States Turn Their Attention to Teacher Improvement

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Teachers in South Carolina would no longer have to polish their repertoires of jokes to earn good job ratings under a new evaluation system that the state school board has approved.

If the legislature signs off this spring on the regulations to implement the ADEPT program, which stands for Assisting, Developing, and Evaluating Professional Teaching, the 20-year-old checklist that governed teachers' observations in the state will be discarded.

Instead of being asked to show humor in their lessons--a requirement that prompted many South Carolina teachers to throw in an obligatory joke on the day supervisors observed them--teachers would be judged against a more rigorous set of professional expectations.

The effort to improve the quality of South Carolina's teachers is part of a broader movement among states to bolster teachers' knowledge and skills. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Ridge unveiled a set of proposals last month for raising standards for teacher preparation and licensure.

And in Virginia, the state school board last week approved new requirements for licensure that by 2000 will beef up the amount of subject-matter preparation new teachers must have.

Throughout a Career

The South Carolina system is built around 10 criteria that describe the range of skills and knowledge that teachers must possess, such as short- and long-range instructional planning and monitoring and enhancing learning.

The proposed "performance dimensions" for teachers mirror the standards for beginning teachers created by a consortium of some 30 states under the auspices of the Council of Chief State School Officers. But in South Carolina, they would be used throughout each phase of a teacher's career, said Dan Linton, who coordinates the ADEPT program for the state education department.

The standards would be applied in teacher education programs, during a new first-year induction program for novices, and to evaluate teachers for tenure.

Districts would be able to use a new state evaluation process or one of their own design, as long as it met with state approval. Under the state model, teachers would be observed in the classroom at least six times.

Once teachers had earned tenure, districts would use a "goal-based evaluation program" that allows teachers and administrators to craft individualized plans for continuing professional growth.

Each district would have to set up an induction program for new teachers for which it would receive state funding. Novice teachers would get help from mentors, have chances to observe and consult with experienced teachers, and receive feedback on their progress in meeting the new standards.

About half the new teachers in South Carolina leave the classroom within five years, state Superintendent Barbara Stock Nielsen said. "We wanted to really avoid having that early burnout, when you're out there by yourself," she said.

The ADEPT program, which the legislature approved in concept last year, has been pilot-tested in several districts. A final go-ahead this spring would put it into effect statewide next school year.

Higher Scores

In Pennsylvania, state education officials are raising the bar for passing licensing tests.

"Our cut-off scores on some of those tests were pretty low," said Eugene W. Hickok, the state secretary of education. "Quite literally, you could score an F on our basic-knowledge test and that's passing."

Gov. Ridge, a Republican, also is asking the state school board to raise the minimum grade point average required for acceptance into teacher education programs from a 2.5 to a 3.0, require prospective secondary teachers to fulfill the major requirements for the subjects they will teach, and create an alternate route that would allow college graduates to obtain teaching licenses through apprenticeships and internship programs.

Currently, 32 states require secondary teachers to have an academic major.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association favors measures to strengthen teachers' knowledge, but has some reservations about alternative certification.

Wythe Keever, a spokesman for the National Education Association affiliate, said districts now have the opportunity to hire only the best-qualified teachers because there are five candidates for every job.

But setting up an alternate route could undermine efforts to improve the teaching force, he said.

"It seems inconsistent to say we're for higher standards, so people getting into teaching must be qualified," Mr. Keever said, "and then setting up an alternative-certification loophole."

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