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Are teachers taught how to use tests?

The National Council on Teacher Quality is out with another report on teacher preparation, this time focusing on how well future teachers are trained in effective use of assessment data.

The report takes an overall gloomy view of the situation, concluding, “School districts, states and teacher preparation training programs have yet to establish what knowledge a new teacher should have to enter a classroom with some facility for applying data to improve classroom instruction. In fact, the field has struggled to incorporate data driven decision making into its program sequences.

“Today’s schools demand teachers who can comfortably understand and utilize — both individually and collaboratively — a full range of classroom and standardized data, whether the data relate to their own students or to all the students in their school. Preparing them for anything less is unfair to teacher candidates as well as to the many students they plan to teach.”

The study reviewed 180 undergraduate and graduate programs at 98 institutions in 30 states.

“Our overall conclusion is that while assessment is addressed to some extent in all but five of the 180 programs we examined, only six programs (3 percent) provide preparation that can be deemed adequate: four elementary programs and two secondary programs,” the report said, adding that 13 percent of programs covered assessment with partial adequacy and that 83 percent were inadequate.

Colorado institutions included in the study were Adams State College, Colorado Mesa University, Colorado State University-Pueblo and University of Colorado campuses in Boulder, Colorado Springs and Denver. Results were not broken out by individual programs.

Those six schools served about a quarter of the more than 13,000 education students enrolled at 18 institutions in 2011.

The report rated schools on their training in three areas:

  • Assessment literacy – measurement of student performance using assessments. “Only 21 percent of the programs in the sample cover literacy topics adequately, with an additional 21 percent doing so with partial adequacy. More than half of all programs have no, very limited or limited coverage.”
  • Analytical skills – analyzing student performance data from assessments. “Less than 1 percent of the programs in the sample cover analytical skills adequately, with an additional 8 percent doing so with partial adequacy. The vast majority of programs (92 percent) have no, very limited or limited coverage.”
  • Instructional decision-making – using performance data to plan instruction. “Fewer than 2 percent of programs in the sample cover instructional decision making adequately, with 7 percent doing so with partial adequacy. The vast majority of programs (91 percent) have no, very limited or limited coverage.”

The report drew its conclusions from reviewing the syllabi of education programs to try to determine if courses included instruction about assessments. Some 455 courses were reviewed, an average of 2.5 courses per program, according to the report. The study acknowledged that it may be over-weighted toward public institutions because course information was gathered through public records requests, which public institutions are required to honor but private institutions are not.

The report recommends more federal funding to provide incentives for schools of education, pressure by school districts on preparation programs and inclusion of assessment evaluation skills on state licensing exams.

The NCTQ is a prolific issuer of reports, primarily on teacher preparation, and it’s teamed up with U.S. News & World Report to issue a review of all U.S. teacher prep programs early next year. Its work has come under periodic criticism, particularly for its heavy reliance on syllabi to draw conclusions and for other elements of its research methods.

Last January, the council released its fifth annual State Teacher Policy Yearbook and graded Colorado as average for its teacher policies. The overall “C” in the 2011 report is a jump from the D+ that the state was awarded in 2009. But the state got a D- for “delivering well-prepared teachers.”

The January report lauded Colorado for being one of 12 states where student achievement is the most significant factor in teacher evaluations – or will be when Senate Bill 10-191 is fully implemented. It also cites Colorado as one of only three states to earn an A for exiting ineffective teachers, noting state law prevents districts from basing layoffs on seniority alone and clearly says ineffectiveness in the classroom is grounds for dismissal, also part of 10-191.

A 2011 NCTQ report on student teaching programs gave high marks to the program at Colorado Christian University but called those at the University of Northern Colorado and Western State College “poor,” according to this EdNews’ story. Those were the only Colorado programs reviewed.

Former Colorado Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien chairs the NCTQ board of directors, and Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and author of Colorado’s educator effectiveness law, sits on its advisory board.

The council is funded by such foundations as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Broad Foundation and the Denver-based Daniels Fund. Get more information on the council from SourceWatch, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy.

Disclosure: The Daniels Fund is a funder of Education News Colorado. Read our statement of editorial independence.

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