Rhode Island: Measuring Contributions Support Professionals Make to Learning

Establishing specific goals helps students and professionals make progress

Teacher and her student sitting at a desk looking over a notebook

Teacher and student go through class notes together. Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education

Amy Manchester has worked as a speech language pathologist for 12 years. Her caseload at Richmond Elementary School in the Chariho Regional School District in Rhode Island includes students with autism, dyslexia, language disorders, and other disabilities.

Her job is to make sure her students can access the curriculum. On any given day, that could mean teaching a non-verbal student to use a speech device to ask questions and make comments during class. Or, it could mean teaching a student who is on the autism spectrum the rules of conversation and methods to interpret social cues and body language to help them participate in classroom discussions.

She knows the work she does affects her students’ learning. Until this year, however, her performance evaluation did not put a lot of emphasis on her effectiveness.

But, during school year 2013­-2014, Rhode Island piloted a process by which support professionals—library media specialists, school nurses, reading specialists, counselors, psychologists, social workers and language and speech pathologists—were evaluated based, in part, on whether their students achieved specific learning goals and outcomes.

In the past, for example, Manchester might have had a goal of helping students improve their ability to understand words as they were being spoken to them. But the amount of improvement did not affect her performance evaluation. Now, she has specific numerical targets (called student learning outcomes, or SLOs) for lowering the number of pronunciation errors a student makes and for increasing his ability to identify distinct sounds within a word. SLOs are long-term academic goals established for groups of students, which help them understand their progress and helps support professionals like Manchester understand what work still has to be done. Another of Manchester’s goals was to collaborate more with classroom teachers. “A lot of times it is easy to do our work in isolation and the collaboration piece is key [to student learning]”, she said.

Manchester and other support professionals also need to set specific targets for increasing access to student learning (called student outcome objectives, or SOOs) to measure their impact in a different way. Reducing truancy, for instance, is an SOO.

The formal title of the process is the Rhode Island Model Support Professionals Evaluation and Support System. It is an extension of the State’s redesigned teacher evaluation and support system, which puts greater emphasis on student learning and goal setting. Both systems were developed with support of the State’s Race to the Top grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

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Pennsylvania Trains Principals and Teachers in New Observation Method

Teachers are getting support they need to improve their practices and deepen students’ knowledge and skills

Marybeth Zlock poses with her second grade students at Corl Street Elementary School in State College, Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Marybeth Zlock

Marybeth Zlock and her second graders at Corl Street Elementary School in State College, Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Marybeth Zlock

James Ellis, the principal of White Deer Elementary School in New Columbia, Pennsylvania, likes the conversations he and other administrators in his district are having with teachers about what great instruction looks like.

These discussions occur after school leaders observe teachers in action and are designed to provide helpful feedback and guidance on what teachers can do to improve in their jobs, such as by better managing their classrooms or helping students make more progress. The observations are part of Pennsylvania’s new teacher evaluation system, which went into statewide use as a pilot for the first time this year. Under the old system, Ellis said he didn’t have the same deep discussions about what he saw or should have seen.

“In the past it wasn’t unheard of to put the observation [report] in the teachers’ mailboxes for them to sign, and we were done for the year,” Ellis said.

Now, he talks with the teacher before and after the observation and does a less formal, walk-thru or visit again before finalizing an evaluation. That second classroom visit can both reinforce what he saw during the formal observation and provide new insights. “Previously that wasn’t as important to me as the main observation,” said Ellis. “Now, I really try to check back,” he said.

Teachers with fewer than three years of experience are formally observed twice a year; more senior teachers only once. The classroom observations and how a teacher carries out other professional responsibilities count for half the evaluation. The other half is based on student growth data and other measures of learning.

“A Different Atmosphere”

One of the teachers Ellis observed this year was Erin Sheedy, a kindergarten and special education teacher at a neighboring school in the Milton Area School District, north of Harrisburg. Sheedy said she particularly liked the pre-and post-observation discussions she had with Ellis. Administrators like Ellis in the district conduct observations in schools besides their own.

“It’s a different atmosphere to have that kind of one-on-one attention for any teacher,” she said. “The principal used to be the man behind the door, the wizard behind the curtain. Now they’re much more visible, and it’s a conversation.”

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