Recent efforts by states to make their educator accountability systems more rigorous represent a “seismic shift rarely seen in education,” according to the National Council on Teacher Quality. Northwest states are among those now requiring districts to incorporate multiple measures of effectiveness in their educator support systems. As a result, the Northwest Comprehensive Center (NWCC) has been called on to provide technical assistance and training to state education agencies in Alaska, Idaho, and Oregon that are working to put systems in place.
Dr. Hella Bel Hadj Amor, who leads NWCC’s educator effectiveness work, says that, “Every state is at a different place in terms of the progress they have made and the measures they’re including in their educator support systems. And, because the region comprises local-control states, there is large variance within each state about how districts are approaching this.”
One common measure of teacher and principal performance that is gaining traction throughout the Northwest is student learning objectives (SLOs)—academic goals educators set for each course or school that measure their progress in increasing student learning. This fall, NWCC hosted a training by the Center on Great Teachers & Leaders (GTL) to help SEAs support districts that are considering—or implementing—SLOs. Bel Hadj Amor presented information about SLOs at the 2013 Alaska Fall Principals Conference, and will present at a training of administrators from 10 Idaho districts that are participating in the state’s pilot program.
Tying educator effectiveness systems to SLOs has its challenges. First, practitioners are concerned about fairness (e.g., being evaluated on student growth when variables such as chronic student absences and over-crowded classrooms are out of their control). Second, it’s time consuming and difficult to train all educators to set ambitious but achievable goals, use data to assess whether goals are met, identify appropriate supports, and adjust instruction accordingly. To help address these issues, the NWCC is providing high-quality resources so that SEAs can support districts with different characteristics across their states.
Bel Hadj Amor says that limited early research shows some promising correlations between educators who have successfully implemented SLOs and increased student learning. “Setting goals and teaching accordingly is something teachers already do,” she points out.
It’s not about introducing one more thing to add to their plate. It’s about involving educators in designing a fair system to describe the work, assess and leverage successes, and provide resources and support to all educators in a district.