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Perform to Get a Teaching License

Ordinarily thought of as a way of evaluating teachers after they have been licensed, performance assessment will be used in Wisconsin to determine if teachers should be given a license in the first place ("New teachers getting ready to be graded on classroom work," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Mar. 11).

Beginning on Sept. 1, 2015, teachers will have to demonstrate how well they can teach by submitting 5-day lesson plans, appearing in a 15-minute video of their classroom instruction and reflecting upon their work. The three-part process will be rated on a scale of 1 to 5 by independent trained reviewers from across the country. Wisconsin has not yet determined the exact cut score.

Other states are following Wisconsin's lead. Indiana, for example, is in the process of developing a performance assessment that teacher candidates would have to pass in order to be licensed ("Indiana's education schools make new efforts to better teach teachers," Indianapolis Star, Mar. 15). It's part of a trend to incorporate actual classroom teaching early into teacher preparation programs. I expect to see additional states falling in line.

That's a promising trend because I've always believed that the best way to determine the effectiveness of teachers is to observe them in action in a classroom of students. Paper-and-pencil tests have their place, but they are not nearly as predictive of effectiveness as authentic assessment. The performing arts have long held auditions to determine who gets hired. I see no reason why the same strategy can't be used successfully in teaching.

My only caveat is that candidates for a license presumably will not have the opportunity to get to know the students before they are evaluated. This lack of familiarity puts candidates at a distinct disadvantage because their lesson plans will be based on assumptions that may turn out to be unwarranted. As a result, even the most creative lessons can be flops with students from different cultures and backgrounds. I hope that states will provide specific information beforehand in order to allow candidates to tailor their lessons plans accordingly.

If this is done, performance assessment will also provide valuable information about the quality of teacher education programs. Publication of the percentage of graduates of each program who pass the test on the first try will help them improve by providing valuable feedback. With colleges, schools and departments of education across the country under fire for turning out ill-prepared teachers, the information is badly needed.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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