Action #1: Evaluate state professional learning initiatives comprehensively.
State education agencies (SEAs) typically evaluate the professional learning they offer by collecting data such as the number of educators trained, participant perceptions of quality of the training sessions and participant self-reports of improved skills. By contrast, comprehensive evaluations examine data about a range of key aspects of the professional learning process from initial planning to ultimate outcomes. Research questions to pursue include the following.
Design: Was the professional learning designed appropriately to meet identified needs and meet the expectations established by the statewide standards for professional learning?
Implementation: detailed information about the extent to which the activities are being implemented at a high level of quality and with fidelity to the design.
Reach and participation: Did everyone who the learning was intended for have access to it and attend?
Perceptions: Did participants find the learning experiences meaningful and worthwhile?
Short-term/initial outcomes: Did the professional learning produce the desired changes in educator knowledge and practice?
Long-term/ultimate outcomes: Did the professional learning result in improved student performance in the target area?
Addressing this full range of questions can give state leaders a comprehensive understanding of the professional learning process; it can help them pinpoint which key aspects of it need improvement; and it can help them make decisions with confidence about the effectiveness of efforts so that money, time and effort can be spent on things that work.
Action #2: Support comprehensive evaluation of professional learning at the local level.
Provide local leaders with robust guidance and tools that they can access on-demand to increase their own capacity to design and conduct comprehensive evaluations of professional learning at the school and LEA levels. Providing these guidance and tools are made available on demand to practitioners statewide not only makes this work less burdensome for leaders in any one location but also fosters greater consistency and quality across schools and districts.
Provide integrated professional learning and technical assistance to enhance local knowledge, skills and capacity to design and conduct evaluation of local professional learning. Professional learning can help local leaders increase their knowledge about evaluation. Technical assistance — regular, ongoing collaboration, coaching, feedback and other kinds of implementation support — provided in ways thoughtfully linked to professional learning, can help local leaders apply their new knowledge in practice. Engaging in professional learning and technical assistance can also help the SEA better understand local practice and thereby better meet the needs of local leaders, teachers and students. This can include work with leaders and networks of teams at the district level and at the school level for schools in most need of improvement. This might be provided by the SEA itself or in coordination with partner organizations such as regional education service agencies (RESAs).
Action #3: Increase the shared accountability for excellence in professional learning between state and local leaders.
Provide local leaders with more feedback on their efforts. For example, increase the communication channels within the SEA’s professional learning programs and technical assistance services, or collaborate with partners such as RESAs, to engage local leaders in timely, ongoing conversations about their efforts and ways to improve them. For example, the SEA or RESAs could review and provide written feedback LEA and school plans and reports. It can also include dialogue with local leaders to reflect on local practice and data, provide feedback on that practice and data, and plan for improvement. Information the SEA gleans about local practices and needs through these feedback activities can help the SEA continually refine its programs and services to meet local needs.
Establish stronger expectations for local leaders to rigorously evaluate the professional learning they offer and to use evaluation findings for continuous improvement. This could include requirements that programs that include professional learning on state college- and career-readiness standards as a major component, conduct evaluations of that professional learning that include systematic implementation monitoring and rigorous examination of educator- and student- level outcomes. Existing planning and reporting structures, such as school and LEA Title I improvement plans, funding applications and other types of program documentation regularly developed and submitted to the SEA provide opportunities for increasing focus on and communication about this work.