Teacher Preparation Opinion

Helping Prepare Teachers in Massachusetts for Day One

By Urban Education Contributor — October 15, 2018 5 min read
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This week we are hearing from a partnership between the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (@MASchoolsK12) and Abt Associates (@abtassociates). This post is by Claire Abbott (@clj1177), Manager PK-12 Educator Effectiveness at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Today’s post outlines the research conducted by the partnership. Stay tuned: Thursday we will share how research findings are used in practice.

Massachusetts has set an ambitious goal: By 2022, teacher candidates prepared in Massachusetts will enter classrooms and demonstrate results on par with peers in their third year of teaching. We feel a great sense of urgency on this because in Massachusetts, as elsewhere in the country, new teachers are disproportionately hired into underperforming schools and placed in classrooms with historically marginalized student populations. While many of these teachers will be strong from their first day in the classroom, on average, new teachers in Massachusetts receive lower performance ratings than their more experienced peers, and students placed with new teachers make smaller gains in their learning than students placed with more experienced teachers (see our state equity report for more). To help all of our state’s students succeed, first-year teachers need to be ready on day one.

What the Research Examines

One important way Massachusetts is moving the needle when it comes to teacher readiness is through a new performance assessment for all teacher candidates. Developed in 2015, the Candidate Assessment of Performance, or CAP, assesses a teacher candidate’s readiness on the same performance standards that are used to evaluate in-service teachers, from meeting diverse needs to cultivating a safe learning environment to establishing high expectations for all students. This intentional alignment from pre-service to in-service expectations promotes development of the skills that new teachers need to affect student learning from the moment they enter into a classroom.

Rolling out a new statewide performance assessment for approximately 4,000 teacher candidates attending over 60 Massachusetts-based sponsoring organizations is a complex endeavor. Gathering information about implementation along the way is critical to our ability to stay on top of real-time implementation hurdles, check our assumptions, and change course when needed. We had previously worked with Abt Associates on a stream of research related to educator evaluation in schools and districts, so it was natural to partner with them again to examine implementation of this preparation-based evaluation initiative. We were fortunate to win a Spencer Foundation research-practice partnership grant to support the study, which launched in 2016.

What the Research Finds

Alongside Abt and our Massachusetts preparation providers, we’ve spent the past two years learning about the educators who support CAP, the teacher candidates who experience the assessment, and CAP’s impact on our programs. Through surveys and case studies, we found that CAP has fundamentally reshaped the responsibilities of supervising practitioners (i.e., cooperating teachers) and program supervisors as they shift away from the mentoring roles typical under the prior system to more formal evaluator roles under CAP. Not only are supervising practitioners and supervisors conducting focused observations of candidates and providing targeted feedback, they are working closely together to calibrate their judgments of candidate efficacy and rate the candidate’s practice at the conclusion of the practicum. While this is an especially marked change in a supervising practitioner’s role, the close alignment between CAP and the supervising practitioner’s own evaluation process has facilitated this shift and helped to make it more meaningful for both the candidate and the supervising practitioner.

We also learned that our providers believe CAP to be an improvement over the prior teacher candidate assessment system, and that CAP is even more effective when providers and districts work together to support the supervising practitioners, schools, and the districts in which teacher candidates conduct their student teaching.

Implications for Practice

We still grapple with the challenges that come along with large scale change, but working through these together—with the insights of both Abt Associates and our preparation providers—puts everyone in a better position to realize our ambitions with this assessment. Therefore, we’ve been deliberate about not just sharing the information we collect back with our providers, but seeking their input on resources that are most likely to support their work. This partnership is designed to generate not just research evidence, but actionable tools and resources our state needs to better serve its teachers and students. If we want our providers to interpret, find value in, and gain insight from those outputs, they need to be participants in shaping the research agenda, asking the questions, and piloting the resources that emerge.

In Part II of the CAP story, learn about how we as a state agency have partnered with both Abt and several preparation providers to take what we’ve learned about CAP over the past three years and turn it into compelling, actionable resources that schools and programs can use to continuously improve the feedback and supports they’re providing to new teachers.

Previous blog posts from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education:

Curious about other research topics partnerships have written about for this blog? See this Guide to the NNERPP EdWeek Blog for all previous blog posts organized by research topic area to easily find other posts of particular interest to you!

Picture: Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

The opinions expressed in Urban Education Reform: Bridging Research and Practice are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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