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Pinpointing Professional Development Needs

Problem: Coordinating professional development among the Granite School District's nearly 4,000 teac

Problem: Coordinating professional development among the Granite School District's nearly 4,000 teachers has always been challenging. The district in the northern part of Utah's Salt Lake County had an online system that would allow teachers to sign up for courses and track offerings. But district officials realized there was more they could do.

Administrators wanted a more convenient and powerful Web-based portal that would allow the 68,000-student district to match professional development offerings to a teacher's specific needs and goals. The district also needed an easy way to align offerings with its recently adopted professional growth and evaluation system.

"The problem we were facing is that we were having a hard time in our large district ... being able to target professional development based on educators' needs and aligning that professional development with standards," says Sydnee Dickson, the district's director of professional development.

Solution: Last year, the district found its answer in a Web-based computer system that allows teachers to take self-assessments--aligned to district standards--to decide what skills they need to focus on.

The customizable computer system, TrueNorthLogic, directs teachers to professional development offerings that address their specific needs. At the same Web site, teachers can write their goals, create a growth plan, sign up for professional development offerings, and record activities. "It saves time in that it's a one-stop site," Dickson says. The system also sends e-mail to teachers when new, relevant resources become available.

But the system isn't just convenient for teachers. It can also help principals and administrators target professional development offerings. The site can aggregates data and produce reports for principals so they can see which areas their teachers need to focus on, she adds.

This new knowledge takes the guesswork out of principals' decisions about what professional development resources their teachers need most, Dickson adds. In the past, principals might bring in a speaker to coach teachers' in writing instruction, when teachers actually needed more help on collaborative learning. "Now, [principals] can say, 'What is the data based on these self-assessments really telling us?' "

The five-year-old company, formerly known as iAssessment, charges licensing fees ranging from $18 to $25 per user, says Julie Glusker, director of client services at TrueNorthLogic.

Costs increase with customization. The Granite School District had part of last year's costs paid by the state; this year it took over the full cost--about $40,000, Dickson says. A mid-sized district with about 4,000 teachers would pay up about $20,000 setup and $25 to $30 per teacher/administrator.

TrueNorthLogic supports more than 1,400 school districts in California and more than 200 in Arizona, as well as districts in several other states.

Granite officials had to make sure that less tech-savvy teachers could use the technology. Granite enlisted the help of the districts' technology specialists assigned to each school. The district trained the specialists first, and then the specialists trained the teachers.

To make sure the company's technicians clearly understood the educational needs of teachers, the district assigned one of its staff members from the instructional technology division to interface with the company's engineers.

Dickson says an online system is much better than the pencil-and-paper method the district used before computerizing the professional development process. By saving teachers' time and targeting resources to each teacher's needs, TrueNorthLogic contributes to student success, Dickson says. "I think it lends itself to better classroom practices and student achievement, definitely."

Kevin Butler is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.