Despite concerns that they would not have enough time to gather the information, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico were expected to file report cards ranking their teacher-preparation programs with the U.S. Department of Education last week.
This is the first time that such federally mandated data have been collected nationally.
“In general, the process worked well,” said Lindsey Kozberg, a spokeswoman for Secretary of Education Rod Paige. “The important thing is that we’re getting the information out there to the public. It will help them make choices and chart future directions.”
The Education Department expects to have all state report cards posted online for public viewing by mid-November, she said. An analysis of the data will be shared with Congress in April of next year.
The goal of the report cards is to show passing rates on state teacher-licensure exams and other important information. They were required by federal lawmakers in Title II of the Higher Education Act of 1998 in an attempt to ensure accountability after years of complaints that teacher-training program were unwilling to make the changes necessary to prepare highly competent graduates.
The state report cards are the second of two batches of data requested by Congress for the 1999-2000 academic year. Both will now be required annually.
The first body of information was prepared by the nation’s 1,300 teacher-preparation programs and detailed students’ passing rates on tests, the number of students in each program, and faculty-to-student ratios.
That research was sent last spring to each state, which further analyzed the information and ranked each college of education and alternative teacher-preparation program. The schools were placed into quartiles, based on passing rates and other characteristics. State administrators were responsible for setting passing rates and determining the weight given to other criteria.
Though officials had nearly two years to complete the assignment, some feared that they would not be able to finish. Many had difficulty converting the numbers they had on hand to the Education Department’s format. Some, when they began working with the numbers, realized that they were unreliable. Others simply didn’t have the data and had to spend a great deal of money and time collecting it.
“It was a challenging, but doable task,” said Judy Miller, the director of assessment for the Indiana Professional Standards Board, the agency that compiled the data for the Indiana education department. “Our database was not designed to generate data the way they were asking for it. It was like putting a square peg into a round hole.”
Notes and Flowers
While many states turned to private contractors to help them amass the information, others worked on their own. Many complimented consultants at the U.S. Department of Education for their efforts in helping them untangle a complex process, sending thank-you notes and flowers in appreciation.
“It has been something that has brought all our institutions in the state to the table and gives them some idea of how they’re doing and where they need to improve,” said Phillip S. Roger, the director of the division of teaching and research for the Kentucky standards board, which prepared the document.
However, at least one aspect of the report cards has been sharply criticized by state officials.
The system of placing teacher-preparation programs evenly into quartiles is a bad one, they argue, because it forces states to give low marks to high-quality institutions.
In Ohio, for example, teacher-preparation programs with passing rates in the 70th percentile ended up ranked at the bottom, with those that had passing rates in the 40th percentile, said Marilyn M. Braatz, a spokeswoman with the Center for the Teaching Profession at the state’s education department.
The state refrained from posting the information about the ratings on its Web site so as to avoid misperceptions, she said.
Federal education officials will review the process after filing this years’ report cards, Ms. Kozberg said. They may chose to amend it at that time.