A Minute With...

Chris Roegge, expert on teacher education

7/1/2013  8:00 am

In a recently released – and controversial – report, The National Council on Teacher Quality, an advocacy group, suggested that the failure of America’s primary and secondary education system is the result of inadequate preparation of teachers. Chris Roegge, the executive director of the Council on Teacher Education, discussed teacher training and Illinois’ state education standards with News Bureau education editor Sharita Forrest. The council is a unit in the College of Education at the University of Illinois.

The NCTQ study blames many of the problems in U.S. primary and secondary schools’ on the colleges and universities that educate the teachers. What is your reaction to the report?

Unfortunately the NCTQ report has generated a lot of heat – but not much light, at least in our case. The concerns about the purpose and methodological flaws of the report are well documented.

That said, we consider the results as we do any other program feedback – alongside the body of data routinely collected and analyzed to assess the quality of our programs. We look more at how conclusions were drawn, and how that aligns with what other data tell us, than the ratings themselves.

The study suggests that the admission criteria for teacher preparation programs at U.S. universities are too lax, and the students that they admit aren’t top-notch. What are the admissions criteria for teacher education students at the U. of I.?

NCTQ is not the first to question selection criteria across the broad spectrum of institutions that prepare teachers. Arthur Levine, a former president of Teachers College at Columbia University, did so in his 2006 study of teacher education.

The U. of I. is a selective institution, so we do not need to be overly concerned about the academic qualifications of our applicants. The students that we admit into teacher education programs average about 27 on the ACT.

In addition to traditional academic measures, we also look at dispositions such as commitment to success for all students, which are essential for teacher candidates. And we review those on an ongoing basis throughout the time the candidates are in the program.

The two programs on our campus reviewed by NCTQ received four stars on the criterion of selectivity. However, based on the limitations of the study previously mentioned we cannot attach particular significance to the ratings. We already knew that our programs and university were selective.

What are the state of Illinois’ current standards for assessing how well teachers are performing?

The Performance Evaluation Reform Act of 2010 (PERA) changed how in-field teachers will be evaluated in Illinois. It established a uniform rating system and a recommended evaluation framework for the state. We are aligning our student teacher evaluation framework with the state’s, to prepare our candidates for the evaluation process they will undergo as licensed and employed teachers.

The Illinois State Board of Education regulates teacher preparation on two levels: licensing individual teacher candidates to ensure that they meet all the requirements as well as approving programs that prepare them.

To be approved, teacher preparation programs must address several sets of standards. In 2010 Illinois’ professional teaching standards, which apply to all teachers, were extensively revised. All of our licensure programs have to be aligned with those standards, and appropriate documentation is submitted to ISBE.

ISBE also developed new preparation standards for elementary and middle grades teachers, which cover both content and pedagogy. Within the next year and a half, all institutions will have to submit brand new proposals to ISBE for their elementary and middle grades licensure programs.

The Illinois State Board of Education recently adopted new math and English language arts standards for K-12 education called the New Illinois State Learning Standards Incorporating the Common Core. How does this affect teacher education?

The new content standards for elementary and middle grades teacher preparation programs incorporate key aspects of the Common Core standards, with a focus on literacy and mathematics.

There’s a big focus on literacy across subject areas – such as social science, science and technical subjects – to prepare students for college and careers. There is also an emphasis on variety – reading and analyzing informational text as well as literature. The standards are more process-oriented than past content standards.

Are the students of first-year teachers at a disadvantage academically?

While it is generally accepted that teachers “hit their stride” after three or four years of experience, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that students of first-year teachers suffer learning loss across the board.

That said, teachers’ first years in the classroom are critical. We think one of the big questions that we sometimes fail to address is: What should be expected of a novice teacher?

Rather than cramming more and more into – mostly undergraduate – preservice programs, should we instead think about the university’s role in supporting and developing new and early career teachers?

The College of Education is engaged in a redesign of teacher preparation, one component of which is an induction program for new teachers. In partnership with their employing schools and other institutions, the program would follow our graduates and offer them supports during their first year to help accelerate their performance.

How much time does a preservice teacher in the U. of I.’s program spend as a student teacher before graduation?

It depends on the program, but most log 600-plus hours in schools, beginning with practicum experiences in their first semester in the program and continuing through student teaching. In most programs, candidates spend one semester (16 weeks) as a full-time student teacher. Candidates are in schools during every semester of their program.

Is there a monitoring/evaluation system in the teacher education program to ensure that preservice teachers are learning what they need to know and how to teach it? And what’s being done to monitor their performance in the field?

The Council on Teacher Education monitors a system of assessments that are applied across all licensure programs. Annually, the council generates reports on all 31 teacher education programs on the U. of I. campus, using several data sources. Some are mandated; some individual programs choose to do on their own to paint a complete picture of candidates’ progress.

Within each program, specific courses have been identified as core content courses, which are aligned to content standards. We monitor each candidate’s GPA for that set of courses and those in their professional education sequence.

All teacher candidates are also required to pass state licensure tests, both in content and teaching ability, so we monitor those scores also. The overall requirement for ISBE program approval is that 80 percent of teacher candidates pass those tests. Our pass rates are nearly 100 percent.

We look at the average scores and subscale scores on each of those tests to see if there are trends that might indicate the need to make changes in a program.

In the fall, we and a number of other colleges in Illinois will pilot a new performance assessment for student teachers called the Teacher Performance Assessment, or edTPA, which will become state-mandated in two years.

Within the edTPA, candidates analyze the learning environment, plan and deliver instruction and assess student learning during a multiple-day “teaching event,” which is video recorded. The candidate reviews and assesses his or her own performance and writes an extensive analysis. The entire package is officially scored, and candidates must pass it to be recommended for licensure.

This is a significant step that ISBE has taken to make performance assessment universal and systematic across the state. It will, however, require extensive cooperation among universities and their partner schools that host student teachers.

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