Wednesday, July 17, 2013

CAEP + NCTQ = A True Measure of Teacher Preparation Success?

I get to do research and write research-related emails for my company, and yes, I said "get to." The emails are sent out to our customers as a service. One of the recent emails provided some highlights of what might end up being a really interesting confluence of events.

Not too long ago, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) published a report on teacher preparation that caused considerable controversy, and not just because of the content of the report but perceptions of the research and reporting methods used by NCTQ. NCTQ claims its report is "an unprecedented evaluation of more than 1,100 colleges and universities that prepare elementary and secondary teachers. As a consumer tool, it allows aspiring teachers, parents and school districts to compare programs and determine which are doing the best--and worst--job of training new teachers."

Let's assume the report has validity. Potentially, school districts have more information about the likely quality of student teachers, which is valuable information when a school administrator has to decide whether or not to accept student teachers from a particular university. Program that don't fare well in the report will find it difficult, if not impossible, to place student teachers for their student teaching. The implications for the university, the program, and the students are profound.

But this brings me to the second event. Universities routinely go through different kinds of accreditation. Education programs were accredited, until recently, through NCATE. The process can be daunting for many programs and is exhausting for the team putting together the accreditation materials. I've been on both sides of that process and I must confess that being an NCATE reviewer can be as difficult. But that whole accreditation process is about to get. . .harder.

CAEP is the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, and CAEP has introduced some new standards with new requirements with what some say are more rigorous expectations. The CAEP standards are in five broad categories: 1) equipping candidates with content knowledge and appropriate pedagogical tools; 2) working in partnership with districts to provide strong student-teaching practice and feedback; 3) recruiting a diverse and academically strong group of candidates; 4) demonstrating that graduates are successful boosting P-12 students’ academic achievement; and 5) maintaining a quality assurance system. Programs will be expected to provide evidence of compliance, to trace graduates into the field and measure their success in the field as a measure of the success of their preparation, by extension, as a measure of the success of the program.

Let's assume the accreditation process brings clarity to the expectations, specifically what constitutes evidence. And let's assume that teacher education programs get specific reasons for success as well as failure with specific suggestions of ways those programs might improve to excel.

What I imagine could be downright amazing is if NCTQ took those CAEP standards seriously and collaborated with CAEP to build a rubric or used the CAEP accreditation rubric as part of its comparative reporting process to show explicitly and specifically what a successful teacher education program looks like, and how those teachers are being prepared to succeed in their classes and in their student teaching as well as the adapting and evolving classroom of tomorrow. Now that would be some education reform.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Work Place Readiness for Today's Teachers?

I was working on a proposal for a conference tonight, casting about for an idea that might warrant being selected for the conference and I landed on an idea that's been rolling around in my head for a while.

At present I work for the Center for College and Career Readiness; I say "at present" because I've been informed my status will be changing from full-time to contractor in the near future, so I'm anticipating further changes and possibilities, including the possibility of independent consulting. But I mention the Center because all day long we think about and talk about what it means for students to be college and career ready. Much of the work we do is professional development focusing on helping districts and schools implement Common Core Standards or, in those states where "Common Core" is verboten, College and Career Readiness.

K-12 educators are worried about student reading levels, math skills, literacy capabilities, and more. And with good reason. Expectations are raised with Common Core. 

I'm going to address Lexiles, but only at a very high level. Lexiles. Lexiles are a quantitative measure of reading. Each reader can have a measured Lexile or reading level; each book can be analyzed to determine
its Lexile level. For teachers, the sweet spot is matching the reading level of the reader and the book. You
can get a lot more information at the MetaMetrics site, but I want to focus just a bit on what's causing so much consternation among K-12 educators. As you look at the chart, you'll see that, for example, 1010L is the top of the Lexile band for 8th grade. With Common Core, 1010L is the top of the Lexile band for 5th grade. Big difference, so it's fairly to understand why teachers are so anxious. If they currently have a 5th grader reading at a 3rd level, it's entirely possible that once Common Core is fully implemented, that student will be reading at no more than a 2nd grade level.

Educators are talking about being ready for the gap--that mythical space that exists with the change in Lexile levels. And yes, teachers need to get ready for that gap. As they implement Common Core, their incoming students could start two or three reading levels behind where they were at the end of the 2012-2013 school year. So educators have to plan for the gap, and how they are going to help students read at the grade-appropriate level.

Now, for those of you huffing and puffing about the change and how unfair it is, let me send you
here and show you the following chart. You'll see the Lexile levels for textbooks along the y axis. The pink or fuschia color represents 8th grade textbooks. Based on this chart, 4th grade textbooks are at about a 750 Lexile, which is fine for today based on the Lexle chart. But 4th grade textbooks used to be at a nearly 900 Lexile.

There could be a lot of reasons for the drop, but Common Core or College and Career Readiness reading levels are being pushed back up to where they were between World War I and the end of World War II.

That's not even the idea that's been rolling around in my head for a while because I've been working with educators on these very things of text complexity and Lexile levels for about a year now. Here's my big "uh oh" question: What if classroom teachers are feeling so much concern and even downright panic because they cannot read well at the new Lexile levels? We've all seen letters from educators with terrible spelling and horrific grammar errors. We know there are teachers who seem barely literate and probably are barely literate. But what if part of the problem for us being able to make sure our students are college and career ready is that our teachers are not?