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Report: States Must Strengthen Teacher-Preparation Accountability

States should overhaul the accountability mechanisms for teacher-preparation programs so that they focus on the effectiveness of graduates in classrooms, as measured by such factors as value-added data, classroom-based teacher observations, surveys of graduates and administrators, and data on the "persistence" or retention rates of graduates in the profession, an analysis released this morning says.

States should also craft common licensing tests to facilitate better state-to-state program comparisons. And finally, accountability provisions should apply equally to both traditional education school programs and to alternative routes, concludes the analysis by the Washington-based Center for American Progress.

It's a good summary of some of the current problems with today's teacher-preparation accountability systems, which began in earnest with the 1998 rewrite of the Higher Education Act. That law required states to identify, remediate, and/or close poorly performing programs. But few states supplemented the basic HEA reporting requirement—teacher candidates' pass rates on licensing tests—with more-rigorous measures.

Teacher colleges, meanwhile, have bristled at the fact that alternative routes to teaching located outside of universities generally aren't subject to an equal level of program scrutiny.

The CAP report draws heavily from this federal report, a summary of data generated to meet the HEA requirements. Among the data are these interesting findings: States currently use more than 1,100 teacher tests covering basic-skills, pedagogy, and content knowledge. Ninety-six percent of all U.S. preparation-program completers passed all required state tests. And less than 2 percent of all teacher ed programs have been flagged as low-performing by state-set criteria.

The report envisions an accountability system where all programs, alternative and traditional, are measured based on "clear signals using solid data," including the five elements I listed at the beginning of this item. Ideally, writes the paper's author, Edward Crowe, states would come up with uniform accountability measures, particularly a set of common tests and cut-scores for judging candidate competency.

"Engineering, accountancy, nursing, and medicine operate with uniform state accountability standards and requirements. This has occurred without doing violence to professional autonomy or academic freedom among program faculty," he writes.

A few of my own thoughts upon reading this paper:

• There may already be some movement on the testing issue: At least 20 states are working with the Council of Chief State School Officers, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, and Stanford University to come up with a performance-based teacher assessment, which presumably could be used as a piece of a revamped accountability system. Jim Cibulka, the president of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, has some good information on the assessment in this recent newsletter.

• Louisiana, Texas and Florida are in various stages of linking "value added" data to their graduates' classrooms to gauge their success.

• As a recent National Council on Teacher Quality study showed, there just isn't a whole lot of agreement among teacher-educators about what candidates need to know to become teachers. So, while Crowe's argument that other fields have uniform preparation standards is compelling, it might be a tough sell for the teacher preparation field.

Now what do the states have to say about these proposals? Time will tell.

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