongoing, relevant, job-embedded learning for educators at all stages of career development.”

West Virginia adopted Learning Forward’s standards for professional learning, and in 2012 the state Board of Education adopted a statewide definition: “Professional learning includes sustained experiences that lead to the development of knowledge, skills, practices, and dispositions educators need to help students perform at higher levels and achieve college and career readiness.”

In response to the standards, definition and Senate Bill 359 of 2013, the state education agency developed the Transforming Professional Learning initiative in collaboration with the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, Learning Forward, and a stakeholder advisory group. The initiative launched in 2015-16, with funding from the Benedum Foundation, as part of West Virginia’s annual comprehensive Master Plan for Statewide Professional Development.

This initiative shifts West Virginia from a centralized system of professional development based on large-scale institutes provided by the state education agency and external partners, to a school-based model of continual learning. Educators collaboratively determine their learning needs based on data, and the state education agency, regional education service agencies and other partners provide support to school- and district-based professional learning communities.

Area 2a: Provide Support—Guidance and tools

Trends in state efforts

  • In all of the states, the state education agency provides at least general guidance, resources and tools on professional learning to support school and district improvement. In 10 states, the state education agency provides additional, in-depth guidance and tools on professional learning, specifically for the state college- and career-readiness standards, such as implementation rubrics and manuals.
  • While online state repositories of on-demand guidance and tools have continued to grow, all of the states’ repositories offer more tools on planning, designing and delivering professional learning than on the critical tasks of monitoring implementation of professional learning and evaluating its effectiveness.
  • Twelve states require induction or mentoring programs for new teachers, and six require such programs for new principals or local superintendents. These programs provide timely opportunities for new practitioners to learn how to implement their state’s college- and career-readiness standards and receive feedback on their practice. In four of the states, the state education agency has provided extensive support for local programs, and in three states the state education agency has helped monitor or evaluate the quality of local programs.

Strong state efforts

Eight states have undertaken strong efforts in providing guidance and tools―Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland and Tennessee―including the following.

  • Providing in-depth, online, on-demand guidance, tools and rubrics to support local planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating of professional learning on state college- and career-readiness standards.
  • Offering extensive resources for delivering, and exemplars of, professional learning on the state college- and career-readiness standards—for example, materials, tools, videos, courses and exemplars from comprehensive professional learning programs that can both serve as items for immediate use in local activities and as models to support local program development.

Read more about the look-fors that SREB used to assess state efforts.

Recommendations to strengthen state leadership

All of the states can enhance the support they provide for districts, schools and educators by offering more guidance, tools and support for

  • local monitoring and evaluation of professional learning,
  • helping teachers learn about differentiating instruction for diverse learners, and
  • local induction and mentoring programs for new practitioners.

State highlights

The Florida state education agency provides checklists to support implementation of the state professional development standards at the district, school and educator levels. It also provides online modules and a technical assistance guide on planning, implementing and evaluating professional development.

The state education agency’s Florida Professional Development System Evaluation Protocol establishes criteria for exemplary professional development practices at the district, school and educator levels. The state education agency uses the protocol to conduct site reviews of the professional development systems in the state’s 75 districts, on a four-year cycle. District and school leaders can also use the protocol when needed to assess the quality of their own efforts and identify emerging needs.

On its Collaborate Plan Align Learn Motivate Share (CPALMS) website, iCPALMS platform and the Florida School Leaders website, the state education agency provides additional, extensive guidance and tools that educators can access on-demand. These include professional learning exemplars, online courses, videos of exemplary instruction, instructional planning tools including supports for differentiating instruction, and resources for district professional development directors. The state education agency also offers online, on-demand guidance and resources for local coaching and mentoring programs for new teachers.

The Louisiana state education agency’s Louisiana Principals’ Teaching & Learning Guidebook provides extensive guidance to principals as they build a team to lead implementation of the state’s college- and career-readiness standards, and plan, implement and evaluate professional learning. The Louisiana District Planning Guide provides extensive guidance to district leaders on implementing the standards and providing professional learning for educators.

The state education agency’s District + School Support Toolbox and Teacher Support Toolbox provide extensive sets of online, on-demand tools and exemplars for educators, including sets of materials from the state education agency’s teacher leaders, district support network professional learning programs and quarterly supervisor collaboration meetings. The state education agency also offers data reflection guides for districts and principals to support the use of local data in decision-making and planning.

Area 2b: Provide Support—Technical assistance

Trends in state efforts

  • In all of the states, the state education agencies have focused their technical assistance efforts on schools in need of improvement and their districts. Typical services have included support for data analysis to identify professional learning needs, coaching and planning advice, and monitoring the progress of improvement efforts.
  • In addition to providing technical assistance to schools needing improvement and their districts, in most states the state education agency or regional education centers offer some assistance to all districts. However, the type and degree of assistance delivered has varied widely, depending on a variety of factors including differences in regional center capacity and district participation.
  • In five states, the state education agency designed its flagship professional learning initiative for the state college- and career-readiness standards—in which leadership teams in a large number of (and in some cases, all) districts or schools have participated—to weave regular technical assistance activities into the schedule of ongoing learning events. The integration of learning and support increases the chances that participants’ learning will result in changes in practice and improvement in student learning.

Strong state efforts  

Six states have undertaken strong efforts in this area—Alabama, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland and North Carolina—including the following.

  • working intensively with leadership teams in large numbers of—and in some cases, all—districts or schools. This assistance develops participants’ knowledge of and skills to implement the standards and builds their collective capacity to provide high-quality professional learning for local educators
  • providing targeted support to teacher leaders and district directors of curriculum and professional development to build local expertise

Read more about the look-fors that SREB used to assess state efforts.

Recommendations to strengthen state leadership

  • State leaders should consider how to ensure local leaders get the help they need—for example, by
    • developing the capacity of regional centers and other partners to provide exemplary support, and
    • modifying the state education agency’s services to address the most pressing gaps in assistance for schools and districts.
  • State leaders should consider how they might further integrate technical assistance and professional learning—to increase the chances that the professional learning offered by the state education agency will change practice and improve student learning.

State highlights

In Delaware, the state education agency integrated technical assistance into its Common Ground for the Common Core professional learning initiative. Throughout the school year, state education agency staff members meet with school and district leadership teams through face-to-face training sessions, school-based planning clinics, feedback sessions and virtual coaching. During these meetings, teams receive assistance with planning, implementing and monitoring the professional learning they deliver in their schools and districts based on their learning from the Common Ground for the Common Core trainings.

Since 2013-14, 136 of the state’s 225 schools, representing 18 of 19 districts, have participated, with 100 schools in 2013-14, 80 in 2014-15 and 40 in 2015-16. Additionally, the state education agency conducts annual Common Core site visits to one school in every district. Using the Progress and Capacity Site Visit Rubric, state education agency staff members assess progress on Common Core implementation and professional learning. They base their assessments of progress on data gathered from documents, classroom observations, interviews with educators and focus groups with students and parents.

After the visit, the state education agency provides local leaders with a report of findings and recommendations. Further, state education agency staff members meet monthly with district English language arts and math content specialists, and directors of instruction and assessment from all districts to promote collaborative planning and resource development.

In Maryland, the state superintendent meets monthly with all 24 district superintendents. State education agency staff members meet monthly with district assistant superintendents and curriculum content supervisors, and quarterly with other district leaders. Through these meetings, district leaders receive role-specific information and support for their implementation of the Maryland College and Career-Ready Standards and professional learning.

Additionally, since 2013-14, the state education agency has conducted support visits to districts, visiting all of the state’s 24 districts in 2013-14 and conducting follow-up visits upon district request in 2014-15 and 2015-16. During the visits, state education agency staff members review data, meet with district and school leaders and teachers, and observe in classrooms to assess local implementation of the standards. Based on findings, the state education agency provides individualized assistance to district leaders.

Area 2c: Provide Support—Technology, flexibility for innovation and funding

Trends in state efforts

  • Technology   

    • State education agencies have expanded their use of technology to support professional learning. They have continued to build and populate digital repositories of on-demand professional learning guidance, resources and tools. These repositories increase educators’ capacity to meet their own needs and those of their students in ways that are convenient and cost-effective.
    • State education agencies are increasingly using learning management systems to centralize, coordinate and automate the development, access and administration of professional learning content.
  • Flexibility for innovation
    • All states in the study have adopted at least one policy to give districts or schools flexibility from state laws or regulations, that they can use to pursue innovative approaches to professional learning, for example, charter schools and innovation zones. Research has revealed scant and uneven evidence that the implementation of such policies has improved professional learning, teacher effectiveness or student achievement. However, where achievement gains were found, adults were engaged in robust professional learning and state and district leaders monitored local practice and held local leaders accountable for results.
  • Funding
    • States have used multiple sources of funding to support professional learning on state college- and career-readiness standards. However, these funds have shifted over time, hampering efforts to commit to educator development over the long term.
    • State education agency leaders in four states deployed temporary grant funding strategically and prioritized programs in order to sustain key professional learning initiatives when the grant funding ended. One state strategically used existing funds by reorganizing state education agency staff and intensifying cross-organizational collaboration to provide districts with sustained professional learning on the state college- and career-readiness standards.

Strong state efforts

One state—West Virginia—has undertaken strong efforts to provide support with technology and flexibility for innovation, including the following.

  • extensive online, on-demand digital archives of professional learning resources
  • policies that allow schools or districts to seek flexibilities from state laws or policies that they may use to pursue innovative approaches to professional learning
  • a high-priority, statewide initiative focused specifically on increasing local flexibility for the purpose of enhancing professional learning

Read more about the look-fors that SREB used to assess state efforts.

Recommendations to strengthen state leadership

Technology

States can enhance support for the effective use of technology in school and district professional learning by:

  • keeping the online guidance, resources and tools the state education agency offers current and relevant;
  • exploring the use of efficiency-enhancing technology such as learning management systems; and
  • modeling the use of technology in professional learning.

Flexibility for innovation

States can increase the chances that their policies on local flexibility will lead to changes in educator development, teaching and learning by:

  • focusing on how these policies could be used specifically to enhance professional learning, and supporting local leaders in implementing those approaches;
  • monitoring implementation; and
  • holding local leaders accountable for measurable results.

Funding

State professional learning will more likely reap results for educators and students if states:

  • support and dedicate funding to initiatives over the long-term, and
  • design the initiatives strategically to make the most of tight budgets.

State highlights

In West Virginia, state law and a new state initiative encourage flexibility for schools. According to state law, schools or groups of schools can apply for innovation zone status to waive certain policies, rules and statutory constraints in order to increase and enhance professional learning. The state education agency offers local leaders ideas for using this flexibility effectively.

Additionally, the state education agency launched two pilot programs as part of its Transforming Professional Learning initiative. In 2014-15, five schools volunteered as Catalyst Schools to pilot approaches to maximizing time in the school day and year for professional learning, and received support from the state’s regional education service agencies; in 2015-16, 25 more schools volunteered. Through the Reimagined Time initiative, beginning in 2016-17 districts can apply to the state Board of Education to implement flexible school-year and school-day calendars in order to increase educator collaboration and professional learning time.

In 2015-16 the state education agency provided information and support to districts interested in participating through quarterly meetings and webinars. The state education agency tracks implementation of these pilot programs as part of its annual evaluation of the Master Plan for Statewide Professional Development, and based on lessons learned, the state education agency plans to expand this approach to all schools in the state.

The North Carolina state education agency provides strong technology supports for professional learning. The state education agency’s extensive repositories of online, on-demand resources house iTunes U courses and LEAD Ed webinars and courses, and include LiveBinders and Wiki spaces, which enable educators to access and share resources specific to the needs of content areas, grade levels and students. The state education agency also provides learning management systems, including Home Base, which allows educators to access personalized learning content based on their evaluation results, and Canvas, which houses learning resources for educators and students.

Area 3: Offer Professional Learning

Trends in state efforts

  • In all states, the state education agency has offered, either itself or in collaboration with regional centers or other partners, at least some professional learning on the state college- and career-readiness standards. Many of the offerings have been stand-alone sessions or short series of sessions.
  • In two states, the state education agency has offered extensive learning opportunities to individual educators, reaching large numbers of teachers, and school and district leaders.
  • In five states, the state education agency has offered extensive learning opportunities to local leadership teams, helping participants build their own knowledge and skills to implement the standards and their collective capacity to lead high-quality professional learning at their local sites.
  • Three states have provided extensive, tailored professional learning for school and district leaders.
  • All of the states reported increasing their use of online and blended learning formats in order to reach more educators, more efficiently.

Strong state efforts  

Six states have undertaken strong efforts in this area—Alabama, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina and Tennessee—including the following.

  • Offering numerous opportunities for individual teachers and school and district leaders to develop their understanding of and skills to implement the standards.
  • Providing extensive, long-term learning opportunities for local leadership teams including teachers and school and district leaders, reaching a substantial number of—if not all—districts or schools. This work with teams, conducted in all these states except for Tennessee, helps to build deep and broad expertise to implement the standards and provide high-quality professional learning for all educators.

Read more about the look-fors that SREB used to assess state efforts.

Recommendations to strengthen state leadership

All of the states could enhance the professional learning they offer in three ways.

  • Offer ongoing opportunities for teachers to learn about the standards, instruction, assessment and data analysis. Provide time for teachers to collaborate, practice what they learn and receive feedback.
  • Provide more opportunities for school and district leaders to learn about the standards, instruction, assessment, how to provide actionable feedback to teachers and how to improve local professional learning so that it meets the state standards for professional learning. 
  • Provide more professional learning to all educators on differentiating instruction and assessment for diverse learners to foster equity and excellence for all students.

State highlights

In Alabama, since 2011, all 136 districts have designated an implementation team made up of teachers (English language arts, math, science, social studies, career and technical education, special education and English learner education), library and media specialists, and school and district leaders. The teams meet quarterly with the state education agency to participate in learning sessions and receive technical assistance to support implementation of the Alabama College- & Career-Ready Standards and redelivery of the training at their local sites.

In 2015-16, based on feedback from participants, the state education agency shifted the design of the quarterly meetings from statewide meetings based on uniform content to regional meetings based on differentiated content to meet local needs. In 2015-16, the state education agency also designed the meetings to focus more on evaluating quality, helping the teams build their skills to monitor implementation of the professional learning they implement locally.

In Delaware, since 2013-14, school and district guiding teams (including teachers, principals and district staff) in the state education agency’s Common Ground for the Common Core program have participated in an annual cycle of pre-reading, data collection and three-day learning institutes. These learning activities are supplemented by regular technical assistance such as school-based planning clinics, meetings to share evidence of progress and plan improvements and virtual coaching. This assistance supports implementation of the standards and the professional learning that the teams lead locally. In 2015-16, teams have focused their learning and improvement efforts on one of two areas: closing achievement gaps for students with disabilities and English learners, or deepening literacy practices across the content areas. Since 2013-14, 136 of the state’s 225 schools, representing 18 out of 19 districts, have participated, with 100 schools in 2013-14, 80 in 2014-15 and 40 in 2015-16.

Tennessee has provided extensive professional learning for school and district leaders. Since 2013, the state education agency has offered an integrated leadership course to build school- and district-level capacity to lead implementation of the Tennessee Academic Standards. In 2014, the state education agency added an advanced course to its existing basic course to meet the varying needs of leaders. In 2015-16, the courses include four face-to-face sessions at the state’s Centers of Regional Excellence, or CORE. Approximately 5,000 leaders participated in one or both of these courses in 2013-14 and 2014-15, and the state education agency expects to have served approximately 2,000 in 2015-16.

Additionally, during the state education agency’s summer trainings for teachers, school and district leaders participate in one-day, role-specific trainings on redelivering the summer training content at their local sites. Over 62,000 teachers have participated in the summer trainings since 2012, with 12,000 attending in 2015. In addition, teachers may enroll in the state education agency’s series of seven-part courses on reading instruction and intervention, organized by grade band, K-12.

Area 4: Use data and accountability for continuous improvement

Trends in state efforts

  • Use of data

    • Five states have implemented multi-layered structures and systemic processes to make extensive use of data across the state education agency and with educators and partners.
    • Six states have regularly collected data on local practice through frequent consultation with local leaders and on-site monitoring visits.
    • In five states, the state education agency has gone further than in other states to ensure that leaders have sufficient data to determine where and how to make improvements along the way in professional learning and to assess whether initiatives are worthy of funding, time and effort. In these states, the state education agency has recently published or commissioned evaluations of state programs, examining the impacts of program activities on teacher knowledge and practice, and student outcomes.
  • Feedback and accountability
    • The depth of feedback given to school and district leaders on local professional learning has varied greatly across the states.
    • In five states the state education agency has provided regular, in-depth feedback as part of a seamless cycle of collaboration that integrates professional learning, technical assistance and feedback.
    • Few state leaders have the tools and authority they need to demand accountability for high-quality, effective professional learning statewide. Few state education agencies gather consistent data on local professional learning practices. Responsibility to improve local professional learning largely rests with schools and districts, many of which lack sufficient resources and expertise to do so.

Strong state efforts  

Four states have undertaken strong efforts in this area—Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee—including the following.

  • implementing clear structures and routines involving multiple levels of leadership across divisions in the state education agency and including input from partners and educators, to regularly analyze data to inform the design, implementation and evaluation of state professional learning efforts
  • using comprehensive program evaluations that examine the impacts of professional learning on teacher and student outcomes, to understand and improve state initiatives
  • providing feedback to local leaders on their efforts through multiple channels
  • providing monitoring, support and improvement directives to schools and districts in need of improvement, as part of the interventions they undergo; otherwise, the responsibility to demand accountability and drive actions to improve local professional learning rests with schools and districts

Read more about the look-fors that SREB used to assess state efforts.

Recommendations to strengthen state leadership

Use of data   

  • State education agencies should embed comprehensive evaluation of their initiatives into regular practice by asking about:
    • the quality of the design, fidelity of implementation, educator access and perceptions of quality; and
    • whether the professional learning improved educator knowledge and practice, and improved student mastery of the standards.
  • With this kind of information, state leaders can better determine where and how to make improvements along the way, and they can confidently assess whether initiatives are worthy of funding, time and effort. 

Feedback and accountability

  • The efforts of five states to integrate professional learning, technical assistance and feedback provide models that other states can use—modified to fit local contexts—to foster a seamless cycle of collaboration to improve professional learning.
  • To increase shared accountability for effective professional learning, states should consider actions such as the following.
    • Increase feedback channels within the state education agency’s professional learning and technical assistance services, so the agency can gather more data and provide timely feedback to local leaders on their practice.
    • Require the inclusion of findings from robust implementation monitoring and rigorous program evaluations in state reporting structures, such as school and district improvement plans, funding applications and program reports.

State highlights

In Kentucky, the state education agency has a delivery unit that builds the agency’s capacity in project management, data analysis and data-driven decision making. The agency developed a research plan for each priority in its strategic plan, and the delivery unit monitors progress. Unit staff members participate in cross-functional teams as part of the agency’s overall strategic planning process. A statewide teacher advisory council also provides the commissioner with input on progress and needs. The agency has used various types of data to inform its work, including program evaluations that analyze the impact of professional development initiatives on teacher knowledge and practice, as well as student outcomes.

Recent evaluations have included a 2015 report on an external evaluation of Kentucky’s 2012-13 Literacy Design Collaborative and Mathematics Design Collaborative implementation and an internal evaluation of the agency’s implementation of the Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System. The agency provides direct, real-time feedback to local leaders on their efforts through its regional instructional specialists and as part of its work with district teams in the Leadership Networks initiative.

In Tennessee, the state education agency bases its leadership of professional learning on the priorities identified in its 2015 strategic plan. Interlocking teams meet regularly to analyze data and plan and monitor professional learning activities: the state commissioner of education’s executive leadership team of three deputy commissioners; the senior leadership team of assistant commissioners across the agency; and the academic leadership team of assistant commissioners, executive directors and Centers of Regional Excellence staff. Additionally, a professional development council of stakeholders advises the commissioner.

The agency regularly uses various types of data to inform its work, including program evaluations that analyze the impact of professional development initiatives on teacher knowledge and practice, as well as student outcomes. Recent evaluations have included a 2014 study by the Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation and Development of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission’s STEM Professional Development Program, an internal study of the agency’s 2012 math summer trainings and other evaluations the agency has commissioned of its summer trainings since 2013. The agency provides feedback on local professional learning efforts to leaders in schools and districts in need of improvement as part of the technical assistance provided to these leaders.

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West Virginia – Professional Learning

SREB researchers examined the efforts of state leaders in 2014-15 and 2015-16 to foster effective professional learning on states’ college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math, K-12.

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Virginia – Professional Learning

SREB researchers examined the efforts of state leaders in 2014-15 and 2015-16 to foster effective professional learning on states’ college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math, K-12.

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Tennessee – Professional Learning

SREB researchers examined the efforts of state leaders in 2014-15 and 2015-16 to foster effective professional learning on states’ college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math, K-12.

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South Carolina – Professional Learning

SREB researchers examined the efforts of state leaders in 2014-15 and 2015-16 to foster effective professional learning on states’ college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math, K-12.

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Oklahoma – Professional Learning

SREB researchers examined the efforts of state leaders in 2014-15 and 2015-16 to foster effective professional learning on states’ college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math, K-12.

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North Carolina – Professional Learning

SREB researchers examined the efforts of state leaders in 2014-15 and 2015-16 to foster effective professional learning on states’ college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math, K-12.

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Mississippi – Professional Learning

SREB researchers examined the efforts of state leaders in 2014-15 and 2015-16 to foster effective professional learning on states’ college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math, K-12.

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Maryland – Professional Learning

SREB researchers examined the efforts of state leaders in 2014-15 and 2015-16 to foster effective professional learning on states’ college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math, K-12.

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Louisiana – Professional Learning

SREB researchers examined the efforts of state leaders in 2014-15 and 2015-16 to foster effective professional learning on states’ college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math, K-12.

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Kentucky – Professional Learning

SREB researchers examined the efforts of state leaders in 2014-15 and 2015-16 to foster effective professional learning on states’ college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math, K-12.

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Georgia – Professional Learning

SREB researchers examined the efforts of state leaders in 2014-15 and 2015-16 to foster effective professional learning on states’ college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math, K-12.

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Florida – Professional Learning

SREB researchers examined the efforts of state leaders in 2014-15 and 2015-16 to foster effective professional learning on states’ college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math, K-12.

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Delaware – Professional Learning

SREB researchers examined the efforts of state leaders in 2014-15 and 2015-16 to foster effective professional learning on states’ college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math, K-12.

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Arkansas – Professional Learning

SREB researchers examined the efforts of state leaders in 2014-15 and 2015-16 to foster effective professional learning on states’ college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math, K-12.