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Research Question

  1. How can Phillips Andover Academy update its processes for departmental review and teacher review to develop a more coherent instructional system?

To update its teaching and departmental review processes, Phillips Academy Andover, an independent boarding school in Massachusetts, commissioned RAND Corporation researchers to review the school's policies, conduct a literature review, interview other independent high schools, develop potential recommendations for revision of Andover's processes, and revise those recommendations after vetting them with Andover's faculty. This report summarizes their work.

The report is intended primarily for Andover administrators and teachers to guide their revision of their teaching and departmental review processes, but it also provides relevant research that independent schools can use to inform their design of teaching and departmental review policies. To help readers understand how proposed changes may or may not work in different contexts, the report includes Andover teachers' reactions to initial potential recommendations, the authors' subsequent revisions to the recommendations based on teacher's feedback, and Andover administrators' reactions to the authors' final recommendations.

Key Findings

  • The principles of Andover's current teaching review system are sound in that they are consistent with prior research.
  • However, the school does not consistently conduct its intended annual informal teaching reviews. It does conduct the periodic, formal reviews for the most part.
  • There is a strong foundation from which to build a more coherent instructional system at Andover.
  • Like many other independent schools, Andover does not articulate clear goals for student learning in each department and across the school. Explicit goals for student learning are the starting point for a more coherent instructional system, as departments can then determine whether they offer courses that build year-on-year in a coherent and comprehensive fashion such that the instruction students receive over the course of (up to) four years covers Andover's full set of desired learning objectives.
  • Andover teachers endorsed eight of the research team's potential recommendations over the course of a three-round vetting process. These included the identification of desired student competencies, a more frequent and department chair-led teaching review, annual department-led self-studies, and revision of the school-wide student survey. Faculty did not endorse the idea of instructional coaches leading teaching reviews (instead preferring that department chairs lead this process), and they were uncertain whether either identifying desired teaching competencies or inviting external observers to review their department would be helpful for their teaching.
  • A running theme through teachers' responses was a strong preference for department-initiated processes over centralized, schoolwide processes, and a desire to preserve instructors' individual autonomy.

Recommendations

  • Engage faculty in a multiyear process to improve the coherence of Andover's instructional system.
  • Focus on simplifying and fully implementing Andover's ten guiding principles for teaching review.
  • In deciding whether and how to implement the RAND team's recommendations, keep in mind four guiding principles emphasized in the research on implementing school reforms: (1) teacher buy-in is essential to successful change; (2) give faculty and departments time to meet to do the work of collating existing resources, identifying student competencies, and engaging in departmental review activities; (3); institutional commitment is crucial and can promote faculty buy-in; and (4) complexity lowers the likelihood of implementation.

Research conducted by

This study was commissioned by Phillips Academy Andover and undertaken by RAND Education and Labor.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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