Minnesota is expected to be the first state to implement a new video component of teacher evaluation systems.
Standing at the edge of a pond surrounded by her class of fourth-graders, student teacher Jasmine Zeppa filled a bucket with brown water and lectured her pupils on the science of observing and recording data. Many of the children seemed more interested in nearby geese, a passing jogger, and the crunchy leaves underfoot.
Zeppa’s own professor from St. Catherine University stood nearby and recorded video of it all.
“I think it went as well as it possibly could have, given her experience,” said the professor, Susan Gibbs Goetz. Her snap review: The 25-year-old Zeppa could have done a better job holding the students’ attention, but she did well building on past lessons.
Aspiring teachers are preparing for new, more demanding requirements to receive their teacher license: Under a new teacher evaluation system being tested in 19 states, evaluators will watch video clips of student teachers delivering lessons in their classroom, and candidates must show that they can prepare a lesson, tailor it to students of different abilities, and present it effectively.
Most states only require that student teachers pass their class work and a written test. Supporters of the new Teacher Performance Assessment system say it’s a significant improvement in teacher evaluation, while others are a little more cautious in their praise—warning that it’s not guaranteed to lead to more successful teachers.
The assessments also place responsibility for grading student teachers with teams of outside evaluators who have no stake in the result. Currently, teachers-in-training are evaluated by their teaching colleges, which want their student teachers to get their teaching licenses.
“It’s a big shift that the whole country is going through,” said Misty Sato, a University of Minnesota education professor who is helping to adapt the assessments for Minnesota. “It’s going from ‘What has your candidate experienced?’ to what your candidate can do.”
Minnesota is expected to be the first state to implement the new teacher evaluation system when it adopts the system in 2012. Four other states—Massachusetts, Ohio, Tennessee, and Washington—plan to implement it within five years. Fourteen more states are running pilots.
The teacher evaluation program is a joint project by a consortium made up of Stanford University, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Sharon P. Robinson, president of the AACTE, an umbrella group for teaching colleges that specialize in training student teachers, said the teacher evaluation system will mean better teachers—and ultimately more successful students.
The assessment was developed at Stanford’s Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity. Ray Pecheone, the center’s executive director, said more than 12,000 teaching candidates have gone through it in four years of testing in California.
California and Arizona are the only states that currently require performance testing to license teachers. Two of California’s three different performance tests use video review. The third California test and the one in Arizona require evaluators to sit in classrooms and observe the student teachers.
Once more states adopt the program, Pecheone said, the consortium plans to track the performance of teachers who passed the assessment to see if they perform better than teachers who went through the old licensing process.
Karen Balmer, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Teaching, said the assessments will mean more accountability for teaching colleges. For the first time, she said, her agency will have independent data that show how well teaching colleges are preparing student teachers. Those that consistently produce low-performing graduates could be ordered by the state to improve their programs.
Balmer said the student teachers will pay some of the cost of the new program—probably around the $70 they now pay for the written test in Minnesota. At least initially, student teachers will take both tests, but Balmer said the state might consider dropping the written test in the future.
Students that fare poorly on the teacher evaluation assessments likely would be required to retake them. If they do not test again, some student teachers still could get a Minnesota teaching license if their teaching college determines there were special circumstances—such as if the student was ill—and recommends licensure, Balmer said.
Tom Dooher, president of the Minnesota’s teachers union, said the group supports the new teacher evaluation system because of its emphasis on developing real-world teaching skills. “This is what education reform should look like, for practitioners by practitioners,” he said.
Others are taking a wait-and-see attitude about the program.
Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the nonpartisan National Council on Teacher Quality, said she would support any test that could predict who will be a good teacher, but she’s not sure performance assessments are it. Too often, she said, the passing scores on such assessments are set so low that nearly everyone passes and the weakest teachers aren’t held back.
For Zeppa, the student teacher, the pondside session with the rambunctious fourth-graders was just practice for when she goes through the teacher evaluation process in spring 2012. She said it’s making her a better teacher, even if the process can be painful.
“It’s nerve-racking, the idea that every mistake you make is on film,” she said.
Teacher Performance Assessment Consortium