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August 19, 2016

Too many tests in your district? You may need Assessment 101

2016-08-18_16-45-43Across the country, educators, parents, and students are expressing concerns about the amount of tests being administered in schools. To address this, we partnered with the education non-profit, Achieve, to support school board members and their districts in moving toward more coherent and streamlined assessment systems.

Recognizing the critical role school boards play in influencing systemic changes at the local level, CPE co-authored a training module for school boards based on Achieve’s student assessment inventory tool.

While the suite of resources is currently available for free here and here, CPE will continue its involvement by facilitating in-person and online training of the Assessment 101 process to participating school districts in three partner states, with the hope that these will lead to measurable reductions in testing there and in other districts who learn from and adopt this approach.

September 10, 2013

New CPE report examines what’s wrong with current teacher PD offerings and how to fix it

CPE_AAG_inlineGraphic_HalfwidthMy first introduction to professional development as a young teacher was underwhelming to say the least.  When I first entered the profession, I was excited to meet other teachers and get down to the business of having lengthy, intellectual conversations about how to best teach our subjects.  Surely, we would debate which concepts to teach, which texts to use, and how we could get our students active and intellectually engaged.

Much to my dismay, in my first years of teaching, there was not one day carved into the expansive school year where I was able to meet with fellow teachers to really get down to the nitty-gritty questions of teaching.  What I did experience, though, was time set aside for “professional development” that did little to inform or improve my own teaching.

For example, when I started my first year of teaching, I sat through an entire day’s all-staff session devoted to the book Who Moved My Cheese?  The book chronicled how different mice responded to the cheese in their maze being moved somewhere else.  As valuable planning time before the first day of school ticked away, the entire staff analyzed which mouse they were in the book.  While I did learn that my department head was a “Sniff,” and another new teacher was a “Scurry,” I certainly didn’t learn anything that made me a better teacher.

Unfortunately, this session was just a taste of the prevalent realities of professional development in American schools, and as time went by, I had to realize that my job was not a place where I would learn to be a better teacher—I had to seek that out myself. I would have conversations after school with fellow teachers about teaching, or pay out of my own pocket to attend “real” professional development sessions that addressed real concerns of teaching my content, but these were isolated experiences, and they didn’t occur in a regular fashion as part of my work.

In all my years of teaching, I can’t think of one professional development experience sponsored by my school or school district that really addressed core issues of my instruction.  I’d like to think that my own experiences are an anomaly in a sea of schools with profound, helpful professional development, but unfortunately, this isn’t true … as you will learn in my report and the latest edition to the CPE library, Teaching the Teachers: Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability.

-Allison Gulamhussein

March 25, 2013

Is professional development a giant waste of time and money?

Recently, Frederick Hess declared in his blog that professional development is an easy but ineffectual answer to the problems in American education.  To some degree, I agree.

In my time teaching, I have sat through some of the most ridiculous professional development sessions.  In one session, we were divided into groups and received a bag of items, which we then had to use in a creative story.  Not sure what the point of this exercise was?  Yup, me either.  I’ve sat through a session on nutrition and calorie counting, a session on the book, Who Moved My Cheese, and even a session on personality profiles, including a forty-five minute analysis of the personality of my principal.  It’s sad, but true that each teacher carries his or her own collection of professional development horror stories, and unfortunately, they make up the majority of a teacher’s professional learning.  While 90% of American teachers report having participated in professional development, the majority of these teachers also report that most of their professional development isn’t useful.

Research hasn’t been much kinder to professional development.  The majority of professional development sessions are generic, one day workshops, an approach that has been shown , time and time again, to have virtually no impact on a teacher’s practice.  Such findings have led Hess to declare that professional development is often an expensive, ineffective choice in school improvement.

However, while Hess is absolutely right that most professional development is ineffectual, it’s not true that all professional development is ineffectual.  Professional development that moves beyond the prevalent one-day workshop model into support of a teacher’s learning as he or she implements new skills and practices into the classroom has been found to change what teachers are doing.  In fact, in a study of teacher’s professional learning, a researcher found that when participants were only given a description of a new skill, 10% could transfer the skill.  When the skill was modeled, 2-3% more could perform the skill. With practice in a professional development environment, 2-3% more could transfer the skill.  However, when teachers were coached as they implemented the new skill into their actual classroom, up to 95% transferred the new skill into their practice.  This is because new skills are not easily transferred into practice.  Think about this in the context of sports.  A coach may teach the concept of blocking, even modeling it to players, and then having them practice blocking in the artificial setting of practice.  However, when the new skill is brought out onto the field and all the other parts of one’s practice have to adjust to the new skill, the transfer is messy.  Several have called this the “implementation dip” of practice where the first integration of a new skill into existing practice is often awkward, requiring several more practices before the skill is mastered.  Because this period is awkward, and comes with a high probability of frustration, support during the implementation stage is critical to ensure one continues and doesn’t give up.

These findings suggest not that professional learning won’t change a teacher’s practice, but that changing a teacher’s practice requires getting into the nitty gritty of teaching—implementation in one’s actual classroom.  In the past decade, several innovations in professional development have moved beyond the prevalent, ineffective workshop model to support teachers during implementation, such as: instructional coaching, literacy coaching, cognitive coaching, and professional learning communities.  While these innovations are new, and unfortunately, not widespread, they have a research base which suggests they change the practice of teachers.

In fact, a study that Hess cites in his own blog as the “most authoritative analysis to date” of professional development doesn’t find that professional development is wholly ineffective; it finds that professional development that is more extensive than the one day workshop (anywhere from thirty to one hundred hours) is correlated not only with teacher change, but with improvements in student achievement.

These studies should tell us that the answer isn’t just to throw away professional development as a tool in school improvement.  Instead, the answer lies in reshaping professional development to reflect what research tells us about how teachers learn and grow, findings that show professional growth takes time and requires support as teachers aim to implement a new skill in their classroom.

Hess’ arguments are found in the new book, Cage-Busting Leadership.  However, while I agree that school leaders should “bust the cage,” I think that school leaders who are bold enough to not just throw away professional development, but to replace it with effective models are the real cage busting leaders.

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