Now more than ever, public school teachers are under the public’s microscope. Critics want to know how teachers can improve their practice to yield better student grades and test scores. Education Week’s Stephen Sawchuk recently wrote about a nonprofit called TeachingWorks that responded to these concerns by developing a new suite of certification assessments for student teachers called the National Observational Teaching Exam (NOTE). Essentially, they’re teacher performance exams.
TeachingWorks: Who They Are
TeachingWorks is composed of a group of University of Michigan education professors. Because they fall on the “preparation” end of the teaching career spectrum, these professors have developed a rigorous battery of certification tests for teaching candidates. It is their hope that these “real-time” tests will help the “cream” rise to the top while less-qualified candidates find different types of employment.
Leading this pack of revolutionaries is Deborah Ball, Dean of the School of Education at the University of Michigan. Ball, who also teaches education classes, has spent years studying what makes a good teacher tick.
Trial and Error Learning: Not Okay
Teachers traditionally grow their “bag of tricks” through years of experience, otherwise known as “trial and error.” In fact, experience is one of the main reasons why veteran teachers tend to get paid more. Instead of shipping teacher graduates off to “get their feet wet,” so to speak, Ball would like to see student teachers graduate from college completely prepared for the job.
How to Teach the Art of Teaching
Critics of Ball and TeachingWorks argue that teaching is an art, not a science. Sure, some direct instruction techniques can be taught. But some aspects of the job simply cannot be taught, like how to motivate students and help instill passion for learning.
Nevertheless, Ball and her colleagues are ready to roll out the NOTE, a real-time assessment that will measure a teaching candidate’s skill set to determine whether he/she should be given a diploma and, ultimately, a job.
Here are some of the things that the NOTE will measure in a teaching candidate:
- Ability to explain, model, and represent various ideas and theories
- “Questioning” skills
- Ability to lead effective, large group discussions
- Ability to facilitate effective, small learning groups
- Ability to communicate effectively with parents
Other States Piloting Similar Programs
TeachingWorks isn’t the only group that seeks to improve U.S. education through better student teacher performance and preparation. According to Sawchuk, 19 states across the U.S. are experimenting with performance-based certification assessments of student teachers.
For decades, America’s teacher licensing system relied heavily on paper-and-pencil testing as a means of promoting college grads to the profession. But today’s critics, including academically minded professionals like Ball and the members of TeachingWorks, strongly question public teachers’ ability to individualize instruction.
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Image via Flickr by U.S. Department of Education