Supporting University Content Specialists in Providing Effective Professional Development: The Educative Role of Evaluation

September, 2016

Source: Teacher Development, Vol. 20, No. 4, 538–556, 2016
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study examines formative evaluation recommendations that the authors made to four different professional development (PD) projects over three years.

The authors designed this study as a cross-case analysis of four cases. Each case being defined as one professional development (PD) project delivered over three consecutive years.
These four PD projects were conducted at four different universities or colleges across the United State. All these projects served teachers in grades 4–8.
Data were collected through PD session observations and project personnel/participant interviews during the visits of evaluation team in each project's site. The data were collected by a team of evaluators for one US Midwest state’s Improving Teacher Quality Grant PD programs. The evaluation team conducted two site visits per year, one during the summer institute (two-day visit) and one during an academic year call-back meeting (one-day visit).

The results of this study show that formative feedback can impact PD design and implementation. The results of this study suggest that evaluation efforts can take on a new purpose – the PD of professional developers.
The evaluation team was surprised that of the 78 recommendations the authors made across three years to these four projects, not one recommendation could be coded as knowledge and beliefs.

The authors argue that as evaluators, they interpreted what they know about PD from the research and acted as conduits of empirical findings to the PD project teams.
Hence, their recommendations reflected their own knowledge and beliefs about PD, which, as active teacher education researchers, were well rooted in the PD research literature.
They recommend that such research incorporate an examination of PD providers’ institutional contexts – a limitation of the current study.

The study has implications for PD project funders, science/mathematics teacher educators who work with content specialists in providing PD, and PD evaluators.
First, these findings suggest that evaluators of PD projects utilize formative evaluation efforts as an opportunity to provide education for the professional developers, if appropriate.
This recommendation implies that PD evaluators should be up-to-date in their own knowledge of the research findings about effective PD practices.

Second, the study provides the science and mathematics education communities with a mechanism for strengthening relationships between science/mathematics education faculty and content specialists involved in the PD of science/mathematics teachers.

Third, the authors argue that encouraging PD providers to improve their PD design and implementation in the three areas can focus improvement efforts on important inputs.

Lastly, the authors suggest that it is essential that researchers in the teacher education field seek ways to connect research and practice by identifying appropriate publication venues for their research-based findings that are accessible to those who engage in providing PD.

Updated: Oct. 11, 2018