At Emporia State University in Kansas, candidates for teacher education are assessed at multiple points, from the time they are admitted to the program until they graduate. The assessments are analyzed to determine whether candidates are acquiring the requisite knowledge, skills, and professional dispositions to enter a classroom.
At Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., each program area issues an annual analysis of teacher-candidate performance, as well as plans to address weaknesses revealed by the data.
Those are but a few of the teacher-training programs highlighted in a report from the Washington-based National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education that investigates how institutions are complying with the performance-based assessment standards it instituted in 2001. The standards were revamped in part to address complaints that such institutions did an inadequate job of preparing their graduates.
Under NCATE standards, schools of education are required to provide evidence that their graduates have the knowledge and skills to teach successfully. To do so, the institutions must put systems in place that regularly gauge student performance and use the data to improve their programs. The colleges are required to evaluate candidates from the time they start, at appropriate transition points, and at program completion.
Get more information on how to order “Spotlight on Schools of Education: Institutional Responses to NCATE Standards 1 and 2" from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.
Based on a review of 58 accreditation reports written in fall 2003, the NCATE report scheduled for release this week indicates that some complaints of teacher education programs not having to answer for the quality of their graduates are unjustified.
“I would say to critics that change is occurring, and the evidence will increasingly mount that teacher preparation carried out properly will be even more effective in preparing teachers for the very demanding roles that they will have in today’s world,” said NCATE President Arthur E. Wise.
Schools have risen to the challenge of implementing the standards, he said, adding that most NCATE-accredited schools now have assessment systems in place.
“The consequence of this is to focus the universities’ and faculty members’ attention on what candidates know and do. This is a very big change,” Mr. Wise said. “In the past, everyone’s energies were focused on the content of courses and experiences that they offered.”
A survey of more than 1,000 education school deans and NCATE coordinators last year found that 93 percent of respondents agreed that their own institutions showed better alignment between standards, curriculum, instruction, and assessment as a result of working with the NCATE standards.
More than eight in 10 said the standards had prompted faculty members to focus more on student learning, to improve their assessment techniques, and to better track the knowledge and skills of teacher-candidates.
At Emporia State, an assessment system had been in place for a long time, even before NCATE’s revised standards, but, said Tes Mehring, the dean of the Teachers College, “NCATE assisted us to be more systematic.”
In the past, data were collected by individual departments and the information was not always shared. Now, said Dean Mehring, “regardless of where the program is housed, whether in arts or sciences, the data come back to the teacher college, where it is aggregated and discussed.” The data are used to identify strengths and weaknesses in the program and make modifications.
While the process of setting up the data system was labor-intensive, college offices say they reaped benefits once it was up.
“We are looking at candidates all the time, not just once or twice a year, and the data we gain from that we immediately use to improve a program,” said Patricia Graham, the dean of the college of education at Winthrop University.
University officials say they are constantly finding new uses for the data systems.
Winthrop officials found that large numbers of pre-majors were giving up their teaching aspirations in the freshman and sophomore years because they did not have the required 2.75 grade point average, said Associate Dean Caroline Everington.
The college is now getting in touch with such students, pointing them to resources that will help them achieve the required GPA, and having advisers work with them to keep them on track to enroll in the college of education.
More Change Needed
NCATE accredits about half the nation’s 1,200 schools of education; almost 100 more have applied for accreditation. The organization reviews and revises its standards every seven years, and is examining whether any changes are called for. Mr. Wise said revisions in 2008 would be modest because NCATE is largely satisfied with the direction that institutions are taking under the 2001 standards.
But the report makes some suggestions for improvement. It urges teacher colleges to work harder to devise assessments of academic-content knowledge, which, it acknowledges, is difficult because content-area courses are often housed in liberal arts colleges and not in colleges of education.
The accrediting agency also recommends that institutions continue working toward developing more assessments for advanced-level programs, such as school administration and school counseling.
Overall, the report concludes, institutions are undergoing “meaningful change.”
“Accredited institutions have made a paradigm shift,” it says. “The institutions are more learner-focused, more data-driven, and more accountable for producing educators who will have a positive impact on student learning than ever before.”
A version of this article appeared in the March 15, 2006 edition of Education Week as Teacher-Training Schools Meeting NCATE-Set Assessment Standards