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Q&A: College Head Reflects on Vt. Plan To Revamp Teacher Training

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In August 1990, Richard P. Mills, Vermont's commissioner of education, and the state board of education challenged the 12 institutions in Vermont that educate teachers to devise a new process by which the state would approve their programs.

The charge followed changes made in 1989 to Vermont's licensure standards that required all graduates of teacher-education programs to have a liberal-arts major by July 1995.

Next month, the state board will vote on a recommendation by the institutions to create a "results oriented'' approach to teacher education. It is believed to be the first such proposal.

Peggy R. Williams, the president of Lyndon State College in Lyndonville, Vt., discussed the proposal with Assistant Editor Ann Bradley.

Q. Why is Vermont changing its program-approval standards?

A. In the change to new regulations that encouraged flexibility and diversity in how [students] became a teacher, the method of program approval that assumes that the curriculum is all the same became immediately outdated.

The issue then became one of looking at what the program-approval process looked like. The process in place looked at only input--curriculum, faculty credentials, library holdings--what we did to students. And that no longer seemed to work if the curriculum they were engaging in was not going to be the same.

Q. It is interesting that the responsibility was given directly to the college and university presidents.

A. There was an explicit agenda there. The sense is, if you're going to improve teacher preparation, the presidents have to see teacher training as ... an important component of what our schools do. The presidents of the colleges that prepare teachers actually signed an agreement with the commissioner and the state board to undertake the challenge.

Q. What are the highlights of your proposal?

A. The main thrust was that whatever the process was, it should be results-oriented. The idea was that we need to evaluate programs or approve them on the basis of what we know about what their graduates know and are able to do.

A complex process such as teacher preparation, in our minds, didn't lend itself to evaluation on a single measure. It seemed the only alternative was multiple measures of quantitative and qualitative data. And so, as we started thinking about what those measures might be, we came to the conclusion that a portfolio process would be the way to go.

Q. What would a teacher candidate include in her portfolio?

A. Every institution has to include certain ingredients. ... We have also developed a list of optional ones that would be a good idea, but we wouldn't require. [The required items] include everything from student work samples to endorsements--written statements from other faculty members or student-teaching supervisors--to field-placement observations.

Journals are something we have in as optional. Lesson plans and unit plans are required. We are also interested in the product of the student-teachers' students' work--evidence of the pupils' learning and reflective statements by the college students about what they were trying to do and why they did thus and so.

Q. What would an institutional portfolio look like?

A. There is aggregate data that would run across the student body in any of these programs, and certain surveys would probably be in there--G.P.A. information, etc. The notion is, then a visiting team would come and review the institutional portfolio. It would include samples from student portfolios, and if they want access to [more] student portfolios, that would be available. We would expect institutions to have representative samples of what is in student portfolios, and not only best work, but growth over a period of four years.

Q. How do these efforts mesh with the effort to use portfolios in precollegiate education in Vermont?

A. Independent of what they are doing in the public schools, we did indeed come to portfolios as the best way to collect and look at ... data. The irony in using this is that we are directly or indirectly exposing would-be teachers to portfolios, which will help them in Vermont when they go out into the schools and use portfolio evaluation with their students.

Q. When would this begin?

A. If it is adopted by the state board, it would begin immediately. We have some institutions that would go through it next year. They will not really be looking at graduates, they will be looking at student products. But we didn't think we could wait four years to do anything.

The other issue we've been pretty honest about is that we don't really know what this is going to cost and how feasible it is. But we've said we're ready to go ahead and two or three years into the process we may have to revisit those questions.

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