Education deans from three Michigan universities told the Michigan Board of Education in November that they want more feedback on how well teachers who graduated from their programs perform in the classroom.
"It’s been very frustrating to us for years," Dr. Susanne Chandler, dean of the School of Education and Human Services at the University of Michigan-Flint, told board members. "That drives our whole industry, and yet we can’t get to it."
Chandler was referring to standardized test score data maintained by the Center for Educational Performance and Instruction within the Michigan Office of the State Budget. The data includes such things as student scores on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program. She and other deans said that they support the idea of linking student test scores to their respective teachers, then to the institution where that teacher was trained.
"That’s what we’re looking for from the state, to have access to that data so we can match our graduates to … how students are doing in their classrooms," said Dr. Karen Adams, dean of the College of Education and Human Services at Central Michigan University. Universities could use the data to help identify strengths and weaknesses in teacher training programs, she said.
The comments came as part of a lengthy discussion during the November board meeting on the new "Plan to Advance Teacher Preparation." The plan suggests wide-ranging changes in how Michigan prepares and licenses teachers, including requiring national accreditation of teacher preparation programs; a tiered licensing system for educators based partly on demonstrated performance; a research initiative on teacher education; and making technology a priority in instructional practices.
The recommendations resulted from the work of a teacher preparation study group and were presented by state Superintendent Michael Flanagan.
Flanagan said that work to provide universities with test score data is continuing.
"CEPI is moving along," he said, but the department wants to provide the information "in a way that’s fair to the institution and not just … to connect a student to a teacher to an institution without the proper context. All students. Over time. Those kinds of things."
Adams told Michigan Education Report that universities already assess their graduates’ performance through surveys of school principals and of new teachers. Universities also know their graduates’ scores on the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification and sometimes make program changes based on scores in a given subject, Adams said.
"What we’re going on is impressions," she said in a telephone interview. "We don’t have a measure of what is their (teachers) impact on student learning."
There are potential concerns about linking the data, Adams said. For example, if a teacher has taken courses at more than one institution, she said, the universities will be left trying to discern which program is most reflected in test scores.
That concern is similar to those raised by teachers unions and some education researchers in debates over merit pay. Unions have long been opposed to the idea of evaluating teachers on the basis of student test scores, saying the scores are significantly affected by factors outside of individual teachers’ control, such as the student’s family life and the amount of time teachers have with students. They also argue that tests do not measure all that a student has learned.
Other researchers argue that factors like income level can be accounted for in the data analysis, making test scores a valid part of measuring teacher performance.
(See "Diverse Viewpoints," for opposing guest columns about the issue of linking test scores to teachers.)
The state Board of Education did endorse Flanagan’s proposal that all teacher preparation universities earn national accreditation by 2013, either from the National Association for Accreditation of Teacher Education or the Teacher Education Accreditation Council. The state would retain the right to determine standards by which Michigan programs are evaluated, with input from the national programs.
There are 31 teacher preparation programs in Michigan. Twelve are already accredited through NCATE and two are in the process through TEAC.
Evaluation teams from the respective organizations would visit each university for on-site assessments, joined by representatives from the Michigan Department of Education. The review agency would write the final report. The system would largely take the place of the state’s own review process, which one dean said comes as a relief.
In some cases, information filed with the state became outdated by the time the state reviewed it, said Dr. Sharon Elliott, associate professor of education in the College of Education at Wayne State University. "It was very, very frustrating. Generally, people … were happy to see the department was interested in going to national reviews."
There are 31 teacher preparation programs in Michigan. Twelve are already accredited through NCATE and two are in the process through TEAC, according to the organizations’ Web sites. The Michigan Deans Council, made up of the education deans of Michigan’s 15 public universities, supports the accreditation plan.
The Michigan Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, whose membership includes both public and private teacher education institutions in Michigan, has not surveyed its members about the plan, but the association president described the reaction as largely positive.
"I would say the primary concern is the cost," said Stephen Barbus, MCATE president and education dean at Saginaw Valley State University. It takes time and staff resources to pull together documentation and build databases required for the review, he said, and some institutions believe that time would be better spent on education.
Also, "Some of our institutions question the loss of their institutional autonomy, as to how the institution feels is the best way to prepare teachers," he told Michigan Education Report in a telephone interview.
SVSU’s program has been accredited through NCATE since 1990, and Barbus said he welcomes the self-scrutiny that the process brings.
"I think the discussion and work that have to be done are important to a program. … It’s good to have an outside objective group come in."
SETTING THE BAR
In a frank exchange about whether Michigan’s own review was too easy, and whether an outside review would be any more rigorous, Chandler told the state board that she believes that universities want the bar set higher.
"We wanted to be sure the national accreditation bodies were strong enough so that they would fail some programs if that was important to do. We have not done that in this state," she said.
State board member Elizabeth Bauer asked for reassurance that the accreditation system would not be a matter of "friends vetting friends at a high cost."
The deans responded by pointing to cases in which NCATE placed university programs on probation or offered only conditional accreditation. Evaluators must not be affiliated in any way with the programs they are assessing, Elliott added.
National accreditation would take pressure off her office budget and staff, said Flora Jenkins, director of the Office of Professional Preparation Services within the Michigan Department of Education.
"We have a limited number of staff in our office. You need a lot of people to do this and do it effectively," she said. She agreed that state reviews have been "very late" and said that it is difficult to find "enough people who have time to be committed to that review process."
In another area, the Deans Council said that if the state requires accreditation of traditional teacher preparation programs, it should place a comparable requirement on alternative certification programs. All programs should be required to demonstrate their quality, Adams told Michigan Education Report.
As a prelude to the accreditation mandate, the Professional Standards Commission for Teachers will develop a comprehensive set of standards related to teacher education, reviewing such things as the teacher certification code, content expectations, subject area endorsements and standards for alternative teacher certification. Standards in each of those areas were developed at different times and never aligned with each other, according to Sally Vaughn, the MDE’s deputy superintendent and chief academic officer.