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New study has implications for teacher prep programs in Tennessee

A new study suggests that standards used nationwide to evaluate teacher preparation programs need an upgrade.
A new study suggests that standards used nationwide to evaluate teacher preparation programs need an upgrade.
Vanderbilt University

The National Center for Teacher Quality (NCTQ) has lauded Tennessee for its high-quality teacher preparation programs. But according to a new study, the NCTQ rankings may not translate into higher student test scores.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Vanderbilt Peabody College, found that North Carolina classroom teachers who graduated from programs meeting NCTQ’s standards were no more or less effective than teachers attending programs ranked as substandard by the national research and policy organization.

The study raises questions about how much teacher preparation programs, which have been a focus of national education reform, should adhere to the NCTQ standards.

NCTQ rates teacher preparation programs based on 19 input and process-based standards, including the program’s selection criteria, coursework on early reading, English language learners, and struggling readers.

Critics of the NCTQ rating system long have argued that NCTQ’s criteria focus too much syllabi and coursework, and not enough on outcomes of the preparation programs.

“For some time, education schools have argued that the methodology employed by NCTQ to evaluate teacher preparation programs lacks scientific validity—now there’s proof,” said Camilla Benbow, Peabody’s dean of education and human development.

Programs in Tennessee have fared especially well under the NCTQ rating system. Tennessee had one of the highest concentrations of top-ranked programs in the nation, and Nashville’s Lipscomb University was ranked second nationwide. “Tennessee is one of the highest performing states in the review,” said NCTQ president Kate Walsh last June when its most recent report was released. Her organization attributed part of Tennessee’s strong standing to “strong regulation” and its teacher evaluation system.

Gary Henry, Peabody’s lead researcher, said Tuesday that leaders of Tennessee’s teacher preparation programs should take note of NCTQ standards that are shown to correlate with more effective teachers: selection criteria and using outcome-based data. The study found that programs incorporating ACT and SAT scores into their selection criteria produced teachers who went on to produce higher test scores.

Henry said preparation programs in Tennessee are also at an automatic advantage because the Tennessee Higher Education Commission provides them with the value-added data of their graduates, another NCTQ standard correlated with success.

For the study, researchers looked at the value-added scores and principal-issued evaluation scores of program graduates who were in their first or second year of teaching in North Carolina public schools in 2011-12 or 2012-13. They then looked for correlations between each program’s ratings on 15 of the NCTQ’s standards, which address topics including the preparation programs’ selection criteria, classroom management, student teaching and elementary math.

Henry said the study doesn’t suggest that NCTQ’s standards should be totally trashed or ignored, just updated.

“We tried to make it clear in the report that having standards around classroom management training and prep are really important,” he said. “It just so happens the way NCTQ is measuring classroom management doesn’t lead to better classroom management on the part of the graduate.”

The study was funded by the North Carolina General Assembly Administration’s Teacher Quality Research Initiative. The NCTQ participated in the study voluntarily.

“At the broadest level, we’re taking to heart the report’s suggestion to give greater emphasis to the quality of elements that NCTQ believes make for strong design of teacher preparation over the quantity of those elements,” the NCTQ said in a statement issued in response to the study.

Contact Grace Tatter at gtatter@chalkbeat.org.

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