California has given the nod to a rigorous assessment created by teacher colleges that requires aspiring educators to show students are learning before they earn their preliminary licenses.
The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing this month approved the Performance Assessment for California Teachers , or PACT, developed by a consortium of 30 teacher education programs in the state. Led by Stanford University, the group includes colleges in the University of California and California State University systems, and other private and independent schools.
Starting next school year, all teacher-candidates will have to pass a performance assessment before they can get their teaching credentials. A state law passed in 1998 requires such evaluations take place, but a lack of state funding delayed implementation.
Teacher programs, which can choose from either PACT or another, state-generated assessment called the California Teacher Performance Assessment, or CA-TPA, have, in many cases, already been piloting one of the two.
The colleges that have piloted PACT have helped shape and improve the model over the past four years, said Raymond L. Pecheone, the director of the assessment and the co-director of the School Redesign Network at Stanford.
“Some of these universities are very small and some very large, and they all have very different issues. We took all of that into account,” he said.
P. David Pearson, the director of the state’s teacher-credentialing commission and the dean of the graduate school of education at UC-Berkeley, lauded PACT as a grassroots effort by the colleges. “This and the CA-TPA assessment put California in a position of national leadership in teacher assessment,” Mr. Pearson said.
Connecticut has for several years had a teacher-performance assessment in place that has won critical acclaim. Arkansas and Ohio have also used versions of Praxis 3 to move teachers from an initial license to a continuing one.
But because of its size and the number of teachers involved, as well as their diversity, “California has the potential to have a larger national impact,” said Carol Smith, the vice president for professional issues and partnerships at the Washington-based American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.
Jerry DeLuca, the director of client relations for the Educational Testing Service, said his nonprofit organization will highlight performance-based assessments, including those in California, at a teacher-quality symposium at its campus in Princeton, N.J., later this month to representatives from at least 10 states that are working on such assessments or want to.
CA-TPA, which the ETS helped develop, requires teachers to carry out specific tasks, including demonstrating subject-specific pedagogy, designing instruction, and assessing learning. Candidates carry out a teaching experience toward the end of the course in which they are expected to put in practice what they have learned.
PACT, on the other hand, occurs mainly during student-teaching, when candidates are expected to put together extensive, subject-specific portfolios, similar to those that teachers seeking national-board certification create, though on a smaller scale.
“In their [lesson] plans, they have to describe how to take the needs of special education students and English-language-learners into account,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford and one of the founders of the consortium.
Every day, candidates reflect and write about the day’s teaching experience, analyze what students learned, what they didn’t, and consider changes to help students who didn’t master the materials.
“It is a much more holistic assessment, a deeper assessment of teachers’ content knowledge and pedagogy, a deeper assessment of student learning and teacher response to student learning,” said Ms. Darling-Hammond. Signature assignments that focus on the candidates’ knowledge of curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, and student learning are also embedded through the coursework, although right now those are not considered during the credentialing decision, Stanford’s Mr. Pecheone said.
‘Way We Do Business’
A handful of studies have been conducted on the PACT pilots, and results so far have been positive.
Mr. Pecheone, who co-wrote one study, said teacher-candidates found the assessment requires a significant investment of time, especially because teacher programs in the state typically are just a year long. Still, he said, “what pleased us was that a significant number of students said that their engagement in doing the portfolio was a critical learning experience.”
So deep is the interest in PACT, Ms. Darling-Hammond said, colleges that piloted it have continued to participate for years, spending their own money to do so even in the absence of state funding.
Mr. Pearson said he believes most colleges are prepared for next year, when the assessments become mandatory. “Will everyone be prepared to do it? Yes and no, but they don’t have any choice,” he said. “Most people will accept the challenge because it is these kinds of adjustments that bring out the best in the profession.”
A version of this article appeared in the October 17, 2007 edition of Education Week as Performance Test for New Calif. Teachers Approved