Denise Torma

As told to Valerie von Frank 

We developed a six-year strategic plan with a steering committee of 35 stakeholders who reviewed research on 21st-century learning and the future of education and then created a district vision, mission statement, and set of beliefs that formed the basis for the plan. Our mission is: "We will create an environment that will help students become problem solvers, collaborators, and critical thinkers." The goal is moving students forward, and professional development drives that.

Two years ago, we were looking for a tool to assess professional development in the district. Previously, we had assessed individual sessions and received overall teacher input, but we never matched evaluations to standards and determined whether professional development was hitting the mark. 

I contacted Learning Forward and learned about the Standards Assessment Inventory. We began using it in spring 2010, and we got a pulse for professional development in the district. We found out we had pockets of strengths and areas for improvement. Although we expected that before we began, we needed a barometer. 

We then used the results to plan. Each year, principals set goals for professional development, student achievement, and leadership. The Standards Assessment Inventory is the focal point of the professional development goal. Principals set their goals according to the results and how those fit with the district's strategic plan. They list a goal, along with a related standard, and evaluate professional development based on student achievement.

A team of central office administrators reviews all the Standards Assessment Inventory results and meets with each principal to listen to what each learned from that building's assessment. Administrators ask the principals guiding questions: What are the strengths? What are areas for improvement? What are the surprises? What questions do you have? What are your two priorities for next year? Then we look for commonalties and what is unique to a building to plan professional development for next year. 

Other data also aid our planning. We store student data online, including common assessment results, state standardized test results, Advanced Placement scores, SATs, high school midterms and finals, elementary reading assessments, interventions, and more. Principals use these data with teachers to look at each student to maximize instruction. These data inform building-level professional development planning.

In addition, each school has an electronic folder that is the story of the school in four parts: demographics, the results of student and parent surveys, state standardized test results, and a focus for work. These data go back at least five years so we can monitor trends. The principal and administration manage the principal's goals in this section. The principals write monthly reports and submit them online, attaching documents that substantiate the work they did during the year to meet each goal. Principals work with their faculties in August to look at the data and discuss ways to improve student achievement. 

Data drive our professional development, which drives our student achievement. We use data to monitor, assess, and plan ways to improve. We're always trying to push the bar higher for all achievement.

Denise Torma ( is assistant superintendent for initiatives and evaluation in the East Penn School District in Emmaus, Pa.