Assessing Professional Growth in Skill and Use

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© 1998, Jamie McKenzie,
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A version of this article first appeared in
eSchool News, July/August, 1998




Why Assess?

We need to know what is working, what is not working and what needs changing. Without a robust and authentic assessment model, we are steering in the dark. We have little basis to invent, to modify or to shift direction. We surge ahead with Titanic confidence, entirely unaware of ice flows awaiting us in the darkness ahead.

"Ignorance is bliss until icebergs appear suddenly under your bow."

We also need to show our patrons - the taxpayers and our families - that a robust investment in professional development pays great dividends when it comes to technology. We need to show them that our staff is growing in confidence and skill, that teachers are using the new technologies in powerful ways that promote student achievement and problem-solving abilities.

Few school districts collect or analyze assessment data for either students or staff. But the time has come. According to the New York Times, Linda Roberts, director of the Office of Educational Technology at the Department of Education, stressed the importance of assessment at an April conference on schools and technology in Manhattan.

"It's important to collect baseline data and to track performance deliberately."

"School districts will be called to task for 'What are you doing with your money and what difference does it make?'"

With a reasonable investment of time and money, we can learn a good deal about our colleagues and their responses to our professional development offerings. The better job we do of assessing, the better the match between program and participant. We use what we learn to enrich, enhance and upgrade our offerings.

Gathering the Data

The first step in the process is the selection and/or development instruments and surveys. Fortunately, the best may be home made and home grown, easily adapted to meet changing program needs and purposes.

Doug Johnson, the Director of Libraries and Technology for the Mankato (MN) Schools, was an early pioneer in this effort. He developed a user-friendly scale that has been adopted and modified by many districts to match their program goals.

(To see an adapted version, visit the Bellingham Public Schools Web site at

Starting with this model, you can add and delete items as you identify those aspects of staff performance that matter most. If, like many districts, you place a premium on information literacy, for example, you might develop an item like the following . . .

X. Information Searching

___ Level 1- I am unlikely to seek information when it is in electronic formats.

___ Level 2 - I can conduct simple searches with the electronic encyclopedia and library software for major topics.

___ Level 3 - I have learned how to use a variety of search strategies on several information programs, including the use of "logical operators" such as "AND" and "OR" to help target the search and find just the right information in the most efficient manner. I can perform such searches to locate books and videos with the library software on my desktop.

___ Level 4 - I have incorporated logical search strategies into my work with students, showing them the power of such searches with the encyclopedia or the library software, for example, to locate information that relates to their questions.

In addition to surveys that assess staff skill levels, there measures of learning styles, preferences and. One example is the Technology in My Life Survey (

For each item, the respondent tells whether they 1) strongly agree 2) agree 3) are not sure 4) disagree or 5) strongly disagree. These three items help to identify the preferred learning mode of the teachers:

9. I prefer to learn new things as an individual.

10. The best way to learn new technologies is to participate in formal training classes which show us just how to use programs and how to apply them to our classes.

13. I do best with new programs and approaches when I can learn them with a partner.

In a more rigorous (and perhaps threatening?) manner, some organizations such as ISTE (The International Society for Technology in Education) are developing performance measures that test teacher competency.

These standards have been adopted by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the official body for accrediting teacher preparation programs.

We will see more instruments and measures emerge in the next two years as technology assessment has becomes a priority for many organizations, including the Department of Education.

"Developing Educational Standards" is a useful annotated list of Internet sites with K-12 educational standards and curriculum frameworks documents, maintained by Charles Hill and the Putnam Valley Schools in New York.

Analyzing the Data

When the surveys are administered yearly, a portrait of the staff and its professional development needs emerges - a portrait that guides program planning while showing change over time.

The staff of most schools will report quite a "quilt" of needs, with teachers spread out in clusters along the path toward confident and fully integrated use. This "spread" is usually ignored by the "one size fits all" approach so often taken. Clear data demand more responsive and diverse offerings of learning experiences so that each teacher might find "the right stuff."

Sample Mankato Scale Results

Per Cent at Level 1
Per Cent at Level 2
Per Cent at Level 3
Per Cent at Level 4
0 10 45 45
File Management
5 25 45 25
Word Processing
0 15 55 30
15 35 30 20
25 35 25 15
10 45 35 10
Internet Use
30 40 15 15
30 45 20 5
0 15 45 40
15 45 25 15
20 50 20 10
15 35 30 20

The data above highlight program elements that require attention and indicate that the staff members are quite different from one another.

Does anyone care?

It only makes sense to gather data if there is a planning group whose responsibility it is to develop the long term "grid" of learning opportunities to match the "quilt" of needs mentioned earlier.

Each school should have a team that plans 18-24 months out into the future, identifying resources, experiences and opportunities to speed their colleagues on their way. Without such a team, the professional development offerings may suffer from the "last minute" syndrome.

They review the data and explore key questions such as these . . .

Which program elements are progressing most encouragingly?

Which elements require the most attention?

How many different "clusters" of learners are there for each learning priority and how might each cluster's needs be met?

What are the preferred learning styles within each cluster and how might those styles be accommodated?

What resources already exist to support these professional development needs?

What new resources must be found and added to the collection available to support staff learning?

Sharing the Results

While program design is the most important use of assessment, we must also share the success story inside and outside of school.

Take advantage of the data to help colleagues celebrate their accomplishments

Show our patrons - the taxpayers and our families - that teachers are using the new technologies in powerful ways to promote student achievement and problem-solving abilities.

The chart reproduced below shows real data from an elementary school that used the Mankato Scale for three years.

Note: Items 10 and 11 were added in the third year. In some cases, the third year results declined when teachers redefined their notions of high performance after learning more about what was possible.


As much as assessment has been neglected by technology pioneers during the past decade, it will become a major priority during the next three years as districts now recognize the need to demonstrate results as they invest heavily in networks and equipment. Those districts which develop a model that is dovetailed with the professional development program will find that the investment can pay rich dividends in terms of invention and staff learning.






This article was first published in eSchool News, July/August 1998


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