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From Compliance to Commitment: How Five Districts are Approaching Learning-Centered Evaluation

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

What is learning-centered evaluation and is it happening in your district? Learning-centered evaluation is a major departure from traditional evaluation practice. In the past, observation and evaluation was sporadic, based on outdated standards, limited evidence, and minimal feedback. Traditional evaluation was done to, rather than with, educators. In contrast, learning-centered evaluation represents a professional learning system, with educator-developed goals, ongoing feedback, research-based standards, and coherent systems of support to help educators continuously improve. It embraces the following five principles:

  1. A context of trust encourages risk-taking and learning from mistakes;
  2. Use of a common model of effective practice centers conversations about teaching and informs professional learning within and outside the evaluation context;
  3. Educator-developed goals frame the evaluation process and are regularly referenced;
  4. Cycles of continuous improvement are guided by specific and timely feedback to drive practice; and
  5. Integration of evaluation practices with other school and district improvement strategies.

A team of researchers from the Wisconsin Evaluation Collaborative and the office of Socially Responsible Evaluation in Education conducted a two-year study with Wisconsin districts to learn about their growth-oriented teacher evaluation practices. Researchers visited several schools in each district multiple times over the period, talking with teachers, principals, coaches, and district leaders about their local Educator Effectiveness systems. The learning-centered evaluation report describes the study, its findings, and recommendations. The following findings from the districts highlight each of the 5 learning-centered principles:

During the initial years of piloting and implementation in the Wausau School District, leaders engaged evaluators and educators in comprehensive training to build a common understanding of the evaluation measures and formative evaluation uses. District and school leaders regularly communicated to keep everyone aware of the implementation process. District leaders also listened to feedback from teachers expressing that evaluation feedback needed improvement, so they invested in feedback training for school leaders. Through their initial approach and response to educator feedback, leaders tried to promote trust in the system and to encourage educators to take risks in goal setting for improvement without fear of failure.

In Cashton School District, the district leadership team also implemented the evaluation system as a way to promote educator growth. They embraced the common model of practice represented by the extensively studied Danielson Framework for Teaching (FfT), as a guidepost for district improvement. In addition, the district linked key initiatives, including the district’s approach to standards-based-grading, Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), and Professional Learning Community (PLC) protocols, to aspects of the FfT, which helps teachers find value in their practice and in the evaluation process.

Educator-developed goals and related feedback are central to how teachers and leaders engage in the Baraboo School District teacher evaluation process and help to align instructional goals across the district. District and school leaders provide educators with dedicated time to develop their goals and make available support from school-based coaches for math, literacy, advanced learner, and PBIS as well as grade or departmental peers. District coaches also provide valued support. Principals meet frequently with their peers and district leaders to review goal feedback and calibrate for a high standard of feedback quality.

To support continuous improvement, Franklin Public Schools created System Specialist positions. System Specialists learn coaching strategies and the Danielson Framework for Teaching. These teacher leaders then engage classroom teachers in content and pedagogy-focused cycles of improvement. Describing the Specialists, a district leader said "[they] provide job-embedded professional development that is intentional and focused on teacher development and growth, which in turn yields positive student outcomes."

Kettle Moraine School District’s educator effectiveness approach reinforces the district’s instructional delivery system, which emphasizes personalized learning for students. Representing integration, a district leader explained that, “along with our system of micro-credentials, through the PPG and SLOs (professional practice goals and student learning objectives), we are personalizing learning for teachers and aligning their efforts with the goals of the school and district.” Kettle Moraine also implemented an approach that relieves principals from some of the evaluation workload and provides teachers with content-alike evaluators by creating a Director of Learning role.

Although the study noted opportunities for improvement, these districts embraced educator evaluation as a key part of their professional learning system. Along with resources available from DPI, these district’s experiences can help others reflect on the question of whether they are using a learning-centered approach to evaluation.

Article Submission: Written by Steve Kimball and Jessica Arrigoni of the Wisconsin Center for Educational Research
Steve Kimball and Jessica Arrigoni are researchers at the Wisconsin Evaluation Collaborative within the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the UW-Madison. They have supported the WI DPI Educator Development and Support team since the initial design phase of the Educator Effectiveness System in 2011.