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From the dean: New tool enables schools of education to improve teacher preparation continuously

Since its introduction into universities in the 1920s, teacher preparation has been under attack. Academics have questioned whether “education” is even a proper discipline. Those outside the academy like to blame schools of education for the ills of PreK-12 schools, in particular the less-than-stellar performance of some teachers. Even graduates of teacher preparation programs themselves are often critical of their programs, claiming they are “too theoretical” and should include even more time in school classrooms. This is despite the substantial increase in recent years in the numbers of hours candidates now spend in schools as part of their programs.

Some of these criticisms are well deserved. University-based teacher preparation programs have not done a very good job evaluating the effects of their programs on candidates’ preparedness to teach. In particular, the tools to evaluate candidates’ performance during student teaching have been weak. These are typically based on someone’s idea about what constitutes “good teaching” rather than on empirical evidence of practices that consistently produce student learning and development across school settings. Without valid and reliable evidence about the effects of their courses and field experiences, programs are susceptible to whatever is the latest fashion in the field.

Teacher education is finally getting its house in order. Whether it is too late remains to be seen: Forty percent of the new teachers who entered the classroom last fall were prepared outside of traditional university-based teacher education programs. If university-based teacher education is to survive, it must be able to show proof of its “value added” to policy makers and potential candidates alike.

One approach to doing so is the Teacher Performance Assessment project – called edTPA for short – that now involves 180 institutions in 20 states across the country. The edTPA evolved from the Performance Assessment of California Teachers developed several years ago and based at Stanford University. The goal from the start has been to create a valid and reliable process for evaluating teacher candidates’ readiness to enter the classroom.
The edTPA website describes the process as follows:

“Evidence of a candidate’s ability to teach is drawn from a subject-specific learning segment of 3-5 lessons from a unit of instruction taught to one class of students. Materials assessed as part of the edTPA process include video clips of instruction, lesson plans, student work samples, analysis of student learning, and reflective commentaries.”

Faculty who have been trained to score the resulting portfolios use a common rubric to rate candidates’ performance on standards created by the Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium. A sample of portfolios is then sent to Pearson where trained evaluators score them again. Programs then receive information back on the differences between local scores and those done centrally by Pearson-trained raters. This alerts faculty to possible problems in the standards they apply in scoring their candidates’ performance. Pearson’s role in this process is to “deliver the assessment materials, online technology, program resources, and other support to teacher candidates that’s required for multi-state use of edTPA program.” ( Pearson’s participation significantly relieves individual institutions’ burden of both supporting students in the process and calibrating scores for candidates.

Data from the edTPA serves multiple goals. Those working in teacher preparation programs are able to identify their candidates who are, and those who aren’t, ready to enter the classroom. For the latter, faculty and the student can use the evidence to improve the student’s performance. In addition, the evidence and ratings provide faculty with information on the program components that need to be improved. In addition, everyone involved in teacher preparation – campus-based faculty, student teaching supervisors, and cooperating teachers – must become knowledgeable about the process and develop a shared understanding of the standards and scoring rubrics. This creates a cohesion and coherence sadly lacking in many preparation programs today.

Because six other schools of education in the UNC system are also using edTPA, the potential exists for campuses to share data on their students as a means of improving collectively. For instance, by sharing information on their students’ performance, the faculty who teach elementary math methods at the various campuses can now identify programs that are doing particularly well and from which others may learn.

Externally, the organization that accredits teacher education programs – now called the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation – has been a partner in developing the edTPA and will accept the data as a central part of the accreditation process. This should significantly reduce the administrative and financial burden of the accrediting process. The N.C. State Board of Education will be issuing “report cards” for North Carolina schools of education and the Department of Education has proposed ratings all schools of education. The data generated through edTPA and General Administration’s Teacher Quality Project will provide outcome measures that are central to both.

As you can see, schools of education have many overseers. Satisfying these various gatekeepers is necessary. Even more important, however, is generating the evidence that we need to continually improve our programs and, in the process, the quality of educators we are graduating. The edTPA is perhaps the most valuable tool for such continuous improvement that teacher preparation programs have ever had available.

Students across our teacher preparation programs in the SOE are now using the edTPA with support from trained faculty. Nick Cabot has taken on both oversight of edTPA for the School and training faculty in its use. Nick and Jocelyn Glazier, Director of Professional Leadership and Practice Division for the School, will engage the faculty in using the data now being generated through the edTPA to improve both our programs and the teachers we graduate. The regular flow of data from the edTPA and other sources ensure a continuous improvement process for all our teacher preparation programs.

Bill McDiarmid is dean of the School of Education at UNC-Chapel Hill.

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By Bill McDiarmid