NCATE Unveils Standards Based on Performance
Education schools will have to show evidence that their graduates can successfully teach children in order to become accredited, under standards released last week by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.
The updated standards, which will be required for education schools beginning in fall 2001, represent "far-reaching changes" from NCATE's previous criteria, Arthur E. Wise, the president of the accrediting organization, said at a press conference here.
"In the past, we focused the standards on what a college offers and what its curriculum is," Mr. Wise said. "That does not take you to results." Five states now require their education schools to attain NCATE accreditation; 14 more use NCATE standards to evaluate their education schools. And numerous other states use the standards in some fashion.
The new standards, ratified by NCATE's executive board this month, put a heavy emphasis on teacher-candidates' demonstrated knowledge of their subjects and their skills in teaching them to children.
Under the new performance-based system, institutions seeking accreditation must assess their students' performance regularly and share the results with accreditors. In addition to looking at evidence collected by the education school—including teacher-candidates' projects, journals, videotapes, or other work—accreditors will take into account prospective teachers' passing rates on state licensing tests, evaluations conducted during their induction periods, and reports from employers.
To gain accreditation, education schools must submit self-studies that describe how they have used national and state academic and teacher standards to design their programs. They also will be expected to gather data from performance measures and use it to further refine and improve their programs, which Mr. Wise said would be a powerful lever for change in their programs over time.
The standards collapse NCATE's previous requirements from 20 categories into six. Examiners, who visit education schools every five years, will look at such factors as: teacher-candidates' knowledge, skills, and dispositions; the school's assessment system and method of evaluating its work; prospective teachers' field experiences and clinical practice; the school's efforts to ensure that its faculty is racially and ethnically diverse and that candidates work with children of differing backgrounds; the qualifications, performance, and development of faculty members; and the education school's governance and resources.
In addition to the six standards, each institution will be required, as in the past, to have a coherent "conceptual framework" that establishes a vision and direction for its programs. The new standards strongly emphasize technology as a part of such frameworks, stating that it should be integrated throughout the curriculum, instruction, field experiences, clinical practice, assessments, and evaluations of the school.
The new standards will apply to all the programs an education school offers, including those that prepare principals, psychologists, and other specialists.
The rigorous new requirements, Mr. Wise said, may well cost more for universities to offer. "For too long, teachers' colleges have been cash cows," he said. "Universities must make investments."
NCATE officials also anticipate that institutions will have a more difficult time satisfying the new standards. "We expect it will be much more challenging," Mr. Wise said. "We are prepared to stay the course."
Currently, about 75 percent of the institutions that seek NCATE accreditation are successful on the first try, and only about 15 percent lose their accreditation when they are re-examined. But the last time the accrediting body underwent a significant overhaul, in 1988, about one-third of the education schools that sought accreditation failed initially. Some fled the organization.
Bob Chase, the president of the National Education Association and the chairman of NCATE's executive board, called the new standards "a historic step forward."
"These standards expect teachers to develop competence through practice, under supervision, for a reasonable length of time," he said. "In other words, we want aspiring teachers to learn what works and what doesn't work before they are in a classroom by themselves."
NCATE's move to look at aspiring teachers' scores on state licensing examinations adds weight to the growing scrutiny of such tests. Institutions that receive federal aid are now required to report their students' passing scores to the federal government.
In the 35 states that administer the Praxis series of tests, Mr. Wise said, examiners will want to see scores from the subject-matter test battery. The new standards, known as NCATE 2000, don't require a specific test.
The accreditation process will be flexible enough that examiners will take into account high pass rates in states with easy tests, Mr. Wise added, compared with lower rates in states with more demanding tests.
In states that require both tests and a period of formal induction before teachers earn permanent licenses, Mr. Wise said, education schools will have an easier time gathering the evidence they need to show their quality. "Colleges in states that don't have testing programs are going to have to do more work," he said.
Nancy S. Grasmick, the state superintendent of schools in Maryland, called the new standards a good fit with efforts by states to improve their schools by embracing high standards for students and related assessments."
With the high level of mobility among teachers today, teacher education institutions must prepare candidates for licensing, and there must be an alignment between licensing and job expectations," she said. "These standards will give us more information on candidates than we have had previously.''
In Maryland, where the legislature has mandated that education schools become NCATE-accredited by 2004, the new standards will have an immediate impact. Currently, just eight of the state's 22 education programs are accredited by NCATE.The new standards, said Ms. Grasmick, who endorsed them on behalf of the Council of Chief State School Officers, "will be a catalyst for removing any inertia that might exist in colleges of education."
Although the new standards will require more of education schools, Roderick J. McDavis, the provost and vice president for academic affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, said he believes they are up to the challenge. "For us as colleges, it means we will be able to present our teacher education units as having met rigorous standards, and they will be able to say, 'We are about producing quality.'"
Representatives of the 33 organizations that make up the accrediting body wrote the new standards over two years. The organization also has specific subject-matter standards in 17 areas; last fall, NCATE announced new standards for elementary teachers, for example.
The organization currently accredits 500 institutions and has another 100 seeking accreditation. One-fifth of the schools are up for review each year, so by 2006 all NCATE-accredited education schools will have been tested against the new standards.
Vol. 19, Issue 37, Pages 1,14