Student teacher John Waters works with students at Manierre Elementary

Several local schools of education are among those in 25 states piloting a new evaluation system for teacher candidates that will require them to compile a portfolio of work–including video clips of their classroom teaching—to earn a teaching license. The Teacher Performance Assessment, or TPA, is similar to the portfolio assessment that teachers must compile to earn National Board certification.

Under a little-noticed law passed last summer, all graduates of schools of education must pass the assessment by 2015 and schools of education must begin phasing it in by July 2013.

The law was passed just two months after Senate Bill 7, the sweeping bill that overhauled teacher tenure and hiring in Illinois. It makes other changes to teacher certification, including instituting a single license for both elementary and high school teaching and requiring elementary teachers to pass content-area tests.

The TPA will make it more difficult to become a teacher, since candidates now only have to pass a basic-skills test, subject-area tests, and a certification test about teaching practices. But it’s not likely to weed out many candidates, based on the results from a similar assessment used in California. About 85 percent of teacher candidates passed the Performance Assessment for California Teachers, or PACT, on the first try, according to a pilot study of the tool.

Focus on lesson planning, understanding students, research

The TPA rates teacher candidates on whether they:

*Plan lessons that use high-quality content and account for students’ prior knowledge

*Test students and provide evidence that they know how to analyze and use data from the tests

*Give students useful written feedback

*Reflect on what the next step would be in the unit they are teaching

“It’s about student assessment data, and evidence, and being able to argue your practice in light of changes in students,” says Carole Mitchener, an associate professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, one of several local schools of education that have already begun phasing in the assessment.

Tim Daly, president of TNTP, formerly The New Teacher Project, says it’s “good for candidates to demonstrate some proficiency before they enter the classroom. [But] it will be important to watch whether it’s actually distinguishing good candidates from sub-standard candidates, or [only] sorting out the worst of the worst.”

Researchers are expected to release data sometime this summer that will show whether the TPA is a valid and reliable tool for predicting student achievement.

The TPA is based on three to five days of a student teacher’s work. The portfolio must include all the materials used in the lessons –everything from overhead slides, to worksheets and tests, to safety procedures used for science experiments. Candidates must also write essays and commentary to explain their instructional practice, expectations of students, lesson planning and the research and education theories behind their practice.

Unedited video clips are included; in science, for instance, the clips must show that teacher candidates have students collect data, and that students are then using that data to develop an explanation of what they observed.  

Student work is included too.

In her commentary on a lesson about electrical circuits, one UIC teacher candidate (who passed the pilot version of the assessment) noted: “I let the students know what I will be looking [for] in their journals and what I expect to see at the end of each section.” About a group of students shown in a video, she wrote, “I really try to ask more questions of the students [rather] than to explain the content to them.”

When the candidate saw that many students were not applying what they had learned previously to new lessons, she made plans to re-teach the material and revisit past concepts. Seeing that 81 percent of her class could identify conducting materials and provide evidence for their choices, she made plans to meet after school with those who didn’t get it. She noted that closely monitoring one student helped bring him up to par by the end of the unit.

In her final reflection, the candidate wrote that she “would like to take a step back and allow the students to question each other,” rather than asking all of the questions herself. She also noted that she would have to change her practice and “model” for students how she wanted them to interact.

The candidate also noted how she could improve, by having students walk around and view each other’s work and by encouraging shy students to take on leadership roles in groups.


Phase-in through 2015

The education company Pearson, which is working with Stanford University to make the assessment more widely available, will collect the portfolio materials and score the assessment. The state has not yet set a passing score for it, however.

At UIC, teacher candidates finish a practice version of the TPA before they begin formal student teaching, Mitchener says.

Eleni Katsarou, director of elementary education at the UIC College of Education, says the TPA gives education school faculty a good sense of how well their teacher candidates are doing.

“This is the only way we have, that all of us are going to agree [on] to ensure teacher candidates have the goods,” Katsarou says. “Given the attacks that have appeared in the popular media and other circles about colleges of education, [improving] teacher effectiveness, teacher quality—it is the way to go.”

UIC has also asked CPS to work with them to link the value-added scores of alumni who are currently teaching in CPS schools back to the university. New state rules require that to happen eventually, but not for several more years.

Vicki Chou, dean of the school’s College of Education, says UIC has been trying to get access to its alumni’s value-added scores for years, without success. She has met with CPS officials about the idea, which is now tied up in considerations about legal and human resources policy issues.

UIC is willing to provide the manpower needed, she adds. “We’ve volunteered interns, we’ve volunteered grant support to hire someone,” Chou says. “We are trying to make it work.”


Licensing changes in the works


The law that mandates TPA also lays the groundwork for several other changes in teacher licensing. Linda Tomlinson, assistant superintendent of the Illinois State Board of Education, says the state will move to a single license with different endorsements for high school, middle grades and elementary education.

Currently, teachers must earn either an early childhood (birth-3rd grade), elementary (K-9th grade) or secondary (6th-12th grade) teaching certificate. Now, teachers will earn the same certificate, but different endorsements based on the subjects and age groups they teach.

All teachers, including elementary teachers, will have to pass content-area tests in the subjects they plan to teach. Currently, elementary teachers in self-contained classrooms do not have to pass content tests.

The changes are partly to make the licensing system easier for teachers and principals to understand, and partly to ensure teachers know the content they will be teaching from the new Common Core State Standards.

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