Tennessee Principals Receive Coaching on Observing Teachers and Providing Feedback

Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education

Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education.

Accurate observations pinpoint strengths and weaknesses, and specific feedback helps teachers improve instruction, leading to increases in student learning.

At the end of school year (SY) 2011–2012, the principal at Erin Elementary School in Houston County, Tennessee judged nearly 90 percent of the school’s teachers to be exceeding expectations based on observations of their classroom performances.

But, according to results of the State’s assessment system, their students weren’t doing nearly so well.

How could this be?

The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) discovered the mismatch at Erin and many others when it analyzed results from the first year schools used a new teacher evaluation system that includes multiple measures such as test scores, observations, student surveys and other elements to help identify teachers strengths and areas for improvement.

Many States have introduced such evaluation systems over the past several years, responding to strong evidence that teaching is the single biggest in-school influence on student learning. However, if principals cannot accurately discern differences in the performances they observe, they cannot provide teachers constructive feedback on how they can do more to increase student achievement.

After its analysis, the State identified schools with the biggest gaps between principals’ observations and student achievement. It then hired eight coaches over the next two years to work with the principals at 116 schools.

Improved Feedback, Improved Teaching, Improved Student Achievement

After the coaching, principals were able to give teachers better feedback, teachers’ performance improved and student learning accelerated, according to a State analysis. Luke Kohlmoos, the former director of evaluation at the TDOE, said observation scores changed immediately after coaching. But, he said, that was not the goal.

“The change is what happens after you score accurately,” Kohlmoos said.  “This is about feedback and development of teachers; it’s not necessarily about the number of teachers getting high observation scores.”

Kohlmoos said the coaching “was way more effective than anticipated” in terms of the improvements in teaching that resulted.

Student achievement across the schools that received coaching in the first year rose, on average, faster than the gains made statewide. The same thing happened during the second year of coaching at other schools in SY 2013-2014. “We are very optimistic that these gains are real,” Kohlmoos said.

But he said the State won’t know for sure until the results have been reviewed independently. He said the State is doing a formal evaluation to determine if the changes in student achievement were due to the coaching, resulted from other factors or occurred by chance.

Meanwhile, the State is continuing the coaching in SY 2014–2015, using a combination of State funds and foundation grants. For the current school year, in addition to working with schools with large disparities in ratings, coaches will work with principals’ supervisors to help them.

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Rural District Collaboration Increases Opportunities for Ohio Students and Teachers

State Superintendent Richard Ross stands with staff members at the front of a classroom. Meanwhile, four students sit at tables at the front of the classroom working on laptops.

State Superintendent Richard Ross visits a dual enrollment class at Maysville Local Schools in September 2014. Photo Credit: Battelle for Kids

More advanced classes, more professional learning available when small districts work together.

Like small school districts in rural areas across the United States, those in the Appalachia region of Ohio face particular challenges—teachers are harder to recruit and retain, professional learning opportunities are infrequent for the teachers who are there, and advanced classes are limited because there are too few students to justify offering them. Not surprisingly, perhaps, only 30 percent of those who graduate from this area of southeast Ohio go straight to college, less than half the national rate. The percentage of adults over the age of 25 with college degrees in the region is 12 percent, also less than half the national rate.

Believing that they could better address those issues if they worked together, 21 small school districts in the southeastern part of the State decided in the fall of 2009 to form the Ohio Appalachian Collaborative (OAC). The districts were small, with some having fewer than 500 students. Collectively, however, they had 34,000 students; only Columbus and Cleveland school districts had more.

The districts in the OAC have leveraged this partnership to attract more than $25 million in public and private grants from a variety of sources, including the State’s Race to the Top grant and Straight A Innovation Fund. That financial support made it possible to give teachers more opportunities for professional learning about formative instructional practices, the use of value-added data to adjust their instruction, college and career readiness planning, and change leadership. It also connected them with peers in other districts who they can learn from, and helped increase the number of advanced classes offered across the collaborative.

“The glue that brought the districts together was the goal of enhancing opportunities for kids in rural communities,” said Brad Mitchell, who facilitates the collaborative on behalf of Battelle for Kids, a Columbus, Ohio-based not-for-profit that works with school districts on instructional improvement through the use of data.

Those efforts are paying off: the graduation rate among the districts increased from 85 percent in 2010 to 92 percent in 2012, more students are earning college credits while still in high school, more students are taking the ACT college entrance examination, and college enrollment is up.

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Ohio Teachers Leading Transition to New Standards

Elizabeth Johnson (standing), a teacher at Ironton High School and a member of the Ohio Network of Regional Leaders for mathematics, reports to her District Leadership Team on students’ progress toward mastering Ohio’s New Learning Standards for mathematics. To her right is Bill Dressel, the Curriculum and Federal Programs Director of the Ironton City Schools. She is looking over the shoulder of Lee Anne Mullens, from the high school’s English Department. On her left around the table are Joe Rowe, principal; Travis Kleinman, high school guidance counselor; and Nancy Sutton, intervention specialist. Photo Credit: Elizabeth Johnson

Elizabeth Johnson (standing), a teacher at Ironton High School and a member of the Ohio Network of Regional Leaders, reports to her District Leadership Team on students’ progress toward mastering Ohio’s New Learning Standards for mathematics. To her right is Bill Dressel, Curriculum and Federal Programs Director of the Ironton City Schools. She is looking over the shoulder of Lee Anne Mullens, from the high school’s English Department. On her left around the table are Joe Rowe, principal; Travis Kleinman, high school guidance counselor; and Nancy Sutton, intervention specialist. Photo Credit: Elizabeth Johnson.

Teachers are advising the State, working with colleagues, and designing a model curriculum aligned with college- and career-ready standards.

Elizabeth Johnson has taught mathematics for 10 years in Ironton, Ohio, a town of about 11,000 people along the Ohio River. She also serves on the teacher leadership team at Ironton High School, as well as the building and district leadership teams.

Given all of her experiences as a leader, it wasn’t surprising that she also was one of about 50 educators who the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) asked in 2013 to join the State’s Network of Regional Leaders (NRL) for mathematics. The mathematics network is one of five in the State that were convened by the ODE to help lead teachers and school districts through the transition to new, more rigorous college- and career-ready standards and new assessments to go along with them.

Like other States, Ohio is using part of its grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top program to support the writing of model curricula for mathematics and English language arts aligned with those standards, develop formative assessments, train teachers and redesign teacher evaluation and feedback systems.

In doing so, the State has made it a priority to ensure that frontline educators such as Johnson—teachers, coaches, mentors and curriculum developers—are taking the lead in these activities. They advise the State on how its policies are affecting their schools and classrooms and also help their colleagues understand and adjust to the changes that lie ahead of them.

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Tools for State and District Leaders: Personalized Learning Case Studies

Two classes of students work on laptops throughout a large iPrep mathematics classroom. Two teachers  walk around the room engaging students as they work on their laptops.

Middle school students work at their own pace in iPrep mathematics classrooms in Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Photo Credit: Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

Promising practices and lessons learned from four Race to the Top – District grantees released.

The traditional model of education has been based on a teacher delivering a fixed curriculum at a fixed pace. Educators across the country have increasingly been adopting a personalized learning approach that will prepare students to succeed in a 21st century, globally competitive society. Through this approach, educators can customize lessons based on the pace and learning style of each student and can actively engage the student by centering learning on student interests, progress, and mastery.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) supports school districts’ efforts to personalize and enhance student learning through Race to the Top – District (RTT-D) grants. The RTT-D program supports bold, locally directed improvements in learning and teaching that will directly improve student achievement. RTT-D districts serve as innovation laboratories, advancing new ways to educate students. OII recently released a report that highlights some of these districts’ initial experiences, which is intended to serve as a resource for school leaders pursuing a path to personalizing student learning.

Personalized Learning in Progress: Case Studies of Four Race to the Top-District Grantees’ Early Implementation shares the experiences of four diverse school districts as they adopt personalized learning approaches. The four districts — Iredell-Statesville Schools (N.C.), Miami-Dade County Public Schools (Fla.), New Haven Unified School District (Calif.), and Metropolitan School District of Warren Township (Ind.) — represent a range of geographies, student populations, academic content areas, and approaches to personalized learning.

Each district developed its own strategy catered to its students’ unique needs. For example, Miami-Dade County Public Schools focused its personalized learning efforts on a single subject area with a demonstrated need for reform — middle school mathematics. The district expanded their iPrep Academy concept that had been in operation in one high school since 2010. With the RTT-D support, iPrep Math learning centers were created at each of the district’s 49 middle schools starting in the 2013-2014 school year. This involved transforming the physical classroom environments and changing teaching methods to better support personalized learning. The new centers and personalized learning approach, for instance, fostered settings in which three teachers could work collaboratively with a class of 60 students at the same time.

Read more about the case studies and the four school districts through this post on the OII home page. Or click here to read and download Personalized Learning in Progress: Case Studies of Four Race to the Top-District Grantees’ Early Implementation.

Florida County Uses Technology to Engage Students and Innovate in the Classroom

Three students sit at a table together during a class lesson. One of the students holds an IPad, and all three students are looking at the device to engage in the lesson.

Citrus Spring Middle School students work with their devices as part of Citrus County School District’s technology initiative. Photo Credit: Dan Koch.

States and districts are investing in technology to support students’ progress towards college and career readiness.

Citrus County School District in rural central Florida is among a growing number of school districts across the country giving students opportunities to take control of their own learning, collaborate with others, and explore entire digital libraries of content by providing them with iPads or laptops. These “one-to-one” initiatives allow teachers to customize students’ lessons to their needs, blend outside of school and in-class learning, and monitor students’ progress in real time.

Citrus County is earning high marks from State officials, students, and teachers for ensuring that technology is actually transforming teaching and learning. In school year (SY) 2011-2012 the district used a Race to the Top grant to put high-speed wireless Internet in all of its schools.  The iPads came a year later, but only for students in grade seven in one school.  The following year the pilot was expanded to various grades and schools. Through the pilot, school leaders and educators gained insight on how to use the technology to improve instruction, ways in which teachers can benefit from related professional development, and ways to encourage responsible use of the iPads, such as with a terms-of-use agreement.

After the initial investment, Citrus County has used local funds to provide iPads for about 30 percent of its students; the district plans to expand the program to all 15,000 students by 2018 using local funds. As the program grew, administrators heard from teachers about the kind of professional development they wanted, and tried to meet those needs with targeted training and time.

“We didn’t want these to simply be used for things like note taking or as a place to go for electronic worksheets,” said Kathy Androski, a media specialist at Citrus Springs Middle School who coaches her fellow teachers on how to use the technology. “We wanted the students using technology to really ratchet up their learning experience.”  Citrus County educators say that might mean students going outdoors for a science lesson and using the iPad’s camera, video camera, or audio recorder to document their observations.  Then, they might come inside and use the same iPad to create a PowerPoint or a spreadsheet, or make a movie about what they learned and observed.

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Georgia Innovation Fund Projects Open Students’ Minds to What is Possible

Sixth grade students conduct a water testing experiment in a Soil, Water Quality, and Weather course. This class serves as an introduction to environmental studies through STEM. While this class is designed to allow exploration in STEM, the primary focus of student learning coincides with sixth grade curriculum in Earth Science with an emphasis on weather, soil/water quality. Photo Credit: Rockdale STEM Academy

Sixth grade students conduct a water testing experiment in a Soil, Water Quality, and Weather course. This class serves as an introduction to environmental studies through STEM. While this class is designed to allow exploration in STEM, the primary focus of student learning coincides with sixth grade curriculum in Earth Science with an emphasis on weather, soil/water quality. Photo Credit: Rockdale STEM Academy

Many of the projects focus on boosting students’ interest in careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Last year at Rockdale 21st Century Academy of Environmental Studies, eighth grader Yasin learned about magnetism, electricity and circuits in his Energy and Sustainable Technology course. His classmates, Imani and Max, figured out how to create solar power through wind turbines and solar panels. These hands-on learning experiences are part of a rigorous sequence of courses (others include biomedical engineering, meteorology and forensics) at Rockdale, one of only two STEM-focused middle school programs in Georgia.

The goal of the middle school, located east of Atlanta in Rockdale County, is to encourage students to enter a rigorous STEM-focused high school and ultimately go into science-based careers. That is just what Max, Yasin and Imani want to do: Max, a medical professional; Yasin, an engineer; and Imani, a pediatric neurosurgeon.

The students spoke about their school and their plans in a video that describes the academy’s program and its founding.

The academy is one of 23 projects launched or expanded since 2011 with financial support from Georgia’s Innovation Fund, which was in turn underwritten by the State’s Federal Race to the Top grant. Projects include the opening of four new public charter schools with a STEM focus, the development of new STEM curricula, the recruitment of STEM educators to teach in rural areas and new approaches to teacher and principal preparation and support. While not all of the projects were STEM-focused, all of them were designed to increase college and career readiness.

It is still too early to fully assess the impact of the programs, but initial indicators are positive. A survey of 928 students who participated in innovation fund projects found significant increases in self-management skills and motivation to pursue STEM-related careers. Some of the programs are reporting notable gains in on-time graduation rates and the number of college credits earned by participants.

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High-Quality and Easy-to-Use Resources Draw Educators from Around the Nation to EngageNY

Through technology, more teachers have the tools and resources they need to help them prepare more students to succeed in college and careers.

Mathematics coach Lori MacDonald has spent a lot of time getting to know the material available on EngageNY, a comprehensive website for New York State’s educators, parents, and other interested stakeholders run by the New York State Education Department. The thing is, MacDonald lives and works in Berkeley, California, 2,922 miles away from Albany, New York’s capital.

“In our district, we are using exactly what schools are using in New York, and we’re using it for free,” MacDonald said. “A lot of what we need is on EngageNY.”

MacDonald is not alone in looking to the New York website for resources she can use to support the kindergarten through fifth grade teachers in her district. Across the country, educators and school leaders are turning to EngageNY as a source for comprehensive classroom materials aligned to new college- and career-ready standards adopted by most States. The website also is home to both free high-quality professional development resources, such as a library of instructional videos for teachers, and practical tools for parents including suggestions for educational activities they can do with their children.

This graphic information related to visits to the EngageNY website. The text of the graphic includes the following.  From launching in August 2011 through October 12, 2014, EngageNY.org had: Total visits: 15,722,855 Total unique visits: 6,692,597 Total page views: 89,794,493 Average weekly visits: 26,000 Average weekly unique visitors: 22,000 Average weekly page views: 142,000

New York State launched the site in 2011 with funding from Race to the Top, as well as other sources. Since then, the site has become a national resource and has attracted more than 6 million unique visitors from every State in the nation, averaging 22,000 each week. Not surprisingly, after New York, the State that had generated the most visitors as of August 2014 was California. Louisiana, which ranks 25th in population, generated the third highest number of visits, followed by Illinois, Washington and Arizona.

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New Jersey Teachers Lead the Way in Expecting More from Students

Teacher Laura Sandy is at the front of her room learning over a table of three male students who are working on a hands-on geometry project. Two other students work in the background, and a Smart Board at the front of the room presents the problem for the students to solve.

Teacher Laura Sandy working with her sixth grade students at West Deptford Middle School. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Laura Sandy.

Teachers helped develop model curriculum aligned to college- and career-ready standards.

When beginning a lesson on area and perimeter earlier this year with her students, third-grade teacher Michele Elliott turned to New Jersey’s model curriculum for guidance on how to teach what students should know and be able to do under new, more-rigorous college- and career-ready standards. Then she set about having some fun.

Elliott, who teaches at Green-Fields Elementary School in West Deptford, New Jersey, and her students, applied masking tape to the tiled floor of their classroom to make rectangles of various sizes. The children then used the rectangles as the starting point for discussions about perimeter and its relationship to area.

This is just one example of how New Jersey teachers are using the State’s model curriculum, which the State’s teachers helped develop.

“The model curriculum guides you by expanding on the standards, but you have a lot of freedom with it in how you teach,” Elliott said. “It gives you a goal, but how you get there is based on whatever you think will work best for your students.”

The State’s Race to the Top grant helped support the development of the model curriculum, which covers English language arts and mathematics. The image is a quote box with text, it quotes teacher Michele Elliott and reads: "The model curriculum guides you by expanding on the standards, but you have a lot of freedom with it in how you teach. It gives you a goal, but how you get there is based on whatever you think will work best or your students." An estimated 300 teachers volunteered to work with the State to create the model curriculum in 2012.

“They were very excited about putting something together that was coherent and made sense, that reflected what they wanted good instruction to look like,” said Meghan Snow, who helped lead the effort in mathematics for the New Jersey Department of Education.

Elliott’s district, which is just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, opted to use the mathematics model curriculum in all five of its schools because of its high quality.

New Jersey’s 75 Priority Schools, which have student outcomes that put them in the bottom five percent of the schools in the State, are required by the State to use the curricula unless they can show they have other alternatives that are also aligned to the new standards.

The State’s Regional Achievement Centers provide teachers at Priority Schools with coaching and professional development opportunities. The Priority Schools also benefit from a technology system provided to them by the State that allows teachers to view and analyze student performance data in real time throughout the school year using formative assessments embedded in the model curriculum.

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Colorado Teachers Helping Build State’s Educator Effectiveness System

System focuses on continuous improvement to better prepare students for success in college and careers.

Lisa Rossi is a fifth grade teacher at Bethke Elementary in the Poudre School District in Fort Collins, Colorado. She has taught elementary school in the same district for 25 years and, for 20 of those years, has served as a mentor for her colleagues, helping them hone their craft.

This image is a “Race to the Top Snapshot” titled “Colorado State Model Evaluation System.” The subtitle is “Annual Performance Evaluation for Teachers.” The graphic is divided into two sections. The first section provides an overview of the model. The section shows that the model is divided in half. 50 percent of teachers’ evaluations are based on Statewide Quality Standards for professional practice. Components of the Statewide Quality Standards are content knowledge, classroom environment, instruction, reflection and leadership. The other 50 percent of teachers evaluations is based on multiple measures of student growth including end-of-course exams, State assessment (CMAS) results, teacher developed measures and benchmark assessments. Based on the teacher evaluations, teachers receive one of four effectiveness ratings: (1) ineffective, (2) partially effective, (3) effective, and (4) highly effective. The second section is about the observations and feedback, and there are four statements about the observations and feedback. First, probationary teachers receive at least two documented observations per year. Second, beyond the requirement of two observations per year, districts determine the frequency and scope of observations and feedback. Third, evaluations focus on meaningful feedback and continuous professional growth. Finally, data supplies critical information but human judgment is also important to ensure the process is fair and accurate.

The Colorado State Model Evaluation System is used to provide annual performance evaluations for teachers.

Three years ago, as a member of Bethke’s School Improvement Team, she took on a larger challenge: leading an effort to help her school district develop a new system for evaluating and supporting teachers. Her work has focused on implementing a framework for teaching and learning that provides a shared definition of what it means to be an effective teacher as well as the tools to measure this. The framework, which was developed by the Center for Educational Leadership at the University of Washington, is being used to help all teachers in the district analyze and improve their practices. Among the framework’s elements are student engagement, classroom culture and assessing student learning. “We all have areas we’re really strong in and areas we need to grow in,” Rossi said. “Now, we can be much more specific about what our growth areas are.”

Hundreds of teachers like Rossi across Colorado have been similarly engaged, working with their local districts on the details of new evaluation and support systems designed to give teachers better feedback on how to help prepare their students for success in college and careers. Thousands more have participated in surveys, feedback sessions and focus groups, or served on a statewide advisory council.  By listening closely to feedback and proactively enlisting key stakeholders in the design process, Colorado has created an evaluation system by educators for educators.

A 2010 State law, Senate Bill 10-191, required districts to develop new systems for strengthening the connection between teachers’ performance and student learning. Like other States, Colorado used part of its Federal Race to the Top grant to develop and implement its new system and conduct extensive stakeholder outreach.

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