Teacher Preparation

La. Eyes Linking Pupil Results, Teacher Training

By Jeff Archer — September 27, 2004 4 min read
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Louisiana could become the first state to hold its teacher-preparation programs accountable for their graduates’ ability to improve student achievement.

Louisiana’s “Value-Added Teacher Preparation Program Assessment Model,” is available online from the Louisiana Board of Regents.

A recent pilot test there compared the gains in test scores made by children taught by educators who completed preservice training at three different universities.

Once further analyses with more data can be carried out, Louisiana officials plan to use the results in determining which preparation programs meet state approval and which are in need of restructuring.

“The colleges of education have to be part of our overall accountability system,” said Rep. Carl N. Crane, the Republican who chairs the education committee of the Louisiana House of Representatives.

A briefing on the pilot test comparing the universities is planned at a hearing before Mr. Crane’s committee this week.

The new focus on results comes amid calls nationwide for better ways to gauge the quality of teacher preparation. Many states now rate such programs primarily on such factors as the percentage of their graduates who pass their licensing exams, a crude measure of a program’s effectiveness, critics say.

“What I think Louisiana has said is: Why fiddle around with more proxies; why not look at what matters most, which is when they get into the classroom are they actually prepared to help students learn more?” said Kati Haycock, the director of the Education Trust, a Washington- based group that advocates high academic standards for all students.

Preparation Matters

Louisiana officials say they are able to make the link between student achievement and teacher preparation because the state has established an extensive system for tracking performance data.

George H. Noell, a psychology professor at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, carried out the recent pilot test of the state’s proposed method for rating programs. He analyzed student results on state assessments from 2002 and 2003.

Students tended to show greater improvement if they were taught by teachers who had attended one university as opposed to another, he found. Moreover, recent graduates from one of the three preparation programs produced more learning gains in their students in mathematics than did veteran teachers overall.

“It doesn’t have to be the case that experienced teachers get superior results compared to new teachers,” said Mr. Noell. “It may be possible to prepare new teachers who are even more effective than our experienced teachers.”

Because the system still is in the testing phase, the names of the institutions are not being released.

The researcher noted that few of the differences were statistically significant, although he expects that to change when he’s able to analyze more data. His initial study included students from 10 of the state’s 66 parishes, as counties in Louisiana are called. The state has 19 institutions that prepare teachers.

Louisiana isn’t the only place where education leaders are using a “value added” approach to weigh the effect of teacher-training programs on outcomes for their graduates’ students. Researchers at three universities in Ohio have jointly launched a similar study of the Buckeye State’s 50 teacher-preparation institutions.

But Louisiana appears to be the closest to using such measures as part of its process for program approval, according to Michael Allen, a program director at the Education Commission of the States. The Denver-based group tracks state education policy.

“There has been talk about this, but to my knowledge, there is not another state that is as far along in actually being able to propose doing it,” Mr. Allen said.

Education school deans in Louisiana say they’re reserving judgment until they learn more about the pilot test.

Jo Ann Dauzat, the dean of the college of education at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, said the key is how well the method works.

“I don’t think that we have an objection to that, because that’s really what our intention is: to produce those teachers who do in fact create the very best learning opportunities and high student achievement,” said Ms. Dauzat, who is also the president of the Louisiana Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. “Whether this model can get us that remains to be seen.”

State officials pledge to work out any kinks. They plan to collect data for two to three more years before deciding exactly how the plan will be implemented. Even then, the main objective will be to help teacher-preparation institutions by identifying what makes a program successful, said Jeanne M. Burns, the associate commissioner for teacher education initiatives with the state board of regents.

“Our intent here is not to eliminate or close any of our teacher- preparation programs—we need every one of them,” she said. “Our intent is to really learn from each other, and from those programs that are most effective.”

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