|Message From the Alliance Lead
Welcome to the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest Educator Effectiveness Research Alliance (EERA) newsletter. I joined EERA as the alliance lead at the beginning of 2015, and it has been my privilege to work with outstanding educators, policymakers, and stakeholders from Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. This has been a busy year for our alliance, and I am pleased to share with you an update on the important work of EERA on behalf of our members.
States in the Midwest region and across the country have recently updated plans to identify gaps in access to high-quality educators between students in high-poverty and low-poverty schools, explain the causes for these gaps, and set out strategies to address inequities. Our work in the alliance is focused on supporting states’ efforts to provide an excellent educator for every student.
- We are currently working with the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) to develop a set of surveys that districts can use to gather information from stakeholders on their experiences with the implementation of teacher evaluation systems. Districts can use these tools to collect data on implementation, as well as to analyze, reflect, and act upon such data to pursue continuous improvement of their evaluation systems.
- We are assisting an MDE survey development working group to create a survey that districts can administer to students and school staff to collect data for use in teacher and principal evaluations. Our researchers with expertise in survey development methodology are helping the working group to construct, pretest, and pilot surveys that are reliable and valid, and that align with the state’s performance measures and indicators.
- We worked closely with MDE to redesign its study of teacher supply and demand around five research questions important to Minnesota stakeholders. We recommended methodologies to address each research question on the basis of validity, reliability, data availability, and cost. A report summarizing our methodologies will be publicly available in 2016.
Discussions about educator effectiveness, informed by both policy and research, continue to evolve. Our members worked together this year to identify future challenges surrounding educator effectiveness and consider topics and research questions that will inform the work of our alliance as it moves into 2016. The alliance’s work has informed and will continue to inform the development of evidence-based tools, processes, and policies to help states, districts, and schools address issues of educator effectiveness. I look forward to seeing this high-quality work continue.—Patricia Balana
Collaboration on REL Midwest’s Teacher Supply-and-Demand Study
Richard Wassen, who recently retired as the Director of Educator Licensing at MDE, served on EERA for four years. REL Midwest sat down with Wassen before he left his post to hear about highlights from his work with REL Midwest. Read our interview, which includes audio clips, on REL Midwest’s Newsroom: Research in Use: Collaboration on REL Midwest’s Teacher Supply-and Demand Study.
Survey Methods Workshop Develops MDE’s Internal Expertise
In August 2014, REL Midwest conducted a one-day workshop for MDE, through EERA, to improve the department’s internal capacity to plan, develop, and administer surveys. The workshop covered best practices in survey methodology and shared supplementary reference materials.
Through this workshop, REL Midwest and MDE united researchers’ expertise in survey development and administration with MDE’s understanding of the department’s internal structure and resources. The training session facilitated communication among the researchers and MDE staff members by enabling the staff members to pose questions and explain their contexts in real time. This immediate feedback allowed the researchers to provide relevant and actionable information. In addition, staff members from different departments within MDE discovered shared challenges and had the opportunity to brainstorm solutions together, with input from REL Midwest’s researchers.
After the workshop, 10 of the 50 participants formed an internal survey team to support colleagues conducting surveys. The team members come from different program areas within MDE, and are supported by researchers from the Midwest Comprehensive Center. This group also adapted the workshop materials to create tools specific to MDE and its processes, including a survey checklist. This internal team intends to serve as a resource to review major surveys conducted by MDE, applying best practices and streamlining resources to ensure that the surveys conducted by the department meet their objectives.
“When we need a new survey, we have an internal team that can apply certain criteria so we aren’t releasing a poorly designed survey, which would give us poor results,” said Tyler Livingston, educator evaluation supervisor at MDE and EERA member. “That team helps us deliver a quality survey product so we get meaningful results back from our stakeholders.”
“Partnering with REL Midwest helped us gain tools that align with our vision,” Livingston added. “And, in the process, we are now better prepared to do some survey design at a certain level of quality, whereas before we did not have the background knowledge to do so.”
REL Midwest and the internal survey team plan to build on the original workshop with two new sessions on survey data analysis and reporting. The researchers and internal experts will present the workshop together and respond to requests to include more hands-on working time and to tailor examples to the department’s current projects.
Meet the Alliance Member: Erika Bolig
Erika Bolig, Ph.D., is director of the Michigan Department of Education’s Office of Evaluation, Strategic Research, and Accountability. She joined EERA in the summer of 2015, but previously she had been a member of REL Midwest’s School Turnaround Research Alliance. She has brought considerable expertise and a fresh perspective to EERA, and she says EERA has been a welcome source of support for her work in Michigan.
Previously active only in Minnesota, EERA recently expanded its reach within the Midwest. Bolig was excited to learn about the alliance’s expansion since educator effectiveness had become particularly relevant to her daily work with the Michigan Department of Education. Along with fellow EERA member Steve Best, Bolig had been advising Michigan Department of Education leadership and offices on proposed legislation regarding educator effectiveness, educator evaluations, and implementation of existing legislation. Bolig explains that the research made available to her by EERA helped inform their policy discussions.
“[Alliance lead Patricia Balana] and the other states have been a phenomenal resource for us,” said Bolig. “For example, I had posed a question to Patricia about what evaluation tools are appropriate for special education teachers. She pulled a whole bunch of research, which helped us when talking internally, with people in the field, and in some discussions with legislators.”
Ultimately, Bolig and Best will use this support from REL Midwest to help influence the department’s implementation of Public Act 173, which revises previous legislation regarding the performance evaluation system for teachers and administrators in Michigan.
Bolig is confident that Michigan’s inclusion in EERA will provide her department with much needed support in their research and data-collection efforts. Bolig also plans on using the group’s pooled expertise to brainstorm strategies for implementing research and evaluation measures across diverse districts.
According to Bolig, the ability to hear from other state education agencies, as well as experts from REL Midwest, has been incredibly valuable.
“We are pretty limited in terms of what we have for data at this point in time at the state level relative to educator evaluation systems,” she said. “But we are learning from what the other states have and trying to use that to inform what we might do moving forward.”
Meet the Researcher: Yinmei Wan
REL Midwest researcher Yinmei Wan, Ph.D., has worked with EERA since 2014.
Wan’s path to researching educator effectiveness has taken her around the world. A native of Chonqing, China, Wan served as an English language instructor as well as an instructional coach for English language teachers in China early in her career.
“When I was applying to graduate school, I knew I wanted to do something in education and was fortunate to be accepted into the top-ranked doctoral program in higher education at the University of Michigan,” explained Wan.
At the University of Michigan, Wan focused on issues of assessment, evaluation, and organizational management.
“Although my work in graduate school was focused at the higher education level, it allowed me to build a solid foundation to understand how complex organizations and systems operate and change,” she said.
Wan sees her current work with REL Midwest as an exciting opportunity to delve into projects across K–16 educational topic areas.
“Researching K–12 issues feels totally different than higher education, but I love the broad range of topics and methodological challenges,” said Wan.
Today, Wan leads or coleads multiple projects under EERA. In a recent project, she supported MDE to redesign its teacher supply-and-demand study. She is currently working with MDE on a project to develop a stakeholder feedback survey to be used in principal evaluation and growth.
“This project has been a favorite of mine,” noted Wan. “We are working closely with a survey working group of individuals from school districts, the teacher’s union, and MDE. Hearing their perspectives has been very valuable as we develop this survey.”
Wan enjoys this collaborative approach to research and noted that it has made her more conscious of how research will be used.
“As I’m working directly with practitioners in the field, I’m much more aware of what their needs are and how our research can support their work,” explained Wan.
Educator Effectiveness Events and Resources
- Educator Evaluation System Data: What Exists and How Do We Use It? —a REL Midwest/EERA webinar held October 29, 2015—addressed different designs of educator evaluation systems and how data from these systems can inform teacher and district practice. Mariann Lemke of the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders discussed research related to the evaluation of educator practice and student growth. EERA members Tyler Livingston of MDE and Katie Rainey of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction shared how their states use educator evaluation system data. Presentation slides and notes are archived online.
- More than just an education priority, ensuring that all students have access to high-quality teachers is a federal mandate. REL Midwest, REL Southwest, REL West, and the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders recently cohosted Equitable Access to Excellent Educators: State Planning Resources. Among the webinar presenters were Mariann Lemke, MDE Assistant Commissioner Hue Nguyen, and MDE Director of the Division of School Support and EERA member Greg Keith.