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Accreditors Shift Toward Performance

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The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education announced last week that it plans to shift toward a system that will place greater emphasis on the performance of teacher-candidates in evaluating education schools.

Arthur E. Wise, the president of NCATE, described the change as "a very large undertaking" that would bring teacher education in line with the broader movement to set higher academic standards for students and teachers.

Arthur E. Wise

The plan to create a performance-based system over the next three years, known as NCATE 2000, won the unanimous approval of the organization's executive board this month.

"We have in elementary and secondary education increasing attention to whether kids are really learning or not," said Wilmer S. Cody, the Kentucky commissioner of education and the chairman of NCATE's executive board. "This new NCATE agenda is in that same vein, accrediting colleges of education in terms of whether their graduates are capable of performing."

The move toward looking at the work of candidates--rather than solely at curriculum and other "input" measures--likely will mean that teacher education programs will pay more attention to the occasions when their students are teaching children in schools, council officials said.

Education schools have been working for some time to beef up this clinical portion of teacher education, often through the creation of professional-development schools.

To provide guidance to universities and schools that are teaming up in this way, NCATE last week released a draft set of standards for professional-development schools. The standards, written with a grant from the AT&T Foundation, will be pilot-tested over the next several years.

The standards will be used as part of the NCATE 2000 overhaul to examine institutions with professional-development schools. But Mr. Wise said NCATE is not contemplating requiring such partnerships.

Balance Sought

While the details of the new accreditation system still must be worked out, it will underscore the quality of candidates' work, their subject-matter knowledge, and demonstrated teaching skill.

Wilmer S. Cody

The system is likely to use a combination of measures to evaluate teacher-candidates' performance, including state licensing exams and education schools' own evidence of their students' performance, Mr. Wise said. He emphasized that NCATE itself will not evaluate prospective teachers.

In states that require candidate performance in licensing examinations, NCATE could use the results as evidence in making its accreditation decisions. Most teacher education graduates now must take state exams, although they tend to be paper-and-pencil tests. A growing number of states, however, are working together to create licensing systems that would include performance measures.

Similarly, colleges and universities increasingly are requiring their teacher education students to prepare portfolios of their work, which tend to draw heavily on their efforts in precollegiate classrooms. A portfolio might include, for example, videotapes of a student teaching a lesson.

Mr. Wise, speaking at a Washington press conference called to announce NCATE's plans, said the council's on-site examining teams might look at a sample of student portfolios as one way to judge the quality of a program under review.

The new system won't be entirely based on candidates' performance, officials said. The accrediting body will continue to make sure that preparation programs--both initial and advanced--have a coherent "conceptual framework" based on research, said Kathe Rasch, the director of teacher education programs at Maryville University in St. Louis and the chairwoman of the NCATE board that accredits programs.

"As institutions, we believe we will continue to have a responsibility to think about the input end as well as the performance of our candidates," she said. "It's finding that balance."

Mr. Wise said the accrediting organization also plans to continue its emphasis on racial and ethnic diversity among students and faculty and in the curriculum, which has been one of the toughest standards for institutions to meet.

Seeking Compatibility

The NCATE 2000 overhaul will be as ambitious as the 1987 redesign of NCATE standards, which focused on making sure that teacher education programs were grounded in research, Mr. Wise said.

In the future, subject-matter standards will play a more prominent role in accreditation decisions because the review of individual programs--such as English or mathematics education--will be linked more closely with the overall examination of a school, college, or department of education.

The new system will be compatible with the model state licensing standards created by the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium, a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

In the case of advanced programs, accreditation standards are expected to mesh with those for advanced teacher certification established by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. ("Licensure Pact Pays Dividends for Teaching," May 21, 1997.)

Together, state licensing, teacher-institution accreditation, and advanced teacher certification make up what is often referred to as a "three-legged stool" of teacher quality.

David G. Imig, the chief executive officer of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, a Washington-based membership organization, called NCATE's decision to undertake performance-based accreditation "an exciting move" that would reinforce one leg of the stool.

For performance-based accreditation to take full root, Mr. Imig added, states will need to use performance assessments for licensing.

The change in NCATE standards is likely to prompt debate among education schools, some of which still chafe at the current requirements.

"The real concern is that this will be seen by some as a very reductionist kind of model, in the sense that you'd strive to have a single measure," Mr. Imig said. "That's not what [NCATE] is talking about. It's multiple measures at multiple times."

In addition to staying in sync with trends in education, Mr. Cody said the shift to demonstrated performance could help education schools build public confidence and recruit students from other disciplines.

The NCATE 2000 standards also will include new expectations for the use of technology in teacher preparation. An NCATE task force released a report last month calling for education schools to increase their use of technology and ensure that teachers are prepared to use it in their classrooms. ("NCATE Told To Emphasize Technology," Sept. 17, 1997.)

Ms. Rasch said she believes that education schools can meet these new challenges.

In the past five years, she said, the accrediting organization has seen "notable differences" in the quality of programs. Almost all of the organizations up for review during the last round of accreditation decisions were given the green light, she added.

"The process is working," she said.

The draft standards for professional-development schools are available for review on NCATE's World Wide Web site at www.ncate.org/projects/pds/pdsdraft.html. The group is accepting comments by e-mail to pds@ncate.org.

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