Design For Change

An interstate alliance is building a system for licensing teachers.

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Ask a handful of educators about the importance of INTASC, and you'll probably see the kind of blank stares you get from students who haven't done their homework. That's somewhat surprising, because INTASC represents one of the nation's most important efforts to ensure that youngsters have fully qualified teachers.

Founded by Connecticut and California in 1987 to pool state expertise on teacher-licensure issues, INTASC--an alphabet-soup moniker that stands for the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium--has become a big tent where the many players with responsibility for teaching share their work.

Coordinated by the Council of Chief State School Officers, the consortium includes representatives of 30 state education departments, teacher training programs, and leading education organizations. The latter include both national teachers' unions, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which certifies expert teachers.

The INTASC effort has started paying dividends far beyond those imagined by its founders a decade ago. For example, the consortium has created a well-regarded set of model standards for what every beginning teacher should know and be able to do as well as content-specific licensure standards in a few core disciplines. What's more, it has developed sample portfolio assessments that offer a new gauge of teachers' fitness.

About half the states are using the model standards to guide their own licensing policies. "This has grown from the grassroots," says Raymond Pecheone, Connecticut's chief of research and assessment. "We've produced something that resonates with lots of universities and state education departments, which are making lots of changes as a result."

Licensure, accreditation, and national certification are not the kinds of education topics most people get excited about, but many reformers now see them as critical pieces of the national effort to improve the nation's schools. Last year, the prestigious National Commission on Teaching & America's Future argued that licensing by the state, accreditation of teacher education programs by NCATE, and advanced certification offered by the teaching-standards board make up the "three-legged stool of teacher quality." "Although the work of these organizations may sound unglamorous," the commission said in its report, "they offer the most powerful tools we have for reaching and rejuvenating the soul of the profession."

The licensing system envisioned by INTASC calls for three tests: a subject-matter examination; a test of teaching knowledge that will probe a candidate's understanding of child development, theories of teaching and learning, and other topics; and an assessment of classroom performance. The exams would be given at key points in a beginning teacher's development.

Designing this kind of performance-based system from the ground up would be a complex task for any one state. But thanks to INTASC, states are able to pool their expertise and share the cost.

So far, Connecticut is the only state administering the performance assessments for licensure. In the late 1980s, Connecticut was considered a pioneer because it required new teachers to have mentors and to be observed periodically in their classrooms. But the observations were focused only on teachers' general pedagogical techniques. In the past decade, research has shown that teaching isn't a generic activity. Successful teachers possess specialized knowledge about how to teach their particular subjects.

Based on these findings, Connecticut shifted its approach and now requires new teachers to go through a two-step process to keep their licenses. During their first year in the classroom, teachers work with mentors to prepare a videotape of their best practice, which is evaluated. In the second year, they put together portfolios of their work with students. These portfolios enable the state to examine two to three weeks of new teachers' work, including their lesson plans, the materials they use, how they evaluate students' work, and the subsequent directions they give. Teachers who don't meet the standards initially can take another year to compile better portfolios.

"Using student work as a major strategy for evaluating teacher performance is a quantum leap ahead of just looking at pedagogy," Pecheone says. "For years, we've been focusing on proxy measures of effective teaching. We're finally focusing on the right stuff."

Currently, Connecticut is only administering this performance assessment to teachers of mathematics and science at the middle and high school levels. But by 2000, the state expects to use the approach for all areas of teacher licensing.

As Connecticut moves forward, officials will keep INTASC members up-to-date on the state's experience and how it might be replicated elsewhere. Although the project's primary focus is licensure, participants know that changes in the requirements for new teachers will affect teacher education and professional development, among other things. "We're looking at the entire system," says INTASC director Jean Miller, "not just the piece of it that is tests."

Vol. 09, Issue 01, Page 20-21

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