Standards Opinion

What Teachers Tell Us About the Connections Between Standards, Curriculum, and Professional Learning

By Urban Education Contributor — September 17, 2018 5 min read
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This week we are hearing from the Tennessee Education Research Alliance (TERA, @TNEdResAlliance). This post is by Erin O’Hara (@ErinOHaraTN), TERA Executive Director.

Today’s post is written from the researcher perspective. Stay tuned: Thursday we will share the practitioner’s perspective on this research.

Like many states, Tennessee is struggling to ensure that the educational materials used across classrooms are well-aligned to new standards that demand a higher level of rigor. And like many states, Tennessee wants to know from educators directly whether the increased rigor is starting to be reflected in their classrooms. Tennessee is known to be a state with a wealth of educational data to inform instruction, implementation, and policy as well as research. Among all of the data that are collected each year, the Tennessee Educator Survey is perhaps our greatest tool to understand how educators perceive what is happening in schools and across classrooms in Tennessee.

What the Research Examines

Nearly 40,000 educators throughout the state complete the survey each year and are able to voice their opinions about which issues most impact their work and what other supports they feel might be needed to best address these issues. The 2018 Tennessee Educator Survey marked the eighth year that the Tennessee Department of Education collaborated with us at the Tennessee Education Research Alliance (TERA) to survey public school educators across the state. This year’s survey asked educators’ opinions on and perceptions of a range of topics, including instructional time, evaluation, professional learning, grade-level standards, instructional materials, and parental involvement. Responses are beginning to reveal issues the state and school districts might need to address in order to ensure teachers have what they need to meet new demands.

What the Research Finds

Looking at teacher perceptions of professional development, we found that teachers reported spending considerable time on professional development activities, but few said they often received personalized support throughout the year (such as one-on-one work with a mentor or school leader). Further, teachers were far more likely to agree that their professional development led to improvements in their teaching when it was tailored to their needs.

With the recent shifts in standards that demand greater rigor in the curriculum and materials used across classrooms, effective professional development that supports teachers’ needs to meet these new demands is likely more important than ever. We found that teachers who feel like they have sufficient professional development around their curriculum are nearly twice as likely as those who feel their professional development is insufficient to indicate that the materials they are using are well-aligned to standards. Importantly, principals tend to report feeling less influence over curriculum selection than other key academic improvement levers, and more than half indicate that funding is an issue in selecting high-quality curriculum.

Implications for Practice

These critical insights from educators illustrate the important connections that exist between standards, curriculum, professional development, and ultimately teacher improvement and student success. For us at the Tennessee Education Research Alliance, and for our partners who serve on our Advisory Council (including the Tennessee Education Association, the State Board of Education, and Tennessee SCORE), these survey responses have piqued interest in undertaking deeper research into critical questions about standards, curriculum, and professional learning raised by Tennessee educators.

Educators’ insights from the survey also continue to inform specific policy decisions at the state level: Later this week, my colleagues from the Tennessee Department of Education will use this blog to expound on how the Tennessee Educator Survey has informed policy decisions since its inception. Personally, I have witnessed countless conversations among my state department colleagues, and as recently as last week among TERA’s Advisory Council, that single out educator opinions from the survey as one of the most valued data points when it comes to shaping policy.

Future Work

We will embark on deeper research to further explore issues raised in this year’s survey responses that we know need significantly more attention: What kinds of professional development are teachers who feel satisfied with their materials and curriculum receiving? Does high-quality adult learning translate to gains in student learning? For principals who don’t believe funding is an issue, are their teachers more likely to report feeling like they have the materials and curriculum they need? And what does all of this together mean for what the state and school districts should do to address a clear disconnect between standards, curriculum, and learning? These are the types of questions that researchers affiliated with the Tennessee Education Research Alliance can and will address in the coming months based on how educators have reported feeling about standards, curriculum, and professional learning.

As important as these particular questions are, they represent only a fraction of the data that we are able to analyze and issues that are raised through the annual educator survey data we collect. Over the course of the next few months, we will be reporting on key issues like these in a series of Tennessee Educator Survey Snapshots.

We are humbled by the connections we have to educators throughout the state because of the survey and will continue to honor that connection by highlighting educator voice and providing actionable research as a result.

Previous blog posts by the Tennessee Education Research Alliance:

Curious about other research topics partnerships have written about for this blog? See this Guide to the NNERPP EdWeek Blog for all previous blog posts organized by research topic area to easily find other posts of particular interest to you!

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