Tennessee Improves Teacher Preparation Programs Through Report Cards

A teacher writing on a blackboard while two teaching students listen.

A class at Lipscomb University on teaching geometry. Photo credit: Kristi Jones, Lipscomb University

Last year, the teacher preparation program at Nashville’s Lipscomb University was named one of the nation’s best by the National Council on Teacher Quality. In November, the State’s 2013 Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs also lauded Lipscomb, saying the overall performance of those that completed the program made the school one of the most effective in Tennessee as measured by the Tennessee Value Added-Assessment System (TVAAS).

Lipscomb’s overall effectiveness had previously been recognized on Tennessee’s 2012 Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs. But that year’s numbers also revealed a weakness: recent graduates of the private institution were, on average, less effective than those of other programs in teaching social studies to grades four through eight.

These insights into the relative performance of Lipscomb’s graduates were made possible by the State’s revamped teacher preparation programs report card, a key element of Tennessee’s many Race to the Top-inspired reforms.

Senior Vice President and College of Education Dean Candice McQueen said the relative weakness of the school’s social studies teachers confirmed what she had been hearing anecdotally and seeing in surveys of graduates during those years. Many felt they did not have full command of good teaching strategies and did not know how to plan strong lessons. Armed with the data, she was able to work alongside the university’s provost to alter their advising and social studies methods course and bring in two grade K–12 experts.

This year’s report showed that Lipscomb’s graduates were, on average, more effective social studies teachers than veterans statewide, as well as other beginners. “The report card was helpful in pushing the conversation,” McQueen said.

Reporting on Effectiveness

3 people gather around a student's table to see the results of her action research.

Lipscomb University students preparing to be teachers present the results of their action research to professors. Kristi Jones, Lipscomb University

The Tennessee General Assembly mandated the creation of a report card in 2007 to evaluate the effectiveness of all State-approved teacher preparation programs. The reports included data on the academic profile of completers, placement, retention, licensing exam pass rates, and the effectiveness of each program’s graduates as measured by the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS).

The reports became more central to improving teacher preparation and increasing college and career readiness after Tennessee won a U.S. Department of Education Race to the Top grant in 2010. Calling its efforts “First to the Top,” Tennessee committed to using the report card as a factor in how programs receive approval from the State. But first the State used the new resources to improve the reliability of data in the reports and make them easier to interpret. The reports eventually will incorporate the results from the State’s new teacher evaluation system.

The Tennessee Higher Education Commission was charged with compiling the report, which made it possible to better integrate data from the preparation programs. As part of First to the Top, the State is also developing a similar report card to analyze the effectiveness of principal preparation programs. The impact of these efforts will increase even more when school districts begin making hiring decisions based on the report cards.

“It is our intent that the report cards will help institutions identify both what they do well and where there is room for growth based on the outputs of their graduates,” said Meghan Curran, director of Tennessee’s First to the Top programs. The annual report card also highlights the most successful programs in the State so that others can learn from them. “We hope that as institutions share best practices and learn from both the data in the reports and from each other, teachers across the State will enter classrooms more prepared to be as effective as possible right out of the gate.”

Other Programs Make Gains

Report card data overviews. Image credit: 2013 Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs, Tennessee Higher Education Commission:

Report card data overviews. Image credit: 2013 Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs, Tennessee Higher Education Commission

Another highly rated program is the Memphis Teacher Residency, which places teachers in high-need schools for a 12-month residency during which they take classes at night and on weekends and earn a master’s degree in urban education. Director of Education Robin Scott said the report card is valuable “for holding us accountable for doing what our mission says we do, which is to support and train highly effective teachers for Memphis public schools.”

The 2011 report card said the Residency’s graduates were underperforming relative to other programs, based on student growth on State standardized exams. Scott said the Residency made changes to its model, and the 2013 report card showed improvement.

Another of the highest-performing schools this year, Union University in Jackson, also made changes in response to report card data. The 2010 report card “showed Union University was doing what the State thought was a mediocre job of preparing teachers,” said Executive Dean Thomas Rosebrough. “We knew better in terms of anecdotes from superintendents, principals and parents,” he said. “But we decided we needed to get with the program in Tennessee as well as across the nation. We wanted our State report card to truly reflect our emphasis on both the art and the science of teaching.”

Rosebrough launched the Union University Teacher Education Initiative, which convened the entire School of Education faculty to identify what was working and what needed to change. Out of that came new emphasis on performance, clinical experience, technology and teaching to the whole learner. Symbolic of the initiative was the creation of a new required course called “Students, Standards and Strategies.”

“Teaching to standards may be very valuable in raising expectations and along with that comes how to assess those standards and then strategies on how to put all of that together to create a great teacher,” he said.

Next Year: Deeper Data

Previous reports included effectiveness data on only one year; however in the 2013 report card, trend analysis of completer effectiveness over three years was included. Until recently, preparation programs received data only on the performance of their completers as a group. In December 2013, the State made available information about the performance of individual program completers as measured by TVAAS through a secure Web portal. For confidentiality reasons, the data will not be made public. But the teacher preparation programs will be able to use it to analyze the relationship between completer performance and what courses they took, who taught them, the mentoring they received, their grade point averages and other factors. Such data will make it possible for the programs to address weaknesses in a much more targeted way.

“Institutions will now have the necessary data to make more informed, targeted program improvements,” said Victoria Harpool, the First to the Top program coordinator for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. “Other States have not been able to provide preparation programs this level of detail from which to make improvements.”

Lipscomb’s McQueen explained that data will be a powerful tool. If it showed, for example, that candidates whose grade point averages are below a certain threshold perform poorly as teachers, then the college might raise admissions standards. The information could also yield answers to questions such as how much content knowledge or mentoring is needed to improve the odds of success. “We all have room for improvement…and this data will help,” she said.

Takeaways

  • Stakeholder Engagement: Organizations wishing to pursue a report on the quality of preparation programs must collaborate with both the training institutions and policy makers about what indicators of success should be used to evaluate a program and the methodology around data analysis. 
  • Data Quality: Reports of this nature must have a dedication to high quality data. These reports can be very high stakes for institutions, and presenting data that accurately reflect the performance of a training program is extremely important.
  • Communication: The reports seek to inform a number of different audiences. Certainly the preparation programs should look to the report as a source of data for improvements, but policy makers and K-12 school leaders also use the report. Therefore, the report must be easy to understand while providing thorough data to inform decisions for all stakeholders.

—Victoria Harpool, First to the Top Program Coordinator

Tennessee Higher Education Commission

Resources

The annual report cards, which include profiles of each teacher preparation program in the State, can be found here under the Accountability & Reporting tab.