Good teaching can be a little like obscenity: Hard to describe, but you know it when you see it.
The U.S. Education Department is exploring whether a new teacher-feedback system in New Mexico can help principals become more consistent, detailed, and concrete in their feedback to teachers after observations, even when working under a time-crunch.
According to a notice in today’s Federal Register, the Education Department, in collaboration with SEDL (formerly the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory), plans to conduct a clustered randomized evaluation of New Mexico’s materials to guide principals during teacher feedback meetings to:
- Improve “structure and content of the principal-teacher feedback conversation;"
- Raise “quality of teacher instruction as measured by subsequent formal observation ratings;" and
- Increase student achievement and state standardized-test scores.
The study is one of a growing number of experiments on ways to improve classroom observation-and-feedback cycles, which, when done well, can be critical in professional development, but continue to be a common headache for principals and teachers alike. For example, Austin, Texas schools have been using small-scale research cycles to tweak their feedback and support for new teachers, with some promising results.
New Mexico’s ‘Detailed Checklist’
As part of the federal evaluation, starting this spring, all principals in New Mexico and 10 teachers in each participating school will be invited to join the study. SEDL researchers will ask half of the principals and their teachers to use a new “detailed feedback checklist” and a video which demonstrates how it is used.
For the other half, principals will get a summary of recommended feedback practices from previous principal professional development in the state. Their teachers (who are assigned to the same treatment or control group as their principals) will be given “state guidance about the classroom observation rating process.”
In spring 2016, the researchers will survey both teachers and their principals and collect data about student achievement, teachers’ classroom observation scores, and student, teacher, and principal demographic characteristics, with the intention to release the study in fall 2017.
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.