Paper to Cloud

As more states adopt stricter teacher effectiveness laws, emerging technologies are providing an efficient evaluation solution

GUEST COLUMN | by Todd Whitlock

Standard for SuccessSchool districts across the country are adjusting to new teacher effectiveness laws put into place during a wave of legislative action over the past three years in more than 20 states.

Multiple annual observations are now the preference of choice among legislators to increase accountability, adding to a district’s work pile. Often left out of the legislation equation is the process – and funding – for districts to implement the new standards.

Enter technology: The cloud is fast becoming the solution of choice for administrators facing an ever-increasing number of evaluation-related tasks but little money to pay for them. Software programs downloaded onto the latest mobile technology streamline the entire process and relegate reams of paper and stacks of filing cabinets the to the dustbin, reducing stress and increasing effectiveness.

According to a recent report by Bellwether Education Partners, 15 states evaluate all teachers and principals annually. And the list is growing. Switching from the old teacher evaluation system to the new ones being used in many states has empowered all stakeholders to focus on student learning. The teacher evaluations of the past, most of which were not taken seriously, focused largely in terms of the credentials that teachers had earned rather than on the results of student learning.

The evaluations of old utilized a checklist system that centered on teacher behaviors that often did not focus on quality instruction or student learning. The majority, if not all, of the evaluation focused mostly on professional attributes. Another significant problem was that most evaluation systems were punitive in nature. The evaluation indicated whether a teacher was “good enough” to continue teaching.

Technology has made evaluations a truly collaborative process that fosters professional development. By streamlining, organizing, and simplifying the evaluation process an online platform helps users spend less energy on the “task” and more energy addressing the ultimate goal – strengthening the classroom.

Before implementing an online evaluation system, it’s important for administrators to examine the added costs involved, including:

  • Will the district have a hosted or local solution? (A local host requires more manpower and equipment costs).
  • What equipment is needed for administrators to use the system, such as tablets?
  • Is the infrastructure in place to support the platform? Does it work online and offline?
  • Does the solution work on multiple platforms? (Windows, iOS, Android, etc.)
  • What kind of professional development and ongoing support is provided? Technology is constantly changing, so having a reliable customer support system in place is critical.

Technology represents a game changer when it comes to evaluations; the possibilities are unlimited.

The system allows for a 30,000-foot view of what’s happening at the district level, or the ability to drill down to specific buildings, particular administrators, individual staff, and even isolate indicators within the rubric – all in real time. Administrators can use comparison tools to see how one building or one evaluator compares to the rest. There is no longer guesswork with district-wide staff evaluations.

Not only can administrators suggest professional development through an online evaluation tool (attaching an instructional video, for example), but teachers can upload evidence of steps they’ve taken to meet requirements issued by their superiors. Administrators can easily drill down into the standards and identify how many and which users were rated at specific levels in the rubric; less than proficient staff are easily identified and can be supported with focused professional development.

Organization is a tangible benefit to an online evaluations system.

Notes can be taken and downloaded into the rubric in real-time during an observation and time-stamped for record keeping, and can be  cleaned up in the office later and then sent on to the teacher. A calendar feature notifies teachers and principals of impending observations. With Standard for Success, users receive a single email—not a barrage of emails—that detail everything they need to know about what happened over the last 24 hours and what needs to happen before this workday is through.

The most powerful tool with Standard for Success is the Summary Page. On just one screen administrators can:

  • View the whole staff, staff assigned to another administrator below you, or other custom created groups of staff (i.e. Math Teachers).
  • Sort by name, date last evaluated, total observations completed, who has open observations, and who needs the most professional assistance.
  • Details of open observations including type of observation, where you are at in the process of that observation, which administrator is facilitating the observation, and when that step is due.
  • Detailed or summary view of completed observations color coded so they know the outcome of the observation and can look for trends of improvement.
  • Number of rubric indicators that a particular staff member is less than effective on. Click on the number to view the actual indicators they need to work on.
  • “Jump To” tool allows navigation to staff members quickly.

Teacher evaluation requirements will continue to become more stringent. The debate over effectiveness rages on, with no end in sight. Evolving systems like Common Core State Standards and TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement make for a fluid situation regarding staff evaluations.

As more states adopt stricter evaluation guidelines and teacher effectiveness takes center stage, technology will continue to play a key role in learning and teaching in the 21st century.

Todd Whitlock is the co-founder of Standard for Success, a company created by educators for educators. A fully-customizable online staff evaluation and management program for teachers, building administrators and district-level leadership, the system is used by more than 50 school districts in Indiana and is endorsed by the Indiana Association of School Principals. Visit: www.standardforsuccess.com.

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