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Helping Teachers Achieve

This is the second story in a series examining the national effort to raise teacher standards. Included are reports on a special mentoring program for first- and second-year teachers in Connecticut; Virginia's technology standards for educators; the NBPTS national teacher certification program; and Linda Darling-Hammond's "twelve-part plan for powerful teaching."

Editor's Note: This story is the second in a continuing series on the issue of teacher standards. The first story, The Focus on Teacher Standards: States Raise the Bar on Teacher Standards, was published in Education World's September 14 issue.

First-year teachers start out their careers full of youthful optimism and enthusiasm.

Then the realities of the classroom strike!

How do you keep students engaged in active learning? How do you discipline students who don't want to listen? How do you meet the needs of a student who has trouble learning? How do you motivate a student who doesn't care? How do you present the material at hand? How do you accomplish all that the curriculum requires of you?

By the end of September, many beginning teachers are overwhelmed, struck by how unprepared they are to manage a classroom.

"You need that piece of paper from a university that says you are prepared, but the things you learn in college aren't enough [Students] come to school with a lot of heavy baggage," says Vera Strickland, who in June completed her first year as a fifth-grade teacher at Gaston Point Elementary School in Gulfport, Mississippi (see "First Year Rough, But Teachers Hang Tough"). Strickland was one of three beginning teachers followed in their first years by the Sun Herald newspaper.

All three believed their training for the job was insufficient.

"I don't know if I could go through another 20 first years," added Tracey Gillespie, who just finished her first year as an algebra and prealgebra teacher at Biloxi High School.

It's clear to most education officials that the first year for many teachers is a make-or-break time. It's also clear that first-year teachers need some kind of mentoring if they are to be successful.


Enter INTASC (The Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium), with its goal of pooling resources and promoting dialogue and collaboration related to teacher standards -- teacher preparation, licensing, and professional development -- with the specific goal of helping students meet higher standards. INTASC, which is a program of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), aims to support the needs of state education agencies as they "develop a collective voice of what they value in the licensure process," according to Jean Miller, INTASC director.

The basic premise behind INTASC's efforts is that "an effective teacher must be able to integrate content knowledge with pedagogical understanding to assure that all students learn and perform at high levels," says Miller. To achieve that goal, INTASC's efforts are focused in three main areas:

  • Creating a test of teachers' knowledge of theories of child development and teaching and learning. The INTASC Test for Teaching Knowledge will "evaluate a candidate's readiness to practice in an internship."
  • Creating subject area ("discipline-specific") tests.
  • Creating standards and procedures for beginning teachers to develop portfolios that will be used to assess classroom performance. INTASC has developed ten core standards, or principles. Each principle is defined as information teachers should know, attitudes the teachers should display, and specific classroom performances they should demonstrate.

The state of Connecticut is one of the founding members of INTASC; the state is probably the strongest example of INTASC's goals and initiatives at work.


To date, the state of Connecticut is the only state to include performance assessment as part of its teacher licensing procedures. The state's pioneering program for beginning teachers, the Beginning Educator Support and Training (BEST) Program, is a two-year program created to get teachers off to a good start.

"The first two or three years of a teacher's career are a critical formative period in the development of teaching styles and strategies," says Raymond Pecheone, chief of Connecticut's Bureau of Research and Teacher Assessment. "The BEST program combines the dimension of accountability through assessment with extensive support and professional development."

The assessment process for most Connecticut teachers includes two steps:

  • In year one, teachers submit a videotaped lesson, designed to show their grasp of essential "best practices."
  • In year two, teachers compile a portfolio that documents their use of planning, teaching, and student learning strategies. Student work -- and the teacher's evaluation of that work -- is an important component of this portfolio. Portfolios are scored on strict criteria based on content-focused professional teaching standards. A teacher who doesn't meet acceptable standards may be eligible for a third year in the program and another opportunity to submit a teaching portfolio.

The focus on student work is new, "a quantum leap ahead of just looking at pedagogy," Pecheone told Education Week (see "Licensure Pact Pays Dividends for Teaching", 5/21/97). "For years we've been focusing on proxy measures of effective teaching. We're finally focusing on the right stuff."

Among the support activities offered to beginning teachers during their first two years in the profession are:

  • Mentorship -- Each teacher is assigned a school-based mentor or mentor team.
  • Clinics -- Three clinics are scheduled in year one to assist beginning teachers in understanding essential teaching competencies and the assessment process.
  • Seminars -- Six seminars over the two years are focused on the teacher's content-specific (e.g., elementary education, history, art) knowledge and teaching practices.

Another strength of the BEST program -- the model many other states are using to develop their own assessment programs -- is the professional growth opportunities that it offers to experienced teachers. Teaching veterans participate in the program as mentors, assessors, portfolio scorers, program trainers, and seminar leaders.


In Virginia, education officials have taken the issue of standards one step farther than many other states have. Virginia has introduced eight "technology" standards that it expects all teachers to achieve. Those standards include:

  • Operate a computer system and utilize software.
  • Apply productivity tools for professional use. For example, use software tools to assist with classroom administrative tasks (for example, calculating grades) or to design, customize, or individualize instructional materials.
  • Use electronic technologies to access and exchange information. Examples of technologies that might be used include computers, printers, large group presentation devices, scanners, digital cameras, camcorders, etc.
  • Plan and implement lessons and strategies that integrate technology to meet the diverse needs of learners.

School administrators in Prince William County (Virginia) have developed a plan for implementing the Virginia Standards for Instructional Personnel. Personnel must complete a technology portfolio that demonstrates their teaching skills -- [set ITAL] and their technology skills! The portfolio is submitted in two formats -- computer disk and printed copy. Among the items included are:

  • Two word processed documents, including (1) a lesson plan that includes an instructional technology competency and a content objective that demonstrates the integration of technology into classroom instruction and (2) a one-page parent newsletter.
  • A database of student information to include 5 fields and 5 records.
  • A spreadsheet of student grades.
  • A multimedia presentation, used to instruct students in a content objective, that includes 5 slides, 2 graphics, builds, and transitions.
  • A copy of an e-mail message to the building technology competency evaluator reviewing 3 software programs or 3 web pages.

Teachers in Prince William County get lots of support in achieving their technology goals.

"Last February, I sent a brochure to schools advertising the 'techKNOWLEDGEy Academy,' a 30-hour technology training program that offered teachers the opportunity to master the assessment of the standards," Pat Donahue, Supervisor of Instructional Technology, told Education World. "Five sessions were offered and I didn't know if I would have enough participants to fill one class. Within three days almost 500 teachers had sent in registration forms. I've added sixteen additional sessions and still have a waiting list."

Last summer, county teachers were offered online enrollment for a schedule of more than 100 summer training classes, including classes with titles such as Learning to Use the Computer, Intro to Spreadsheet, Intro to Database, Presentations with Hyperstudio, Creating a Web Page, and Inside Your Computer.

"The program evaluations from the first two groups to complete the academies were great," adds Donahue. "Teachers turned in portfolios which included documents that far surpassed the requirements. [An August graduation was planned] for all participants who complete[d] the program to celebrate their accomplishments."


Qualified teachers are the key to improving student learning.

That's one of the premises on which the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) is based. Created in 1987, the NBPTS is developing standards for teachers in more than 30 teaching fields based on five core propositions presented in the NBPTS's policy statement, What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do.

"While the Board can't single-handedly transform schools, it can be a catalyst for change," Sharon Draper told NEA Today (see "Want Respect? Need Rewards?"). Draper is an English teacher at Walnut Hills High School (Cincinnati, Ohio), the 1997 National Teacher of the Year, and a NBPTS certified teacher.

"National certification can add a new level to teacher education," Draper adds. "By recognizing outstanding teaching, a national certification program can elevate the entire profession."

And in many communities and states, school leaders see it the same way. In North Carolina, a teacher who earns national certification receives a 12 percent pay raise. Oklahoma teachers earn 5 percent more. In June, the Florida legislature established a $3,500 pay raise for NBPTS-certified teachers. And many states pay the $2,000 fee to attain certification.

The process of earning national certification is a time-consuming one. NBPTS officials estimate that a teacher will spend 120 hours on the entire process.

"It was hard, time-consuming, painful, and tedious," says Draper of the process. "But doing that self-evaluation turned out to be the most rewarding experience of my professional life."

"For months, I collected student work, videotaped my teaching, put together a professional portfolio, and examined the instruction in my classroom," teacher Jeanne Serven told NEA Today. "Then I analyzed and reflected on what I saw. In the process, I improved the instruction in my classroom and boosted the level of student learning."

And that's what the program is all about, NBPTS officials say.

The program is not without its critics. Having a NBPTS-certified teacher is no guarantee that students will be any better prepared, some argue. Others point to the federal money -- approximately $49 million in 1998 -- invested a program that will certify about 1,000 teachers. Are there more cost-effective ways to identify superior teachers? critics ask.


Now that public schools are working to improve academic standards, the issue of preparing quality teachers has begun to get more attention. Better teacher training is needed, most officials agree, to help make higher standards a reality -- especially in cities and poor rural areas.

Teacher education schools should focus more on improving the quality of their graduates than on increasing the pool of available teachers, according to testimony offered during a March hearing on teacher preparation.

"I think we have a right to demand excellence," said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.). "We have some obligation to put accountability into a system where we spend almost $2 billion."


"What we need to do as leaders is to invest in teachers. Everything else is like barnacles on the side of ships," merely add-ons, like pregnancy prevention programs that treat the effects of a system that is not working.

Those were the words of Linda Darling-Hammond, spoken during a Distinguished Lecture at the American Association of School Administrators annual convention last winter.

Darling-Hammond, author of The Right to Learn and a professor at Teachers College of Columbia University, contends that money invested in teachers and teacher education is the best investment school leaders can make to raise student achievement. She cited statistics since the early 1980s from the states of Kentucky and North Carolina as one indication: "States that had enormous gains in student achievement invested in teaching: raising salaries, investing in induction programs for beginning teachers, teacher networks, and so forth."

Darling-Hammond offered school administrators at the convention twelve guidelines for improving teaching. Among those guidelines were:

  • Shape new teacher education programs so new teachers are well prepared.
  • Develop sustained professional development opportunities for teachers and administrators.
  • Create levers for rewarding teaching excellence.
  • Redesign schools so that they support high quality teaching and serious learning; invest in the core functions of school -- teachers and technology, not special add-on programs.
  • Look for ways for teachers to work with kids for multiple years.
  • Rethink curriculum and assessment so teachers can go deep into the curriculum instead of superficially covering it.

Improving teaching is "an enormous task," Darling-Hammond admits, but she believes professional development is every school administrator's main job.

"We have to raise standards for the system if we're going to raise standards for students successfully," she adds.

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Article by Gary Hopkins, Editor-in-Chief
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