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Texas Boosts Accountability for Teacher Preparation

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Texas is moving to the head of the class when it comes to holding teacher training programs accountable for the quality of their students.

Beginning Sept. 1, 1998, Texas will rank such programs by the passing rates of their graduates on the state teacher-certification exam. If too many aspiring teachers fail, a state technical-assistance team will be dispatched to help the institution raise its scores.

If there is not enough improvement over three years, the program could lose its state accreditation, or its accreditation in a specific field, such as English.

"I think it's unquestionable that the quality of teachers is hand-over-fist better than 10 to 15 years ago," said Mark Littleton, the executive director of the State Board for Educator Certification. "But there's no doubt that it can get better."

Growing Results Push

Texas may be getting more aggressive than most states about overseeing teacher training, but it is not alone in its concerns.

"There's a growing national movement toward holding all education institutions, especially teacher preparation institutions, accountable for results," said Arthur E. Wise, the president of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, based in Washington.

Gordon Conway

He said that at least half the states are reviewing how they accredit teacher preparation programs.

Others are further along. Florida, for example, is in the second year of using scores on certification exams to review teacher training programs.

"In terms of expressed policies," Mr. Wise said, "Texas is at the vanguard of this movement, but is joined by a small group."

Texas lawmakers required the accountability system in their school reform law of 1995. The law created the certification board, which, among other tasks, must draft and implement the accountability rules.

This month, the board will discuss pass-fail thresholds on the certification exams that teacher preparation programs must meet. Aspiring teachers must pass the 11-year-old test, which is called the Exam for Certification of Educators in Texas, to be certified.

The certification board is considering a minimum pass rate of 70 percent for first-time test-takers from an individual teacher preparation program and 80 percent for students from the program who are repeating the exam.

Based on the most recent scores, 19 of the state's 90 teacher preparation programs, which are sponsored by colleges, education service agencies, and school districts, would fail to meet the proposed standards.

Those programs would require immediate intervention if they do not meet the final certification standards by next fall.

"The institutions have known that this is coming," Mr. Littleton said. "They've been taking steps on their own to improve."

A final vote on the standards is slated for January. The state board of education could veto the policy with a two-thirds vote.

Two other provisions of the accountability program are in earlier stages of development.

The board has until next spring to adopt standards for commendations for teacher training programs that excel in the following areas:

  • Preparation of teachers for high-need subjects, such as math;
  • Admission and graduation of high numbers of minority teachers;
  • Financial support for teacher training; and
  • Use of field-based preparation, or student-teaching in real classrooms.

More controversial, however, will be a system for reviewing teachers several years into their careers. Those rules do not have to be implemented until 2002.

Mr. Wise said a review system would be a logical, but difficult next step.

"It requires a lot of thought," he said. "But you don't want colleges accountable only for paper-and-pencil tests. It's not a full measure of the ability to teach."

Mixed Reviews

The accountability plan provoked varying reactions from higher education officials.

As the public demands more from teachers and students, institutions that prepare teachers must expect no less, said John Beck, the dean of the school of education at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos.

"Higher education has to respond to that," said Mr. Beck, whose school graduates about 800 certificate winners a year. "We have a moral imperative to ensure that people we put in classrooms make a difference."

Others are more apprehensive about the consequences that the sanctions could have on some programs.

"One concern is that if institutions that predominantly train minority candidates lose accreditations, that will have an impact on the number of minority teachers in the state," said Joyce Hardin, who is the president of the Texas Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

Other Texas educators say that the new accountability measures will do little to solve the greater problem of teacher shortages.

According to the certification board, 97 percent of Texas teachers are certified.

But half of those teach at least one subject outside the specialties in which they were certified.

John Cole, the president of the Texas Federation of Teachers, said that the board numbers understate the teacher shortage because they count emergency-credentialed teachers as certified. The percentage of uncertified teachers is closer to 12 percent, he said.

In Mr. Cole's opinion, "The real story that no one wants to deal with is that schools hire unaccredited teachers and don't tell anyone about it."

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