Every morning in America an estimated 3.1 million elementary and secondary school teachers go to work in classrooms where 52 million of our nation's best hope for the future are preparing for the jobs and challenges that the 21st century will bring (NCES, 1996). The skills, knowledge, attitudes and values forged in these classrooms help to determine graduates' abilities to cope with the future they must face. The skills and knowledge of these classroom teachers should be a matter of national concern. Yet, most state departments of education that issue initial licenses to teachers do it on the basis of (a) a degree or credits from a college or university, (b) a supervised internship, (c) [sometimes] a background check, and (d) any existing license from another state. Only item (b) implies a demonstration of skills and competencies for teaching by the candidate for a license.
Virtually every other profession from medicine and engineering, to hair care requires that candidates for an initial license demonstrate minimal skills and knowledge considered to be essential prerequisites. Only in the field of education do we talk seriously about granting a license to those whose only classroom qualifications are a college degree and the absence of a criminal record. Is it any wonder that many think of teachers as lacking professional qualifications for their careers? Is it any wonder that we fail to pay and support teachers with the necessary infrastructure to insure that they perform well?
There are now at least three groups in America working on performance standards for science teachers. Among these are the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC), Project of the Council of Chief State School Officers, and a collaboration between the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and the Association for the Education of Teachers in Science (AETS). This latter effort is known as the Certification and Assessment in Science Education (CASE) Project, which is developing new standards for accreditation reviews of science teacher preparation programs by the National Council for the Accreditation of Colleges of Education (NCATE).
In this editorial,
I will briefly describe the efforts of each of these groups, with active
hot buttons to their web sites where you may learn more about their activities
and view drafts of their current standards. But be warned: this is an
ongoing, dynamic process. As professional standards emerge and undergo
editing, they are likely to change. One unique advantage of an electronic
journal like the Electronic Journal of Science Education (EJSE)
is that the links contained in this document should take you to the
latest version of each referenced document!
First, let's agree on definitions for some critical terms:
The field of practice in any profession is the range of different environments in which competency is expected. In science teaching this would constitute the span of student ages, subject are as, and different social settings in which we have teaching and learning. Standards are target skills and knowledge that we wish professionals to have before they are considered competent in a field. Collectively, they constitute what we want people in a profession or a collection of graduates to know and be able to do before entry into a higher level, such as before receiving a license to practice. Benchmarks are levels of competency within each standard that we expect from people at a specific age or degree of experience. This level will normally increase with the extent of practice or years in the field.
An analogy may be helpful. In track meets we have an event called the high jump. The level of the bar in the high jump is set higher for those who have more extensive ability or experience. But at the entry level, the bar is set low enough that beginners can experience success and reach ever higher levels of competence with practice. So in the CASE standards for beginning science teachers, one indicator for the assessment standard is the ability to "use a variety of authentic and equitable assessment strategies to evaluate and insure continuous intellectual, social, and personal development of the learner in all aspects of science." This assessment standard is one of ten that the CASE Project is proposing for national use in evaluating entry level science teacher performance. For each CASE indicator, the height of the bar may be set at any one of three levels: preservice, induction, and professional. The first is for beginners - teachers in preparation for their initial licensure by the state. The second applies to a three-year period of induction, which in most systems occurs prior to the granting of tenure. And the third represents the "talented athlete" - the master teacher who can serve as a coach or mentor for those at the other two levels.
This highest level of teaching performance has been the target of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards' (NBPTS) efforts. The induction level is being addressed by the Interstate New Teacher Accreditation and Standards Consortium (INTASC). For the rest of this document I shall restrict my comments to the first indicator level for science teachers (preservice), even though the CASE standards contain indicators for all three levels. The CASE effort is designed to create a continuum of indicators to clarify targets for lifelong professional growth among science teachers.
Initial licenses to teach are issued by the state department of education, which is located in each state capital. These licenses are granted on the basis of an application, evidence of qualifications, and some sort of background check or recommendation by an institution of higher learning. This process is depicted in a graphic image in a flow chart at http://www.ncate.org/images/ continuum.gif. Institutions which provide training in content and pedagogy for teachers must seek their own accreditation. In many cases this comes from the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Founded in 1954, NCATE consists of 31 organizations that draft accrediting criteria to be used in evaluating colleges and universities on a regular interval of five years. The organization that advises NCATE on science teacher accreditation is the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA).
NCATE currently requires a folio from those institutions with programs leading to initial teacher licensing. Each institution is asked to provide details of how many semester hours of course work in science content, pedagogy, psychology, and field-based methods courses are required in the program. NCATE folios currently list the qualifications of the faculty, along with types of laboratory equipment and library facilities available. Students, faculty, schools and administrators are interviewed by members of visiting teams of evaluators, who seek to verify the quality of the institution by examining secondary sources. Teacher performance has not traditionally been the focus of this accreditation process.
Having both prepared and reviewed these folios, I can attest to the extensive time required, and to the tendency to inflate course content and institutional qualifications in order to meet the NCATE standards. Having supervised over 180 interns, all of whom graduated from an NCATE-approved institution, I can attest to the inadequacy of a system that considers "seat time" in specified classes, faculty qualifications, and number of library books as a measure of potential teacher competence. A small minority of the interns I have supervised have struggled and failed, despite having an acceptable grade point average in all the required courses; despite having had faculty with earned doctorates; despite having been in a library with all the required number of books and journals for a research institution. Some of these interns will probably never be able to perform skillfully as classroom teachers. Because of this, they should not have been issued a license to teach. But my institution was unable to deny them this recommendation without clear, written competencies against which to measure their performance in the field.
The standard for teacher competence should be teacher performance, not college grade point average, number and type of courses completed, qualifications of faculty, or type of institution. The unit of evaluation for teacher preparation programs should be the performance of classroom teachers who complete the program. While NCATE folio guidelines have contributed to many institutional improvements, they are based on evidence that lies outside the characteristics of the classroom teacher. The current institutional standards do not allow for high quality programs that deviate from the guidelines imposed by credit hours in specified course work leading to each type of teaching certificate. The shift from knowledge-based to performance-based evaluation will allow both the institution and the candidate more flexibility in the way they reach competence, while clarifying the target skills and knowledge desired. Current CASE Project plans will allow institutions some flexibility in the indicators they choose, while requiring that all indicators are based on a carefully defined professional rationale directed toward the needs of teachers, not the needs of the institution.
I believe that there are compelling reasons for creating and adopting performance standards for teachers. Here are my favorites, but they do not necessarily represent an exhaustive list. They also do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of others working on the standards.
a) Standards help us define for ourselves and those outside our profession what we value and seek in our graduates and those we would license to practice in our field.
b) Performance standards can be used to describe what teachers should be able to do on the job in specific ways that focus on target competencies better than any written test or accumulation of credit hours can do. Since I believe that teaching is a performing art, I also believe it can be presented and assessed only in a performance mode. Certain common traits characterize entry level teacher performance in science classrooms and laboratories.
c) Once we have a minimal set of performance competencies in place, we can use them to describe program goals for our preservice teachers. There may be many ways to achieve these goals. Therefore, we will help them find situations in which they can demonstrate the goals, but expect demonstrated performance of them before we recommend candidates for teaching credentials. A matrix of expected competencies is better than mere completion of a required program. Programs should produce skills that can be demonstrated both prior to and during field practice.
d) Linking national teacher standards to the widely accepted National Science Education Standards is a good way to acknowledge that learning is the ultimate goal of teaching. I ask my preservice teachers to think of themselves as "learning engineers", a concept that is meaningless without clear learning goals for students. You can practice your teaching in an empty room, but learning engineers must have students present. Watch the CASE standards and notice how many are written with the learner in mind.
The definition of what constitutes best practice for those who aspire to enter any field is of course much more complicated than a simplistic listing of goals. It is much easier to list the rules of a game than to coach someone to excel in performance. I would not want a physician who obtained her license to practice by meeting the minimal requirements of a list of ten standards. There is much more to teaching than standards. The mere creation and ratification of standards will never define good teaching at any level. Many critics of standards are concerned about a minimalist approach to the complicated business of preparing good teachers (Noddings, 1997). Other critics are worried about a "one size fits all" approach (Tobin, 1997). Here are a few other potential problems with national standards for science teacher performance. Perhaps you can suggest others.
a) If we are to have standards, who should set them? If you are not invited to write them, they may not reflect your priorities and those of your home institution. Who do you trust to set national standards for your teachers?
b) Will they be flexible enough to allow for local differences in programs? Will they change over time as conditions in schools change and new technology is created?
c) Will they provide for wide variations in classroom environments? What allowances are to be made for multicultural school settings? Should there be different standards for teachers in different types of schools?
d) Will they be specific enough to provide useful guidelines for performance assessment? Will new teachers be "bubbled in" by certified evaluators with eagle eyes for how many times a teacher performs a specific task within a designated time? Does the setting influence what is appropriate for teacher performance? If so, how can evaluation reflect the test setting?
e) Will they be used against the profession by outsiders who will argue that any warm body off the street with a background in science content and the inclination to teach should be able to by-pass institutional teach er education programs and enter the field directly after being "checked off" against minimal performance standards?
f) Who will evaluate teacher performance? Can this be done inside school systems with teachers who enter the classroom directly from other careers? If an administrator wants a science teacher badly, won't she be tempted to sign off on job performance far below that of true competency?
g) Will we create a new bureaucracy around the evaluation process?
h) How reliable will all this be?
Should we expect a teacher ruled competent in Alabama be as capable as
one who measures up in Pennsylvania? How could we ever answer this question?
The perception of a need for standards in mathematics and science grew out of efforts by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 1989 with the publication of Science for All Americans. Shortly afterwards, AAAS produced Benchmarks for Science Literacy . These documents codified the types of learning goals valued for students in K-12 schools. Since then, AAAS has produced Blueprints for Reform of Science Education. Chapter 9 of the Blueprints describes the preparation of science teachers who will be able to bring their students to the standards described in Benchmarks.
In 1996 the National Research Council (NRC) produced the National Science Education Standards. This document has virtually the same guidelines for K-12 science learning as the AAAS Benchmarks. Just as AAAS saw the need for producing guidelines for teacher preparation and continuing education in Blueprints, the National Research Council (NRC) produced Standards for the Professional Development for Teachers of Science. Chapter 4 of the National Science Education Standards (1996) provides a guide for the skills required of science teachers who will help their students achieve the NSES standards. These Standards for the Professional Development for Teachers of Science are linked with the K-12 student standards.
Below are listed the organizations that are currently working on standards for science teachers. They are listed in reverse chronological order, from the NBPTS "professional athlete" standards to the "entry level novice" standards being created by the CASE Project. Hot links are offered for the referenced documents and organizational home pages.
National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS)
Established in 1987 to develop advanced standards for assessing experienced teachers who elect to seek this accolade after licensure, "The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards works to strengthen the teaching profession and to improve student learning in America's schools. We are establishing high standards for what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do, and we are developing a new system of advanced, voluntary certification for teachers. Our aim is to certify all teachers who meet the standards." (home page). Advanced standards are being developed for teachers in more than 30 certification fields. (See sample standards). Contact NBPTS, 1730 Rhode Island Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20036, Phone: 202-463-3980.
Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC)
INTASC was established by the Council of Chief State School Officers and is concerned with initial teacher licensure. This operates through each state's department of education to guide licensing procedures. The INTASC Model Standards for Teacher Licensing has guiding principles for teacher competencies. State licensing procedures are available as a download in PDF format from the CCSSO home page. Council of Chief State School Officers, One Massachusetts Ave. NW, Suite 700, Washington, DC 20001-1431. Office: (202) 408-5505. Fax.: (202) 408-8072.
National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE)
The traditional means of accrediting institutions that graduate teachers and present them for licensing. NCATE has produced Draft Accreditation Standards for Candidates in Elementary Teacher Programs, Standard 2b: Curriculum: Science . This group is now working with NSTA and AETS on performance-based standards for all teachers of science (see CASE below). Contact: NCATE, 210 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20036-1023, 202-466 -7496.
National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) teacher certification program
"The National Science Teachers Association offers certification to elementary and middle level teachers of science and to teachers of biology, broad field science, chemistry, earth and space science, general science, physics, and physical science. To become certified, teachers must meet specific standards of education and experience based on the grade level and/or subject they teach. A teacher is eligible to apply for certification after completing three years of full-time teaching. NSTA certification seeks to improve the quality of science teaching by recognizing teachers who are well qualified. NSTA certification gives teachers an edge in seeking or keeping a teaching assignment for which they are qualified and, where possible, in ascending the salary ladder. The NSTA standards have been adopted by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education and by the Association for the Education of Teachers in Science." (home page above) The CASE Project standards are being offered as a replacement to the NSTA certification described above
Certification and Accreditation in Science Education (CASE)
The CASE Project
originated at the NSTA regional meeting in Salt Lake City in October 1995
with a meeting of the steering committee. This was made up of the five
members of the NSTA Subcommittee on Certification and Accreditation. A
set of recommendations was drawn up as a first step toward creation of
individual standards for teacher performance. Among these recommendations
were (a) to rewrite the NSTA Standards for Science Teacher Education, (b)
to align these with the goals of NCATE's New Professional Teacher Project
and the National Science Education Standards, (c) to develop performance-based
standards, and (d) to develop a network of professional teacher educators
to promote and disseminate the new standards. The idea was introduced
in March 1996 to representatives of NRC, NCATE, INTASC, NBPTS, and AAAS
at the St. Louis meeting of NSTA. In October 1996 a team of eleven science
teacher educators met at NSTA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, to
drafting the teacher performance standards. After meeting again at the
AETS conference in January 1997, ten standards
and lead authors emerged as follows: (you may contact these leaders through
their e-mail links as shown)
|Nature of Science||Norm Ledermanemail@example.com|
|Context of Science||Jim Ellisfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Science Curriculum||John Staveremail@example.com|
|Social Context||Mary Atwaterfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Professional Practice||Ron Bonnstetteremail@example.com|
|Learning Environments||Hans Andersenfirstname.lastname@example.org|
This CASE Project is being coordinated by Steven Gilbert, Indiana University at Kokomo. It is a cooperative effort between NSTA and AETS to develop performance-based standards for programs that prepare teachers for science classrooms. The original writing team consists of the ten teacher educators who are working to draft standards based on what teachers need to know to help their K-12 students achieve the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996).
The charge to the CASE team is to create a set of core, subject-specific competencies desired in a new science teacher. Among the goals of the CASE Project:
• should be used for self-assessment by all programs that prepare science teachers in the U.S.;
• should be used in external accreditation reviews by NCATE in lieu of curriculum and faculty standards for institutions;
• each competency should be written
so that it
- has enough substance to bring about improved practice;
- is reasonable to expect in light of institution's goals and missions;
- is performance based;
- can be validly assessed and evaluated;
- allows for variations and improvements in practice;
- is based on research and best practice;
• for each competency, performance-based
indicators will be use to substantiate compliance by graduates of the institution's
Expect this effort to be called the NSTA standards for science teachers. The full set of ten performance-based CASE standards FONT> for science teachers are in draft form for public comment. An abbreviated version with indicators for initial teacher licensure (preservice science teachers) is also available for review and comment. Comments are welcome. Contact: Steven Gilbert - CASE Standards Chair, Indiana University at Kokomo, P.O. Box 9003, Kokomo, IN 46904-9003 Office: 765-455-9287. E-mail: email@example.com
An explanation of the relationship among NSTA, NCATE, AETS, and the CASE standards project
The graphic and description at the link highlighted above describe a continuum of growth from preservice indicators which are used in reviewing institutional programs for accreditation to INTASC and NBPTS progressive standards for assessment of the individual teacher. CASE standards will focus on the processes that programs use to ensure quality in the development of preservice science teachers. It is expected that many institutions will use portfol ios to present evidence of compliance. These standards will be continuously revised as we learn more about how programs prepare teachers for standards-based teaching. Someday we will laugh at the notion of letting anyone with a college degree and no criminal record become a teacher. We can, and should do better than that!
American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1989). Science for all Americans. New York: Oxford University Press.
American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1993). Benchmarks for science literacy. New York: Oxford University Press.
National Center for Education Statistics. (1996). The condition of education 1996. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement.
National Research Council. (1996). National Science Education Standards . Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Noddings, Nel. (1997). Thinking about standards. Phi Delta Kappan : 79(3), 184-189.
Tobin, Ken. (October, 1997). Personal correspondence.
About the author . . .
Bill Baird is a Professor of Science Education in the Department of Curriculum & Teaching at Auburn University. He is immediate Past President of AETS, and one of the writing team leaders on the CASE Standards Project.
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