Arizona: Strengthening Feedback Better Feedback for Teachers; Aligned and Integrated Support for Leaders

The Arizona Department of Education’s (ADE) Highly Effective Teachers & Leaders team gave local districts the choice of designing their own system, implementing the state’s optional model, or adapting an existing system to align with the state model.

In 2015–16, ADE surveyed all 645 districts to collect details on the selected evaluation systems of each, to assess their progress in implementing the systems, and to identify the technical support needs of its local education agencies. Additionally, ADE collected and analyzed aggregate teacher evaluation scores and compared them with student academic progress data. Analysis of the data documented a disconnect between teacher evaluation scores and student learning scores. More than 94% of teachers were rated effective or highly effective, but their rating bore little to no relationship to student learning scores—a very commonly reported challenge across states.

Problem of Practice

Arizona’s problem of practice for the Collaborative in Year 1 was to address the root cause for the lack of differentiation in teacher evaluation scores and to identify specific, concrete adjustments and support needed to produce more meaningful evaluation feedback and data. ADE’s team identified building up evaluator capacity and skill for providing feedback as their crucial starting point.


Specifically, ADE adopted two strategies to focus on this challenge:

  1. Strengthen principals’ capacity to conduct more meaningful observation and feedback cycles through Qualified Evaluator Academy (QEA) trainings. Developed in 2016–17, QEA is a 5-day training session designed to improve the evaluation skills of principals and teacher supervisors, including identifying evidence of classroom practice and data literacy and providing learning-focused feedback.

ADE designed QEA to help evaluators learn to use evaluation feedback and data explicitly to support teachers in strengthening their instructional practice. Designed by former principals working at ADE, QEA was also shaped by intentional collaborations across agency programs (see Strategy 2).

In Year 1 of the Collaborative, six cohorts (approximately 200 total participants) successfully completed the QEA training. Participants—through surveys and anecdotal feedback—responded very positively about their experience participating in QEA. Additional work assessing the effectiveness of QED is underway in Year 2.

  1. Build coherence by aligning work on joint projects across the ADE to provide an integrated technical assistance approach to districts. ADE made a concerted effort across divisions and programs to “break down the siloes.” One example of this integrated technical assistance approach is ADE’s careful planning for each cycle of district visitations to include staff from multiple divisions and programs. The content of the QEA trainings (see Strategy 1) was also strongly influenced by the new emphasis on cross-agency planning and implementation (e.g., What does student engagement look like in a special needs classroom? At the secondary level, what does a principal look for in science instruction when observing a science teacher?).

Year 2 Work: Assessing QEA and Strengthening Principal Evaluation

ADE is continuing to refine and expand the QEA trainings regionally to include more remote sections of the state. In addition, ADE is collaborating with the Regional Educational Laboratory West (REL West) to design an impact study to evaluate the effect of the QEA trainings on teacher behaviors/practices, changes in critical conversations between administrators and teachers, professional learning decisions, and measurable impact on student academic performance.

In addition to expanding regionally, ADE is considering expanding QEA to include additional content for evaluators of principals to strengthen their capacity to provide effective learner-focused feedback/coaching conversations, goal-setting, etc. This will be a joint project that will include ADE divisions and external experienced superintendents to provide training that incorporates current effective practices.


Steve Larson, M.Ed.
Director, Effective Teachers and Leaders

Karen Butterfield
Senior Program Associate, West Comprehensive Center

Marie Mancuso
Co-Director, West Comprehensive Center