Nan Austin

On Campus: Schools for teachers face new grading system

In the fast-shifting education landscape, remaking teacher training programs lies just over the horizon. The changes proposed continue what, for some, is a queasy slide – from a tradition based on measuring how hard everyone tries toward the business metric of evaluating results.

The U.S. Department of Education has proposed a complete rethink of how training programs are evaluated, looking at quality instead of quantity of the graduates. The proposal is up for public comment through January and will not be finalized until September. States will have another year to think over how to implement them.

April 2018 is the target date for a public reporting of how well each teacher training program does in preparing graduates to teach. The evaluation will be based in part on how many teachers have teaching jobs, what principals think of them in their early years and improvement seen in their students.

The Business Roundtable likes the proposed shift. “Our nation must improve its effort to produce more highly skilled teachers, and schools of education must be held accountable for results. We need to fully support those institutions that yield results, and close those that do not. It’s that simple,” said Roundtable President John Engler in a statement Tuesday.

Teachers had a more nuanced response. “We know that too many teachers are saying they are unprepared for the realities of the classroom and that teacher preparation, licensure and induction standards must improve,” National Education Association Vice President Becky Pringle said in a release last week. That said, she added, judging graduates’ success should not be based on students’ standardized test scores.

Her point mirrors the controversy over individual teacher evaluations, which is raging mostly outside California. Increasingly, instruction is being evaluated not on a well-kept grade book or excellent lectures – things trying harder will fix – but on how much students got out of it. Like a terrific sales pitch that does not close the deal, great lectures do not always lead to great learning.

California has taken a multiple measures approach. Modesto City Schools, for example, now includes some measure of student growth in teacher evaluations. That measure can be student work or district tests, but not the annual state scores, said Associate Superintendent Ginger Johnson.

Test scores show only results, not the welcoming smiles and earnest effort behind them. The shift to results-centered judgment started in 2002, when the federal No Child Left Behind Act tied federal funding to state testing. The federal rules on teacher training also will leave it to states to devise their own measures.

The latest announcement comes on the heels of a highly critical study of teacher training released Nov. 12 by the National Council on Teacher Quality. The report, “Easy A’s and What’s Behind Them,” said education programs are less challenging than other majors at the same colleges, based on graduation data from more than 500 institutions.

“Teaching is one of the most difficult and demanding jobs there is,” said Kate Walsh, president of NCTQ. “Yet for reasons that are hard to fathom, it appears to be one of the easiest majors both to get into and then to complete.”

Teachers arrive unprepared for the realities of the classroom, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, in a call with reporters last week. “We know this because teachers and principals tell us so over and over and over.” Yet most states have not identified a single teacher prep program as low performing in more than a decade, he said.

“We owe it to our teachers to give them the best preparation possible, so they enter the classroom with skills and knowledge they need to succeed,” Duncan said. He described the proposal as designed to create feedback loops, keeping programs apprised of how their grads are faring in the real world.

Tennessee switched early to the results-oriented evaluation process and is seeing results, Gov. Bill Haslam said in the same press call. “We were on the bottom of the 50 (states) in educational achievement,” he said, but this year showed the largest academic growth on international and college-prep tests.

“We are making real progress,” he said, adding that Tennessee is looking at linking higher education funding to outcomes such as degree completion. “That link to effectiveness is 100 percent the right approach,” he said.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.