Teaching Profession

Colleges’ Assessments of Candidates’ Impact on Students Detailed

By Vaishali Honawar & Vaishali Honawar — April 21, 2008 5 min read

The belief that teacher-candidates need to demonstrate they can help their future students learn before they enter classrooms as full-fledged educators has gained strength over the past decade, especially among states. Now, a new book highlights assessments crafted by teacher education programs in recent years with the goal of doing just that.

While approaches vary, the assessments usually require teacher hopefuls to gather and analyze data to show that their students are learning; to pretest and post-test students to gauge what they have learned and tailor teaching based on that information; and to tailor individual plans for students who are not learning, said officials from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, which published the book, It’s All About Student Learning, Assessing Teacher Candidates’ Ability to Impact P-12 Students.

The publication highlights assessments from 13 teacher education programs, including Teachers College, Columbia University; Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tenn.; and Alverno College, in Milwaukee; as well as from three consortia of teacher programs.

Arthur E. Wise, the president of NCATE, said the emphasis on performance assessments has resulted in a “dramatic change” in teacher capabilities and practice over the last few years. All the group’s nearly 700 member institutions now have such assessments, he added.

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Those highlighted in the book, he said, “are the ones that have come to our attention that are very good.”

The changes came largely after a revision of NCATE standards in 2000, when it started requiring member programs to adopt performance-based standards. Teacher-candidates have to show that in addition to possessing content knowledge and pedagogical skills, they can help all students learn.

Data Documentation

Several states have in recent years started requiring aspiring teachers to pass performance assessments before they can get their licenses. Some states, including Ohio, Kansas, Louisiana, Oregon, and Washington, already have such requirements in place.

In California next school year, all teacher-candidates will have to pass a performance assessment before they can get their teaching credentials. Highlighted in the NCATE book is the Performance Assessment for California Teachers, or PACT, produced by 30 teacher programs in the state.

That assessment, which occurs mainly during student-teaching, requires candidates to put together extensive, subject-specific portfolios. They craft lesson plans describing how, for instance, to take care of the needs of special education students and English-language learners. Every day, candidates reflect and write about the day’s teaching experience, analyze what students learned and what they didn’t, and consider changes to help students who didn’t master the material.

Linking Teaching With Learning

The book It’s All About Student Learning, Assessing Teacher Candidates’ Ability to Impact P-12 Students highlights assessments developed by teacher education programs. Among them:

Indiana University of Pennsylvania: Through a work sample, student-teachers of Spanish and French education provide evidence that they can engage in effective standards-based planning and use best practices to provide opportunities for student success, as well as analyze student-assessment results and adapt instruction accordingly.

Teachers College, Columbia University: Teacher-candidates plan a lesson based on an assessment of their students’ content and language skills. They then teach and videotape the lesson, share the videotape with other candidates, and prepare a reflection paper on the effectiveness of the lesson.

Alverno College: Aspiring teachers identify contextual factors such as community, district, school, and student characteristics; set learning goals; pretest and post-test students; and analyze student test data to determine students’ progress. Candidates also reflect on their own performance and link it to student learning.

Wheelock College: Candidates, with the help of their supervisors, each select a child who has demonstrated learning and/or behavior challenges. The prospective teacher observes, assesses, and evaluates the student and uses findings to design and adapt instruction for that student.

SOURCE: National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education

The Renaissance Partnership for Improving Teacher Quality, a consortium of 11 state universities scattered across the country, focuses on seven teaching processes that could enhance teacher-candidates’ ability to improve their students’ learning.

Lillie S. West, an associate professor in the teacher program at Millersville University in Millersville, Pa., a member of the Renaissance partnership, said the candidates gather information on such factors as community and characteristics of students, as well as knowledge of students’ varied approaches to learning, to set learning goals and objectives and plan lessons. They use multiple assessments to pretest and post-test students and use the data to analyze whether students are learning.

At Western Oregon University’s college of education in Monmouth, candidates devise tests, analyze results, craft lesson plans, and reflect on modifications they may need to make, or alternative strategies for teaching material.

“No longer is it good enough for teacher education faculty … to simply say, ‘I taught the material,’ ” said Hilda Rosselli, the dean of education at Western Oregon.

At Vanderbilt University, special education teacher candidates select two students and closely monitor their progress. And at the Bank Street College of Education in New York City, the aspirants observe and record the behavior of a child in a variety of contexts at school and then analyze their observation notes.

Insufficient Research?

Tom Carroll, the president of the Washington-based National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, said the assessments highlighted in the book are a valuable resource.

“It is essential for teacher-preparation programs to be able to document the links between the way teachers are prepared and the learning of their students,” he said.

Others, however, said it would take more research before colleges can come up with effective assessments. Arthur E. Levine, the president of the Princeton, N.J.-based Woodrow Wilson Foundation and a former president of Teachers College, agreed that linking teaching with learning is essential.

“But are we doing it effectively? No. It is really hard right now,” he said. “We don’t know what it is that produces teachers with the capacity to improve student achievement. That research is yet to be done, and it is important that education schools get involved in that research.”

Candidates from programs with such assessments say they have benefited in their practice.

Steve Richards, who teaches 6th grade communication arts at Lebanon Middle School in Lebanon, Pa., graduated in 2006 from Millersville University.

Mr. Richards said he crafted learning goals for his students. At the beginning of the year, 38.6 percent of his students were performing at the “proficient/ advanced” level on state tests—lower than the 43 percent average of proficient/advanced students in the rest of the school. But by the end of the year, the proportion of his students performing at the proficient/advanced level had risen to 81 percent, while only 66 percent in the rest of the school had reached that level.

So impressed were his principal and colleagues that Mr. Richards, a second-year teacher, said he has now been asked to help out with staff development.

A version of this article appeared in the April 23, 2008 edition of Education Week as Colleges’ Assessments of Candidates’ Impact on Students Detailed

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