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Greenbrier Academy for Girls is a young womens therapeutic boarding and college preparatory school committed to experiential education and transformative therapeutics embracing virtuous relationships, personal excellence, and emotional breakthroughs that will inspire altruistic life missions for the students and their families. GBA is part of the Pence Springs community and reports to the Summers County School District in West Virginia. Greenbrier Academy for Girls is one of three high schools in the Summers and Greenbrier County Communities but is the only private therapeutic boarding school in this area. The school currently educates 52 students in eighth through twelfth grades and provides a high school college dual-enrollment preparation curriculum. Our academic school operates year round providing a four prong academic approach. This includes traditional seat time classroom instruction, online academic research courses, college course instruction, and academic summer immersion courses.
In 2011 GBA underwent an external accreditation evaluation by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCAS) and received accreditation status. The Standards Assessment Report includes several sections: 1) executive summary of the school system profile;
2) a review of each standard; 3) a description of the school system's methods for quality assurance; and 4) an over all conclusion. However, the Quality Assurance Team (QAT) recommended two critical areas that needed attention and improvement. This paper will address one of those areas of need. That need is improvement in the "Teacher Development Program". The following sections of this paper will address: 1) the current literature regarding teacher development programs, 2) the purpose of evaluation, and 3) GBA's teacher development program improvement plan.
"Without capable, high quality teachers in America's classrooms, no educational reform effort can possibly succeed" (Stronge & Tucker, 2003, p. 3). Research literature presents a connection between effective teaching and students' academic attainment. Goe (2007) explains that skill sets among teachers is a major factor that contributes to students academic growth and that there is a considerable variation in teacher's skills for promoting student learning. The interest in understanding what is paramount to successful teaching practice, coupled with its leverage to educational improvement, presents a challenge and opportunity for administrators to efficiently and reliably measure teacher performance.
Teacher evaluations should identify and measure the instructional strategies, professional behaviors, and delivery of content knowledge that affect student learning (Danielson & McGreal, 2000). Fitzpatrick, Sanders and Worthen (2004) note that there are two types of evaluations; formative and summative. Formative evaluations are meant to provide teachers with feedback on how to improve performance and what types of professional development opportunities will enhance their practice. Where academics are concerned, Barrett (1986) indicates that summative evaluations are used to make a final decision on factors such as salary, tenure, personnel assignments, transfers, or dismissals. Although both types of evaluations seek to measure performance, the formative evaluation identifies ways to improve performance and the summative evaluation determines whether the performance has improved sufficiently. While each type is valuable, neither type of evaluation can serve a teacher and school well on its own. Without formative feedback, a teacher may not be informed of "areas of weaknesses" so when the summative evaluation takes place, these "areas of weaknesses" may still exist. Similarly, ongoing formative evaluations without any consequences provide minimal incentives for teachers to act on the feedback.
Current approaches to teacher evaluation vary in their scope and intent. To date, only three descriptive studies have examined teacher evaluation policies on a large scale (Brandt et al., 2007; Ellett & Garland, 1987; Loup, Garland, Ellett, & Rugutt, 1996). Teacher evaluation is about documenting the quality of teacher performance; then shifts to helping teachers improve their performance as well as holding them accountability for their work. Stronge (2002) suggests that over the years the focus has become more about accountability and on careful analysis of variables affecting educational outcomes.
Purpose of Evaluation
The need in a quality teacher evaluation system stems from a fair and effective evaluation based on performance and design, to encourage improvement in both the teacher being evaluated and the school. The purpose of this paper is to review the regional QAT evaluation of GBA's teacher professional development program and offer suggestions on how to make the program a more effective method. Elements for constructing and implementing fair and effective teacher evaluation systems for GBA was one of the "critical findings" of the QAT. This paper attempts to discuss critical components for a quality teacher evaluation system and by identifying how an effective teacher evaluation system contributes to effective schools. Specifically, how the following questions consider a small seven to eight academic staff at GBA. An attempt will be made to address these in part in the Analysis section of the paper:
â€¢ Why is there a need for quality teacher evaluation?
â€¢ What are the basic purposes of a teacher evaluation system?
â€¢ What are obstacles to quality teacher evaluation systems at GBA?
â€¢ What are key features of an effective teacher evaluation system?
â€¢ How can a teacher evaluation system be designed for school improvement and personal growth at GBA?
During the regional accreditation process the "executive summary" of the schools profile provided an opportunity for GBA to give a snapshot of its vision, goals, demographics, and community characteristics. This section helps provide the context for the standards assessment report. The review of each standard is divided into three components: 1) the indicators rubric; 2) focus questions; and 3) overall assessment. The indicators rubric enables GBA to assess the degree to which practices and/or processes are in place that indicate adherence to the standard and indicators set forth by North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
GBA used the rubric as an opportunity to ask itself challenging questions and to respond with accurate answers geared toward self-improvement. After completing the rubric, the school was able to see areas of strength and opportunity. The section asks, "To what degree are the noted practices/processes in place?" The QAT review team used the report to prepare for the visit to GBA. The team used insights gathered from the report and information obtained during the on-site visit to provide feedback to the school and to make an accreditation recommendation. Using this feedback, GBA responded by using the critique and engaging in its own professional teacher development program process called the Quantum Learning Model. This QLM model is currently utilized by the school as part of its professional development program.
GBA's Teacher Evaluation and Program Development Plan
For teachers at GBA, using such evaluations serve as useful instruments or tools for improved teacher satisfaction and student learning opportunities. Teacher evaluations and program development requires administrators at GBA to ask several questions: What does the current teacher-evaluation systems look like at GBA? Is the current evaluation systems aligned with state and district research guidance suggestions? By reviewing their various teacher evaluation tools and assessing procedures, the school is able to check that their own guidelines match their state and local school district processes and those guidelines addressed by the regional NCA evaluation. These results led GBA to redesign its assessment tools and add additional professional development opportunities for teachers.
Why do teacher evaluations matter? Regardless of how well a program is designed, it is only as effective as the people who implement it (Stronge, 1993). Thus, a conceptually sound, well designed, and properly implemented evaluation system for teachers is an important and essential component of an effective school. Despite the fact that proper assessment and evaluation of teachers is fundamental to successful schools and schooling, this key element in school reform is too frequently neglected. This is not due to the absence of teacher evaluations but rather to the implementation of poor evaluation systems and poor evaluation practices. Although GBA had in place a teacher evaluation system, the evaluation was not specifically designed for teachers in West Virginia and did not address core content or specific teacher measurements that aligned with the state department of education's professional development criteria for professional educators.
Teacher Evaluation. Prior to designing a teacher evaluation system, the most important question to answer is: Why evaluate teachers? The purposes of evaluation drives the design of the system. An effective teacher evaluation can serve multiple purposes. It can be used to:
1. Improve the overall quality of the teacher workforce by identifying and building upon individual and collective teacher strengths, and by improving instruction and other teacher practices to improve student learning;
2. Identify exemplary teachers who might serve as mentors and/or master teachers;
3. Identify ineffective teachers and develop a system of support to remediate their skills; and
4. Ensure fair and valid employment decisions, including decisions about rehiring, dismissal, career paths and tenure. To accomplish these multiple purposes, two types of evaluation are necessary: formative and summative evaluation.
Formative evaluation. Formative evaluations support continuous growth and development. It provides teachers with feedback on how to improve their skills to promote student learning. It is a critical component of career professional growth. Data from formative evaluations can also identify specific professional development opportunities for teachers that will facilitate student learning.
Summative evaluation. Summative evaluations are used to judge whether a standard has been met. It is used for tenure decisions, intensive assistance decisions, dismissal decisions, career path decisions and compensation decisions. To ensure due process, formative evaluations must always precede a summative evaluation.
Teaching Pedagogy. Teaching is complex; there is no single pedagogy that can meet the needs of every learner. Teachers bring to the classroom varying skills and knowledge that are a reflection of their training and experience. The evaluation process must reflect the complexity of teaching and learning. A system focused on promoting practice and student learning not only creates procedures for assessing individual teachers' knowledge and skills, but also supports the continuous improvement of all teachers. GBA uses an intense experiential learning model. Although evidence of teachers being trained in the first and second levels of the Quantum Learning Model was evident, the QAT noted that the QL model did not demonstrate sufficient professional development as outlined by the West Virginia Department of Education and recommended the Global 21 program as an embedded professional development, mentoring and induction program to GBA professional teacher development system for teachers.
What are obstacles to quality teacher evaluation systems at GBA? Cost factors are always a concern for our school. We are a privately funded school and resources are limited. Any professional development program is a cost related expense. GBA receives no federal or state funds to subsidize student enrollment or programming. This year, the budget for the academic department of GBA has more than tripled due to professional development costs, curriculum costs, technology upgrades, salary increases, and new construction. Additionally, given our rural setting, we experience a typical turnover rate of one teacher every year due to the lack of opportunities for social engagement for some of our younger teachers.
How can a teacher evaluation system be designed for school improvement and personal growth at GBA? At GBA we chose to continue our Quantum Learning Model (QLM) and invested in the additional three levels of teacher training while also enrolling teachers in the West Virginia professional teacher development Global 21plan. Through the Teacher Leadership Institute, the State Department of Education strives to assessable a quality, research-based professional development program that gears teachers up for educating in the 21st century. The West Virginia Department of Education also has launched "Teach 21". This interactive site, which was designed by teachers, allows educators to quickly access 21st century content standards, learning skills, research-based instructional strategies, technology tools and other resources. Teachers can download prepared training materials that include introductory pieces on 21st century education, videos from exemplary teachers across West Virginia, links and references to other useful sites (http://wvde.state.wv.us/educatewv/Global21 -Teachers.pdf).
In the final analysis, teacher evaluations are nothing more than a process for determining how an individual, program, or school is performing in relation to a given set of circumstances or standards. When the NCA's Quality Assurance Team evaluated GBA, it saw GBA as a unique school and offered it full accreditation, making GBA the first ever therapeutic boarding school to receive the honor. The program evaluation process for accreditation was more than just a three-day interview process, campus tour, record evaluation, and over all critique of the schools functionality. This process of program evaluation can get in the way of progress and, thus, becomes irrelevant if it is treated as less than it deserves and is not considered relevant or taken seriously (I personally became tearful with joy when the process was completed because I knew how it would impact our students, parents, placement specialist and other stakeholders). At large, the external evaluation of the GBA program provides opportunities for improvement and allows for lines of accountability.
Dr. Goff, Professor at the University of the Cumberlands who has vast experience in the field of program evaluation and development as well as school accreditation, has noted that whatever our relationship to the educational enterprise, every program deserves a high quality evaluation. Gaining insight from the NCA regional visiting team, GBA has a more efficient teacher assessment and evaluation system in place built largely upon individual and institutional improvements that exist to better serve our students, parents, and the therapeutic boarding school industry.
As an endnote, our senior students are currently receiving acceptance letters and over $250,000 dollars in scholarship awards from the following universities and colleges:
Seton Hall University
La Salle University
Old Dominion University
Duchess Community College