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Published in Print: January 17, 2001, as Teaching & Learning

Teaching & Learning

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Performance Testing Being Readied
For Ohio Teachers

Ohio has taken a step closer to fulfilling a requirement that all new teachers become licensed based on their performance in the classroom as well as on the courses they take and their scores on paper-and-pencil tests.

The state school board last month set passing scores for teachers who take the new PRAXIS III licensing test, slated to be administered for the first time in 2003. Designed by the Princeton, N.J.-based Educational Testing Service, the PRAXIS III in Ohio will use trained assessors to evaluate teachers based on interviews with them and observations of their instruction. The evaluations will take place in the spring of a teacher's first year on the job. At the same time, new teachers will receive mentoring to ensure familiarity with the skills they'll be expected to demonstrate.

Although many states' licensure programs include the PRAXIS I and PRAXIS II exams—both of which are paper-and-pencil tests also produced by the ETS—Ohio is on track to be the first to implement the testing service's performance-based assessment. Teachers will have to score at least a 38 out of a possible 57 points before being granted a "professional teaching license," which will become the state's highest teaching credential. Candidates will get three tries to achieve a passing score.

"What PRAXIS III does is to show if someone can really use all of the knowledge and skills and make a difference in student learning," said Robert R. Hite, the director of the Ohio education department's Center for the Teaching Profession.

Getting Respect: Their training time might have been kept to a minimum, but graduates of Massachusetts' alternative-teacher-licensure program earn respectable marks from their schools' top administrators, according to a recent report.

State education officials launched the Massachusetts Institute for New Teachers in 1999 as a way to provide college graduates from other fields and midcareer professionals from outside teaching with an accelerated route into the profession. Recruits go through a seven-week crash course in which they attend seminars and work with seasoned educators as they help teach summer school. Most also receive $20,000 bonuses paid out over three years, though the state also has made the training available to some additional applicants. ("Mass. 'Bonus Babies' Get Crash Course," Sept. 6, 2000.)

Based on responses from 31 of the 46 schools that hired participants in the program's first year, the study by the state education department shows that more than 80 percent of their principals rate them as "average, above average, or well above average" when "compared to other beginning teachers with whom they had worked." Similarly, the program's graduates themselves expressed confidence in their abilities. More than three out of four who responded to a state survey agreed that they felt "as prepared as other first-year teachers in their schools."

But some of those who went through the abbreviated-training program indicated that some of their skills were lacking. Between 20 percent and 26 percent rated themselves as "poor" or "needing improvement" in classroom management, the integration of technology into instruction, and meeting the needs of special education students. The survey results also suggest that participants who felt most prepared overall were those who had been given primary responsibility for teaching a group of students during the training, and had had the chance to observe instruction by veteran teachers.

Similar crash courses have become increasingly popular as a way to meet the growing need for new teachers. Both the New York City and Philadelphia school systems have launched their own programs in recent months, without the hefty financial incentive to participants.

And Virginia education officials last week approved the expansion of the state's "Career Switchers" program, which gives participants a three-week training course before letting them teach their own classes. The program had previously served only people leaving the military, but now any professional with a bachelor's degree can apply.

'Pioneering' Education Schools: It isn't often that deans of schools of education earn celebrity status, so Kathy Lake is taking time to enjoy her turn in the limelight.

Terry K. Dozier

Since the U.S. Department of Education named Milwaukee's Alverno College one of four winners in the first National Awards Program for Effective Teacher Preparation last month, Ms. Lake, the education dean there, has been fielding a flurry of messages from colleagues around the country who want to know her trade secrets.

Such communication was the purpose behind the contest, said Terry K. Dozier, the senior adviser on teaching to U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley. The department created the awards to highlight innovative programs and provide models for other institutions to follow.

"I've had a steady stream of deans coming in and saying, 'We're totally ready to restructure. Who should we look at?'" Ms. Dozier said. "I wanted to provide concrete evidence of quality work. They are pioneers."

The winners' circle also includes teacher-preparation programs at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., Fordham University's graduate school of education in New York City, and Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.

Recipients were chosen from a pool of 19 applicants. Each was asked to provide evidence that its graduates were helping their precollegiate students improve their reading and mathematics skills.

This year's competition was open to all traditional and nontraditional teacher-preparation programs that train elementary and secondary mathematics educators, Ms. Dozier said.

Lofty Company:

Don Cameron

Don Cameron, the longtime executive director of the National Education Association until he retired Jan. 1, was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal last week for his service to the nation, alongside physicians, religious leaders, sports heroes, and stars of the silver screen. Established in 1969, the award is given annually by the president. Other 2001 honorees recognized by President Clinton included the civil rights advocate Constance Baker Motley, the boxer Muhammad Ali, and the actress Elizabeth Taylor.

Mr. Cameron led the staff of the nation's largest teachers' union for 17 years, and nearly doubled its membership, which now stands at more than 1 million.

Knocking Down Barriers: Contending that there are substantial barriers to providing children with good teachers, the U.S. Department of Education attempts to identify and detail them in a report written to help states and school districts become more aware of the problems.

For More Information

The report "Eliminating Barriers to Improving Teaching," is available online from the U.S. Department of Education, or for free by calling (877) 433-7827.

Among the troubles that plague schools, the report cites: bureaucratic practices, low standards for teacher certification, inadequate funding for professional development, poor working conditions, and lack of leadership.

"Eliminating Barriers to Improving Teaching" also explores solutions embraced by states and school districts. Strategies include using peer review when hiring teachers, creating a career ladder that provides increased pay based on specific tasks, and notifying parents when their children have been assigned to classrooms with uncertified teachers.

While the department does not necessarily endorse those strategies, it does support such others as financing research on teaching and harnessing the power of the "bully pulpit"afforded civic leaders to perpetuate change.

Teacher Grants: A Washington-based foundation plans this year to award what it hopes will become an annual round of grants to cultivate new ways of improving student achievement..

The NEA Foundation for the Improvement of Education plans to give out as many as 200 "innovation grants" of $2,000 to educators looking to breathe life into a new idea.

The money can be used to cover a wide range of expenses, from instructional materials to hiring consultants. The proposals must be made by teams of educators, which can include K-12 teachers, education support personnel, and college and university faculty. Although any group of public school educators may apply, preference will be given to NEA members looking to help at-risk students succeed in an environment of standards-based school improvement.

The grants, said Judith Rényi, the foundation's executive director, "will give opportunities for educators to test out their own best ideas."

Guidelines for the grants can be found online at, or by calling (202) 822-7840. The deadline for submitting proposals is March 15.

Endowed by the National Education Association, the 32-year-old philanthropy recently changed its name from the National Foundation for the Improvement of Education.

—By Jeff Archer & Julie Blair

Vol. 20, Issue 18, Page 14

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