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Siobhan Cooney on Effectively Evaluating Teacher Professional Development

Greetings! I’m Siobhan Cooney and I conduct program evaluations and applied research for the College Board. Today I’d like to share with you some things I’ve learned about evaluating professional development (PD) programs for teachers.

Teacher PD is currently a critical component of many education reform efforts, demanding a substantial investment of public dollars. This investment naturally leads to questions from stakeholders about whether the program works, for whom, in what context(s), and with what duration and intensity.

Lessons Learned:

  • In the past, teachers’ satisfaction with the PD and their perceptions of personal and student benefits were the main focus of PD evaluations. In recent years, the field has seen more experimental and quasi-experimental research on teacher and student outcomes.

Hot Tips:

  • Many current PD programs are funded with the explicit expectation that they will positively affect student learning. Effectively evaluating a teacher PD program requires a thorough understanding of the myriad of factors influencing teachers’ instructional practices and students’ eventual outcomes; the best evaluations take these factors into consideration.
  • Teachers can be a “hard to reach” population. They cannot always be counted on to take a survey, participate in a phone interview, or sign a consent form. Know your population and incentivize if you can, whether it be a donation to their classrooms through DonorsChoose.org or an informed one-on-one discussion of their practice in the classroom.
  • Teachers may be anxious to have their classroom instruction observed and evaluated. Emphasize that all collected data are confidential and will not be used for accountability purposes. You are not interested in judging them; you are there to evaluate a PD program.
  • The effects of teacher PD on classroom instruction and student learning may be far from immediate. Teachers need time to work with and get to know new methods and materials. Be careful when interpreting early “non-findings” and ask yourself whether a longer-term follow-up is possible.
  • Student outcome data (i.e., standardized test scores) may be available, but not appropriate, for use. Spend time thinking about whether the content of the PD is well-aligned with the content of the standardized test. Consider whether there are other means you can use to assess changes in teacher instructional practice (such as classroom observations and student surveys) and student learning (such as a more fully aligned assessment).

Rad Resource: Dr. Laura Desimone has written extensively about evaluations of teacher PD. Her 2009 article in Educational Researcher is an excellent resource for those planning a PD evaluation.

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