Performance Feedback Overview
(Wing Institute Originl Paper)
Cleaver, S., Detrich, R. & States, J. (2019). Overview of Performance Feedback. Oakland, CA: The Wing Institute. https://www.winginstitute.org/teacher-evaluation-feedback.
Teacher effectiveness has been a persistent concern in education (Greenwood & Maheady, 1997; Scheeler, Ruhl, & McAfee, 2004). As evidence emerges about which teaching practices are most effective, it is important to help all teachers develop and strengthen their instructional efficacy. Fortunately, there is consensus about which teaching practices have the most consistent positive impact in general education (e.g., Ellis, Worthington, & Larkin, 1994; National Reading Panel, 2000) and special education (e.g., Albers & Greer, 1991; Carnine, Silbert, & Kame’enui, 1997; Ysseldyke, Algozzine, & Thorlow, 2000).
Teachers require professional development to improve their effectiveness and strengthen their ability to implement evidence-based practices (EBPs), or practices proven effective in advancing student knowledge and skills across multiple settings (Domitrovich, Gest, Jones, Gill, & Sanford DeRousie, 2010). In general, teachers face challenges learning, using, and sustaining new practices (Hemmeter, Snyder, Kinder, & Artman, 2011; Mesa, Lewis-Palmer, & Reinke, 2005). Given these challenges, professional development is particularly important as more schools work to successfully implement EBPs (Domitrovich et al., 2010). Performance feedback is one method of providing teachers with the skills necessary to implement effective instructional strategies (Scheeler et al., 2004).
This overview examines the current understanding of research on performance feedback as a way to improve teacher performance and student outcomes.
Defining Performance Feedback
Learning is a process that occurs constantly in classrooms and professional development settings. Within that process, feedback is the practice element at the core of many established practices such as active student responding and formative assessment. However, when learners do not receive feedback or when feedback is vague, the translation of learning into actual performance is not clear. The more specific the feedback a performer (teacher or student) receives, the better the performance (States, 2019).
Within a clearly defined target behavior, performance feedback is a way to show a person his or her current performance level as well as how it relates to previous performance and the goal (Mortenson & Witt, 1998). In schools, feedback that incorporates data-based information about a specific, observable behavior is given to teachers to improve the delivery of an instructional practice (Scheeler et al., 2004; Solomon, Klein, & Politylo, 2012). It is information (e.g., quantitative data, descriptive feedback) about an aspect of teaching behavior (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007).
As an aspect of professional development, performance feedback typically follows instruction on the behavior such as a training session (Scheeler et al., 2004) and can be adapted to meet the needs of the teacher and context (e.g., Kaiser, Ostrosky, & Alpert, 1993; Mudd & Wolery, 1987). For example, it can be provided via email to teachers who had demonstrated mastery with a practice and in person to teachers who would benefit from conversation about an instructional strategy.
Performance feedback can be provided in various forms including the following (Scheeler et al., 2004):
- Corrective feedback (identifies errors and provides ways to correct them)
- Noncorrective feedback (identifies errors but does not correct them)
- General feedback (nonspecific)
- Specific feedback (objective information about a behavior)
- Positive feedback (praise contingent on the demonstration of a desirable behavior)
Performance feedback has been organized into various aspects (Van Houton, 1980):
- Type of feedback given (e.g., the content of the feedback, the information collected)
- Method of delivery (e.g., in person, audio, video)
- Frequency and timing of feedback (immediate or delayed)
- Person delivering the feedback (supervisor or peer).
In this overview, performance feedback is the feedback given to teachers on established EBPs.
How Does Performance Feedback Fit Into Teacher Development ?
Professional development is intended to improve teacher practice and subsequently student outcomes (Yoon, Duncan, Scarloss, & Shapley, 2007). It is incorporated into the practice of coaching teachers, which often involves training and modeling a practice, observing a teacher using the practice, and providing feedback (Yoon et al., 2007). Performance feedback is a key aspect of coaching that has been shown to produce changes in teacher behavior (Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010).
Why Is Performance Feedback Important?
Performance feedback is proving to be more effective than other interventions in improving teacher practice. For example, performance feedback has a greater effect size (ES)—0.73—than interventions such as charter schools (0.21), smaller class size (0.21), increased spending (0.08), and high-stakes testing (0.08; States, 2019).
Performance feedback may demonstrate positive impacts because of how performance feedback aligns with effective instructional methods that involve modeling a skill followed by practice with feedback. When teachers are asked to learn and implement new practices, they need support to implement those practices with fidelity. Frequent, specific feedback provides teachers with the information they require to improve practice. For example, in a single case design study in a middle school classroom, when a teacher was provided with real-time visual performance feedback, for example, showing a graph of student praise provided during a lesson, the amount of positive feedback the teacher provided to students (the desired behavior) increased. The amount of positive behavior by students also increased (Sweigert, Landrum, & Pennington, 2015).
Research on Performance Feedback
There are decades of research on performance feedback. Scheeler et al. (2004) reviewed 10 studies that involved nine in-service and 199 pre-service teachers from the 1970s to the early 2000s that examined the impact of at least one aspect of feedback. Across the studies, various types of feedback (e.g., general, corrective) were incorporated. When teachers received feedback on a behavior (e.g., increasing the use of positive feedback or decreasing “um” and “like” during instruction), that behavior increased or decreased depending on the feedback.
The results from these 10 studies indicated that positive, specific, and corrective feedback produced changes in teacher behavior, specifically an increase in the use of specific teaching behaviors. When feedback was given immediately, teachers acquired new behaviors faster and with greater accuracy. Feedback provided by supervisors and peers was equally effective in increasing effective teaching behaviors and decreasing unwanted behaviors (Scheeler et al., 2004).
In another study (Noell, Witt, Gilbertson, Ranier, & Freeman, 1997), teachers were provided with daily feedback on their implementation of an academic intervention for three 3rdgrade students. The teachers demonstrated high levels of treatment fidelity for the initial 2 to 4 days, after which the fidelity decreased. The use of feedback and the subsequent increased fidelity improved performance for two of the three students.
In another study (Mortenson & Witt, 1998), four teachers were provided with feedback on their use of a reinforcer-based classroom intervention. The focus of the feedback was to increase the fidelity of implementation. Teacher implementation improved in three of the four teachers. Student data did improve but was more variable than teacher improvement.
In a study that focused on teachers’ use of behavior-specific praise for six students (Reinke, Lewis-Palmer, & Merrell, 2007), feedback was given using a visual representation to teachers. The performance feedback produced an increase in behavior-specific praise from teachers relative to baseline, and there was some generalization as teachers increased their use of behavior-specific praise. After the intervention, teachers exhibited more praise than baseline (before the intervention), but at lower rates than during the intervention.
In another study (Hemmeter et al., 2011), data-based performance feedback was delivered via email with a focus on increasing preschool teachers’ use of descriptive praise. When teachers received training and email feedback, they demonstrated an increase in using descriptive praise and a decrease in challenging the behaviors of preschoolers.
Solomon et al. (2012) studied the impact of performance feedback on implementation fidelity. Findings indicated that performance feedback was moderately effective in increasing teacher fidelity in implementing an EBP after it was introduced. In addition, performance feedback was a way to stem any decrease in fidelity after training.
Targeted reading instruction, an intervention that uses one-on-one instructional reading skill lessons, uses teacher coaching as professional development in the strategy. Virtual or in-person coaching is used to provide feedback and problem solve around student concerns (Vernon-Faegans et al., 2012). Students who received this intervention scored higher in reading skills than those who did not (Amendum, Vernon-Feagans, & Ginsburg, 2011; Vernon-Faegans et al., 2012).
Finally, a study by Rock et al. (2104) of bug-in-ear eCoaching, that involved providing real-time feedback using technology, examined the practices of 14 teachers at multiple points in time (before coaching, during coaching, and 2 years afterward). Two years after the initial feedback sessions, teachers had maintained their improvements.
Synthesis: What We Know
This research tells us that specific, positive, corrective feedback leads immediately to positive changes in teacher behavior (Scheeler et al., 2004). Also, performance feedback is an established way to support teacher implementation of new skills in a classroom setting (Hemmeter et al., 2011; Solomon et al., 2012) and to maintain that impact over time (Rock et al., 2014).
When performance feedback is incorporated consistently into teacher professional development, it can produce gains in student achievement (e.g., Vernon-Faegans et al., 2012). And when performance feedback is provided for specific tasks (e.g., EBPs), it can improve teacher fidelity or the use of a practice (e.g., Solomon et al., 2012).
What Is the Impact of Performance Feedback on Student Outcomes?
While performance feedback does improve teacher practice, its impact on student outcomes is less evident and consistent (e.g., Scheeler et al., 2004). However, it has been shown to increase on-task behaviors of students. Sutherland, Wehby, and Copeland (2000) investigated the rate of behavior-specific praise given by teachers in classrooms for students with emotional and behavior disabilities. When teachers increased their use of behavior-specific praise, through the use of feedback, student on-task behavior increased from 49% to 86%.
In a study of targeted reading intervention, which included real-time performance feedback for teachers (Vernon-Faegans, Kainz, Hedrick, Ginsburg, & Amendum, 2013), struggling readers who received the intervention improved their reading skills faster than struggling readers who did not receive the intervention (ES = 0.36–0.63 on student academic tests). This indicates that struggling readers that received the intervention significantly outperformed struggling readers in the control groups. Other studies have also shown an impact on student achievement (e.g., Vernon-Faegens et al., 2012), although it is not clear if the difference in progress was related to the intervention or to feedback.
Currently, additional research needs to be done on the following:
- Impact of technology advancements on feedback delivery and subsequently on teacher practice and student outcomes
- Parameters for the most effective feedback in terms of length, duration, and frequency
The research that has been conducted on performance feedback connects feedback to EBPs (e.g., Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010; Noell et al., 1997; Vernon-Faegans et al., 2013). To this end, it is important to identify and focus on an EBP for performance feedback (Stormont & Reinke, 2013). A general practice or a specific, targeted intervention should be the focus, but whatever is chosen should be an EBP.
Once an EBP is identified, teachers should be trained in the intervention using explicit instruction that involves modeling, practice, and feedback. Then, feedback should be provided until teachers demonstrate mastery during the training phase and in the classroom setting (Stormont & Reinke, 2013). How feedback is delivered has an impact on outcomes; in one third of the studies on feedback they reviewed, Kluger and DeNisi (1996) found that the feedback had produced a negative result. They also concluded that when the feedback related to the task, the impact on behavior was greater than when the feedback was personal.
The selection of who will be giving the feedback is important. That person should know both the practice and how to deliver feedback (Showers, 1985; Stormont & Reinke, 2013). One factor to bear in mind when choosing a person are any power considerations. For example, a power dynamic must be considered when feedback is given as part of an evaluation (e.g., a principal providing feedback to a teacher) (Showers, 1985).
Finally, performance feedback should be delivered in an effective manner (Stormont & Reinke, 2013). Aspects of effective delivery supported by research include the following:
- Building rapport: A supportive relationship makes it more likely that teachers will voice concerns and be open to problem solving (Reinke, Herman, & Sprick, 2011)
- Setting a purpose for the observation: The purpose may be to provide support when a teacher needs it most or to strengthen implementation of a practice in general
- Identifying data to collect that is
- oCritical to the intervention being delivered
- oObservable in the classroom setting
- oSelected in collaboration with the teacher to identify the most useful data
- oRelated to student outcomes (e.g., student behaviors, student work)
- Providing feedback immediately or within 24 hours of the observation
- Determining the feedback delivery method (e.g., verbally in person, email, written communication, graph or other visual representation of teacher behavior) before the observation
- Supporting individual teacher skills, personalities, and abilities
- Establishing sustainable structures, such as peer collection of ongoing data, to ensure that results from performance feedback are maintained over time
When delivering feedback in an email, provide the following information (Hemmeter et al., 2011; Schepis, Reid, Ownbey, & Parsons, 2001):
- A positive statement about something effective that was observed,
- Supportive feedback based on what the teacher did correctly,
- Suggestions for improvement,
- Request for a response, and
- A closing positive statement.
Ideally, feedback will be provided weekly or monthly (Casas‐Arce, Lourenço, & Martínez‐Jerez, 2017; Lam, DeRue, Karam, & Hollenbeck, 2011), although timing will differ from teacher to teacher. Teachers with immediate needs may receive more frequent feedback (Barton, Kinder, Casey, & Artman, 2011). For example, a teacher who is implementing a new strategy may need more support than a teacher who is maintaining implementation of the strategy. In addition, teacher characteristics also influence the frequency of feedback (e.g., new teachers may need more feedback than veteran teachers).
As performance feedback is used, it is important to assess the impact in teacher practice and student achievement (Barton et al., 2011). Establish a way to determine whether or not the feedback has been effective (e.g., teacher fidelity of implementation of a strategy, student academic outcomes).
Performance feedback can be implemented within a feedback structure that provides for observation and communication (e.g., in-person meeting, email) and fits within a school’s existing structures.
Performance feedback is often part of a broader coaching plan, the cost of which varies depending on district and goals (e.g., the amount to hire a coach versus providing feedback using existing staff). One study (Knight, 2012) found that the average cost-per-teacher for coaching across three schools ranged from $3,620 to $5,220, a cost 6 to 12 times more than traditional professional development. This cost will vary from district to district and may be worthwhile for boosting student outcomes.
Performance feedback is a promising way to build teacher skill and increase teacher use of EBPs, practices that have been shown to improve student achievement. Furthermore, when provided around a task and in real time, performance feedback can impact both academic and functional student behaviors.
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