Setting a New Standard in Teacher Readiness
Policymakers, researchers, practitioners and the general public all seem to agree: Improving teacher quality is one of the most promising strategies for improving education outcomes in our nation. But to date, most policies on teacher quality revolve around teacher evaluation – identifying weak performers and helping them improve (and getting them out of the profession if they don’t). And most seem to rely on one of two tools for measuring quality: Observations by school administration (some of whom have little time for, and training in, this particular activity) or standardized test scores (which are of questionable value in assessing educator performance).
Often ignored in the teacher quality conversation are those first entering the classroom. How can we be confident that they are able to teach effectively starting their first day as a teacher of record?
Recognizing the need for a new standard for determining teacher readiness, the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE) and Stanford University have partnered to create the Teacher Performance Assessment (TPA). On May 18, in a panel discussion at the 2012 Learning First Alliance Leadership Council Meeting, we learned more about the initiative from those integrally involved in it at all levels, from those aiding in the research, design and state policy development (Ray Pecheone, Executive Director of the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (SCALE) and Peter McWalters, Policy Consultant to TPAC) to those using it in their work preparing future educators (Marcy Singer-Gabella, professor at Vanderbilt University) to those who have undergone the program in their quest to teach (Nicole Barrick Renner, teacher at Tennessee’s East Literature Magnet School).
The TPA offers pre-service assessments of teaching that will, according to Pecheone, “allow us to predict reasonably well how effective teachers will be in enabling students to learn important subject matter.” This information is intended to be used (in combination with other measures) as a requirement of teacher licensure. It can also be used to drive the improvement of colleges of teacher education, strengthen the information base for accreditation and evaluation of program effectiveness, guide professional development for teachers and serve as a model for other assessments of teachers (for tenure and career ladder decisions, for example).
Developed based on the experience of other performance-based assessments of teaching quality (including the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, the Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC), and the Performance Assessment for California Teachers (PACT)) and the guidance of teacher educators across the country, the TPA consists of a multiple-measure assessment system with two components: Embedded Signature Assessments (ESAs), which are formative assessments that vary across programs and can reflect program-specific teaching philosophies or goals, and a common summative portfolio of authentic teaching artifacts (such as lesson plans, video clips of instruction, samples of student work, analyses of student learning and more) and reflective commentaries that justify the professional judgments underlying the teaching artifacts.
There are currently 25 states and nearly 200 teacher preparation programs participating in the TPA, which is now being field tested. And those who have gone through the assessment sing its praises. Renner, now in her second year in the classroom, pointed out that the program has many advantages over the “typical” student teaching experience, which is focused on the performance of teaching and judged largely on teacher behaviors rather than student work. The TPA reflects the complexity of “real” teaching, requiring students to address the varied performance levels that exist among their students and move away from the lecture-based format that tends to dominate teaching. It instills in who go through it the recognition that teaching is about student learning, not teaching behaviors, and trains them to focus on long-term planning, giving them an edge up during the first years of teaching, when many are operating in survival mode, focused on the day-to-day.
It is important to note that TPA has received no financial support from the federal government. But though they haven’t secured that funding, those in the teacher education field believe that this endeavor is so valuable that they are willing to fund it mainly themselves, stepping up as part of the solution to concerns about teaching quality in the United States.
Initial data on the impact of the TPA will be available in the fall. If it goes the way that those involved in the program expect, this performance assessment can serve as a key component in helping states, school districts and teacher preparation programs develop a common framework for defining and measuring a set of core teaching skills and performances to get a valid and robust vision of teacher competence. And that could have profound implications for public education across the nation.
Click here to browse dozens of Public School Insights interviews with extraordinary education advocates, including:
- Actress/Mathematician Danica McKellar on girls and math
- Best Selling Author Kenneth C. Davis on engaging with history
- Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Danielson on providing health care at school
The views expressed in this website's interviews do not necessarily represent those of the Learning First Alliance or its members.
Excellence is the Standard
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