Article: Utah’s Effectiveness Project for Quality Education
Utah’s Effectiveness Project for Quality Education: Making a Difference in Leader Preparation, Mentoring Programs, and Performance Assessment
by Kerrie Naylor, Ph.D., Utah State Office of Education, Department of Teaching and Learning
The quality of an organization, system, or institution depends on its people. This simple statement identifies just one of the issues that politicians, researchers, leaders, and practitioners are currently focusing on as they continue to debate, challenge, and redefine our American school system.
Those of us in the trenches of practicing, executing, and implementing education everyday already know that quality matters. I recall when I was working on my administrative license I asked a friend who was already a practicing elementary principal what she felt was the most important aspect of being a principal. She did not even hesitate; “Choosing and hiring the right people; quality teachers for the students,” was her reply. Choosing quality individuals to be the teachers and administrators in our schools is a top priority and one of the main aspects of reformer focus as we continue to work through issues relating to the improvement of our education system.
So what does quality mean? How do we recognize it? How do we measure it? How do we affect it? How do we maintain and sustain it? And, most importantly, what is the focus of the quality? Is it quality of instruction, quality of assessments, quality of the common core? Is it about the quality of the teachers, administrators, or is it about the quality of the entire system? All of this can make your head swim. At some point, it is necessary to step back and start at a point where we can really do something. But change is hard. Sometimes people argue for change just for change sake. When that happens, change is often thrust on educators through policy that has been implemented because lawmakers have legislated new trends, fads or ideas. Some of these may have merit; others may not. The reality is that change is often mandated because the education system has been known to be slow to change on its own, even when we know what needs to be done. I believe that we can affect change if we continue to be involved, informed, and inclusive. We can work together, be open and examine possibilities. We can seek to understand, have a dialogue, be open to new ideas, and learn from each other. We can find ways to make changes by being on the inside of the profession and working together both internally and externally.
So where do we start? What are the strategic efforts currently in operation that will make a difference in our profession, and how will these efforts help us move ahead before decisions are done to us by those that really want a quick fix?
In Utah, the State Office of Education has put forward a project initiative aimed at improving teacher and administrator effectiveness based on a statewide assessment framework. I affectionately call it the “effectiveness project for quality education.” The premise of the project recognizes that improving instructional quality in the schools must focus on 1) improving preparation programs for teachers and principals, 2) recruiting quality teachers and principals to the profession, 3) retaining, recognizing, promoting, and rewarding the most effective teachers and principals, and 4) providing appropriate professional development for teachers and administrators at all stages of the career continuum.
The project premise sounds pretty familiar, but it is not about keeping the status quo. It is not about doing the same thing in just a different order; nor is it about tweaking the system hoping for that quick fix that so many politicians desire. The project is not about defending what we already do well, nor is it about making excuses stating that we need more resources to make progress. Instead the project aims to 1) provide clear approaches to measuring student growth connected to instructional effectiveness; 2) design and implement rigorous, transparent, and fair evaluation systems for teachers and principals; 3) provide annual evaluations with timely and constructive feedback and provide data on student growth; and to use evaluations to make decisions regarding induction, mentoring, professional development, compensation, retention, promotion, and licensure. As you can see, this is no small project. It requires a major commitment from the Utah State Board of Education and state administration to see it through within a three to five year timeframe. And, it requires district leaders to contribute their expertise and time to the project.
The project is laid out in three phases. The first phase focuses on the development of teacher and administrator standards. Standards are important because they provide the benchmark for quality. Two work groups have been created to develop these standards. Utah teacher standards already exist (Utah Professional Teacher Standards and Continuum of Teacher Development, USOE, 2006) and will most likely be revised and updated. This document has been used statewide and is considered a viable, credible, and exceptional working document from which to start making revisions. National organizations such as the Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC), an affiliate of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) have also been working on developing standards for teacher quality. These standards (2010) are being reviewed and commented on nationally by influential leaders in organizations and associations such as NAESP, NASSP, and NSDC. The state’s teacher standards work group, made up of teachers, administrators, teacher preparation professors, association representatives, state office administrators, teacher specialists, and district specialists, will also be reviewing these standards as they prepare new teacher standards for Utah.
The work group developing the standards for educational leadership is fortunate to have a well-respected document that outlines standards for educational leadership created by the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) to help with its work. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards working with the National Policy Board for Educational Administration collaborated with CCSSO to publish the Educational Leadership Policy Standards: ISLLC 2008. This publication has been approved by national and state agencies and provides the foundation for “all states to prepare, train, and evaluate school leaders” (June, 2008). The Utah educational leadership standards work group plans to use this document to discuss what standards Utah will approve as it moves forward with aligning administrator preparation programs, performance evaluation, and recommendations for mentoring programs for school leaders. The challenge will be to discuss the appropriateness and compatibility of these nationally recognized standards with Utah’s values and decide whether to adopt them in full, modify them, or to create our own standards based on the work we do in Utah. The work group is made up of district administrators, principals, state office administrators and specialists, association representatives, parents, and professors associated with administrative preparation programs and administrative practice. Both work groups, teachers and educational leaders, will be responsible to share and discuss the development of the standards in district focus groups, region meetings, and organizational meetings to gather input and build stakeholder support before they are recommended to the State Board for approval and adoption.
Following the adoption of the teacher and administrator standards by the State Board of Education, the second phase of the project includes the development of indicators of quality instruction and indicators for quality instructional leadership. Once these are developed, then work will begin on a framework for statewide performance assessment instruments for teachers and administrators. The framework will be built around the adopted standards with indicators of performance expectations operationalized to assess quality of work. In addition, tools will be available to the local school districts to assist them in creating, adapting, and/or adopting their district’s performance evaluation systems. You can see that the development of standards clearly affects Utah’s college and university pre-service preparation programs, as well as the evaluation of the practitioner’s performance once they are working in local school districts.
The third phase of the project is to create a continuum of practice for professional educators (for both teachers and administrators) in Utah. Such a continuum requires all stakeholders to be involved in the discussion of 1) how teachers and administrators learn about the work (preparation programs), 2) what they should be doing to perform the work (standards and indicators of quality for performance assessment), 3) how they grow, advance, and excel in their work (career continuum for promotion and advancement), and 4) how they can improve, learn new skills, and continue to be motivated in their work (licensure, induction, professional development, mentoring, and reward programs). The work of the Multi-State Consortium (2010) is available to assist Utah in this phase of the work. In addition, the highly successful programs that Utah has already in place (i.e. the EYE program, the ARL licensure opportunities, CACTUS, On-Track, etc.) will help this project complete its work without undoing what is already considered quality work.
The vision of the Utah’s Effectiveness Project for Quality Education is indicative of the forward thinking, hard working, quality educators we have in this state. The forty-plus educators who are currently members of the two work groups for teacher and administrator standards are an example of this quality. As the public masses argue, challenge, legislate, persuade, insist and resist changes to our American institution of education, Utah educators will be quietly and consistently moving ahead with what it knows to be important and right: using research and proven practices (evidenced-based) to improve our schools for the sake of the students. That means, of course, enhancing the effectiveness and quality of the individuals working in the system.
Kerrie Naylor is Education Specialist, Teaching and Learning in Leadership Preparation and Effectiveness with the Utah State Office of Education. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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