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Unpacking Practical Evaluation

The Learning Professional | February 2024

How do you know your professional learning is working? In the February 2024 issue of Learning Forward’s journal, The Learning Professional, Leading Educators researchers Rebecca Taylor-Perryman, Ariana Audisio, and Laura Meili dig into evaluation purposes, methods, tools, and results.

Practical evaluation points the way toward impact

As U.S. school leaders anticipate the end of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds and contemplate possible budget shortfalls, they will have to make hard choices about how best to leverage limited resources to improve student outcomes.

With the stakes high, lawmakers and experts urge school system leaders to rely on research and program evaluation to guide decisions. Unfortunately, high-quality research that demonstrates positive outcomes and aligns with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) evidence standards (U.S. Department of Education, 2023) is rare for many types of educational interventions, including professional learning. Evaluations by external researchers are expensive and often take multiple years to complete. For small organizations or districts, the investment may not be feasible.

Rather than throw up our hands and only evaluate impact every few years in a small subset of cases, which may not tell us if a particular intervention will work in other real-world contexts, we recommend that professional learning providers and school systems engage regularly in practical evaluation.

In the article, Taylor-Perryman and team describe how Leading Educators has developed the evidence continuum below, and they showcase two examples from recent partnerships in South Carolina and Texas that demonstrated significant positive outcomes for students.

Evidence-building continuum (see figure on p. 44 of the article)

  • With limited evidence, a district or school leader may only be able to answer evaluation questions such as: Did the teachers like the professional development? Did they attend?
  • With beginning evidence, a leader can begin to understand whether instructional practice and/or student outcomes are changing, but without insights as to what may have caused those changes or how those changes relate to other trends.
  • With practical evaluation, leaders can better understand how impacts on teaching and learning are likely related to different investments and, consequently, how to better invest time and resources in the future.
  • Ultimately, strong evidence allows leaders to be very confident in long-term investments in programs that have consistently demonstrated impact over time.
Read the Article

Key Results

Before the South Carolina partnership began, summative state assessment scores at the district’s turnaround schools were declining by four to five points per year, while all other schools in the district increased by seven to eight points per year.

After the partnership with Leading Educators, the average yearly growth for turnaround schools not only improved but also matched and doubled the district average growth in English language arts and math, respectively.

White icon of a book

21 points per year

of growth in English language arts in turnaround schools and comparison schools

Plus, minus, multiplication, and equal signs

Nearly 2x growth

in math at turnaround schools compared to other schools, at 13 points per year compared with seven points per year

Leading EducatorsLeading Educators
"There is a valuable middle road between conducting rigorous, randomized evaluations and placing all our trust in single-group pre-post analyses of professional learning initiatives. With practical evaluation, we can increase the frequency with which we consider whether interventions make a difference, and whether they can do so repeatedly and in a variety of contexts. Driving improvement along the way, we can achieve greater results for all."
Taylor-Perryman, Audisio, and Meili
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