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Academic Skills of Prospective Education Students

2002-2003

Abstract. All teacher education programs approved by Minnesota’s Board of Teaching, a regulatory agency within that state’s Department of Education, must affirm the academic knowledge and skill of those who seek preparation for licensure as teachers (Standard D.1 http://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/arule/8700/7600.html).  College level reading, writing, and mathematics skills offer a foundation for prospective teachers’ learning of what to teach as well as how to teach their K-12 students. This report summarizes our experience in assessing the academic skills of those who seek acceptance by the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University Education Department as majors (elementary licensure) or minors (secondary).

We expect students we accept as candidates for licensure to verify their academic skills.  At present we define those skills as including reading comprehension, recognition of the conventions of written English, using mathematics, and English composition.  We used the Academic Profile, a fixed-response test of general education knowledge and skills developed by the Educational Testing Service, to secure criterion-referenced estimates of ability in the first three of these skills during the past academic year. We supplemented students’ performance on the Academic Profile with a locally developed and holistically scored persuasive essay to estimate their ability to share ideas with others through their writing.

Such assessments are consistent with the Department’s mission, which calls us to emphasize competence in “the basic skills of reading, critical thinking, and writing” as a foundation for candidates’ continuing pursuit of “a broad liberal arts education. We thus “provide experiences throughout our program to assess and enhance the development of those skills” (see Mission). This report summarizes the results of one such experience for those who would begin their preparation for licensure.

Findings. Prospective candidates’ performance on fixed-response tests and an “authentic” writing assignment offered during the 2002-2003 academic year help us understand the challenges some will face if they persist in their desire to become elementary or secondary teachers. Information collected during previous years using similar measures encourages our understanding of students’ evolving capacity to learn. Such trends might also guide our colleagues who provide developmental support for students in need of assistance.

  • More than one-third of last year’s prospective education majors and minors answered the Academic Profile’s questions or wrote essays in ways that suggest reading, writing, or mathematics skills below the levels we might expected of first year college students (see Tables 1 and 5 for data summaries. Appendix 1 offers a description of Academic Profile levels, while Appendix 2 defines essay performance levels.).
  • Should these students seek to join their peers as candidates for licensure in the year ahead, most will require developmental opportunities from the colleges’ writing, math, and reading specialists (see Tables 2 and 6), thereby increasing the demand for those resources. Given the number of students seeking help and the opportunity cost such assistance entails for those whose academic skills are deficient, the colleges’ should continue to provide needed resources to support developmental work in reading, writing, and mathematics.
  • Analysis of essays awarded lower scores by two or more trained readers finds three persistently deficient areas. Students writing lower scored essays often use weak forms of evidence to defend their positions. Their essays also reveal incoherent or otherwise flawed reasoning. Many writing lower scored essays use confusing patterns of organization (Tables 3 and 7 for data summaries, Appendices 4 and 5 for sample essays). Instructors accepting responsibility for helping first year students strengthen their writing could help those tested if they were to emphasize persuasive composition in their courses. Information on levels and forms of evidence should be also be included in essay reading packets and emphasized during essay workshops offered by the Writing Center.
  • Second year students in this sample were as likely to write lower scored essays as were first year students (see Tables 4 and 8). While we might expect those who have had the benefit of a year of Symposium to write essays earning higher scores, this does not appear to be true for writers tested during the previous year in these samples. Students writing essays in the fall semester perform about as well as those writing in the spring.
  • Comparing results on the Academic Profile from earlier years with those from the past two academic years, we find a trend toward lower performance for more of those who seek acceptance as education majors or minors since that test was first used as a screening examination in the spring of 1996. The trend is stronger for mathematics (Tables 9C), less so for reading (9A) and knowledge of writing conventions (9B).
  • Essay scores awarded over the past eight years reveal a trend toward higher performance, with a greater proportion of essays reaching Levels Two or Three in the last two years that the previous six. To some degree this trend reflects improved testing conditions, refined prompts, and efforts to encourage writers to make use of essay writing workshops and readings on persuasive writing. Tempering this improving trend, we find that about one-fifth of recently written essays received Level One scores (Table 10).

Context. Understanding and using mathematics, writing, and reading skills is becoming a more important part of every teachers’ practice as they strive to leave no child behind in the decade ahead.  Teachers must be confident of their own performance in each of these skills before they can effectively encourage their students to master them.  Anecdotal descriptions of the teaching force at work in the schools of other states reveal a troubling pattern of too many practicing teachers with deficient academic skills who are unable to encourage their students to reach state mandated performance levels in those same skills.

On two occasions during the 2002-2003 academic year the Education Department jointly sponsored by The College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University offered prospective elementary education majors and secondary education minors an opportunity to verify the extent of their academic skills. As we have done since 1996, we used the Academic Profile (AP), a criterion-referenced examination developed by the Education Testing Service (ETS) describing the extent of college students’ reading comprehension, their recognition of the conventions of English composition, and their use of mathematics. While this examination also estimates students’ general education knowledge in the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences, we do not use information about their content knowledge to screen potential candidates seeking preparation as elementary or secondary teachers.

We supplemented the “long form” of this 108 item test with a persuasive essay devised by the Education Department faculty to estimate students’ ability to express their ideas through their writing. As in years past, those women and men seeking acceptance as elementary education majors or as secondary education minors were required to complete both the Academic Profile and the essay in controlled test settings. We informed students completing these assessments that a developmental opportunity might await them should their test or essay scores reveal less than expected performance. Most students perceive these to be “high stakes” examinations with significant consequences for confirmed low performance.

Procedure. Those who registered for the Academic Profile received a brief document describing that examination and the performance levels set for each of three skill areas. The handout offers sample test items reflecting the examination’s multiple choice format. Information about the examination was also provided in students’ on-line Education Department Handbook, in documents shared with students enrolled in most education courses, in descriptive materials available in the Department’s offices, and by department faculty and staff. Registration usually begins about one month prior to the date of the examination.

One week prior to the test date those students who registered for the Department’s essay examination received a packet of readings on the topic selected for their essay. Essay topics typically explore a significant educational issue that should be of concern to those who would be licensed as teachers. Readings focused on various facets of the topic are selected from recent newspapers, texts, popular education magazines, and research journals. These readings offer essay writers a range of relevant opinion, research, and practice from which they might formulate their responses. Their reading packets include the “prompt” or topic on which they will write their essays, the scoring guide that a team of faculty readers will be trained to use in a holistic assessment of their writing, and guidance on the preparation of a persuasive essay. During the week prior to the Saturday examination tutors employed by the colleges’ Writing Center offer informal help sessions for those essay writers seeking additional guidance.

Both the Academic Profile examination and the Department’s essay test were administered by proctors who were not members of its faculty or staff. Completed Profile answer sheets were checked for incomplete erasures, light or stray marks, and forbidden folds prior to being mailed to ETS for scoring. Test results were available within five weeks of the test date. Each student received a written summary of AP and essay scores, an explanation of their meaning, and information on developmental opportunities available for their use.

Our assessment of students’ writing samples generally followed the approach described by Edward White in his Teaching and Assessing Writing (2nd edition, 1994, Calendar Island, Portland MA). Coded essays were inspected to delete writers’ names or other identification. Two staff members used the Department’s simplified three-step writing rubric to cluster essays into “high,” “middle,” or “low” groups. Essays selected from each of these clusters highlighted dimensions of the scoring guide for those who would be trained in its use. Once prepared for their task, two or more readers holistically scored each essay during Saturday morning readings.

Following the scoring session, each failing essay was reviewed by the chief reader using an analytic scoring guide derived from the elements of the six-step holistic rubric. He also calculated scoring statistics and tabulated readers’ suggestions for improved prompts or reading packets. He later informed students of their performance on the AP and essay, inviting them to review their essays and the scoring process.

Results: Fall 2002.A total of 57 students gathered for the fall semester administration of the Academic Profile on the morning 19 October 2002. These same students also completed the Department’s essay on the afternoon of that day, taking and defending their position on whether public schools should “offer tuition vouchers to help parents enroll their children in private schools pay the cost of schooling.”

These 57 students, of whom 46 were women (81%), included 32 (56%) who declared their intended major to be elementary education. One-third of those tested were in their first year of study (19 of 57, 33%), while second year students formed the largest group (31, 54%). AP performance levels, scoring guides, and sample essays appear in the appendix to this report.

Table 1. Academic Profile and Essay Performance: Fall 2002

Performance Areas:

Performance Levels:

AP Reading

AP Writing

AP Mathematics

ED Essay

Level 3

7 (12%)

9 (16%)

10 (18%)

0

Level 2

23 (40%)

14 (25%)

22 (39%)

45 (79%)

Level 1

24 (42%)

31 (54%)

22 (39%)

12 (21%)

Below Level 1

3 (5%)

3 (5%)

3 (5%)

0

Note: This sample includes 57 students who completed the AP and the ED Essay on 19 October 2002.

The Education Department expects that students seeking acceptance as candidates in preparation for licensure as elementary or secondary teachers will perform at or above Level Two in each of the four areas. Academic Profile performance revealed by Table 1 finds that 30 of the 57 (52%) tested on this occasion reached Level Two or Level Three in reading comprehension, while 23 reached these levels in writing (41%) and 32 did so in mathematics (57%). The lower one-half of the table, on the other hand, suggests that should further diagnostic testing confirm the AP’s estimate of their skills, many of these students will require development in one or more areas. Table 1 reveals that more may seek help with the rules of composition (34 of 57, 59%), while fewer will seek assistance with their reading comprehension (27, 47%) or use of mathematics (25, 44%).

None in this group wrote Education essays scored at Level Three. Most offered persuasive essays rated by two or more trained readers as examples of acceptable Level Two compositions. About one-fifth (12 of 57, 21%) wrote essays judged to be below the expected performance level.

As in the past, students performing below Level Two in one or more of the four skill areas were advised to select and complete developmental instruction for each deficient area. Some chose to enroll in courses, others sought tutors for the colleges’ skill centers in reading, mathematics, or writing. Many chose computer-based instruction offered through Learning Plus, an academic skills program developed by ETS. Each pathway includes a diagnostic assessment to confirm the results of the AP or essay, instruction guided by that diagnosis, and a post-test to confirm resolution of the skill deficiency. All must successfully resolve their skill deficiencies before they can be unconditionally accepted as candidates in preparation for licensure.

Learning Plus, a computer managed instructional program developed by ETS, has been a more popular option for those seeking help in mathematics and reading. Students in need of stronger writing skills more often work with a Writing Center tutor or enroll in an English course (“Writing Well,” ENGL 211). While it is not possible to predict which of these developmental paths will be selected, we can estimate the demand for help they will place on the colleges’ skill centers were all to seek a resolution of the deficiencies suggested by this screening.

Table 2. Estimated Demand for Developmental Assistance: Fall 2002

Performance Areas:

Deficient Areas:

Students

AP Reading

AP Writing

AP Mathematics

ED Essay

TOTAL

DEMAND

None

17 (30%)

0

One

8 (14%)

1

4

2

1

8

Two

14 (25%)

8

12

7

1

28

Three

10 (18%)

10

10

8

2

30

Four

8 (14%)

8

8

8

8

32

TOTALS:

57

27 (28%)

34 (35%)

25 (26%)

12 (12%)

98

Table 2 suggests that 17 students from the 57 who completed the Academic Profile and related essay last October passed all four areas at Level Two or higher (30%). These students will most likely make no demand for developmental assistance. The table also suggests that the 40 students whose test performance fell into Level One or below for one or more areas could generate as many as 98 requests for developmental assistance from the colleges’ Reading Center, (reading and study skills), Math Skills Center (mathematics and Learning Plus), and the Writing Center (writing mechanics and composition). About one-third of these 98 possible requests could focus on the “mechanics” of writing (34, 35%). About one-fourth could be concerned with reading comprehension (27 of 98, 28%) or mathematics (25 of 98, 26%). Eight students with possible deficiencies in all four areas could account for one-third of all possible developmental demands (32 of 98 demands, 33%).

The twelve individuals writing essays that readers scored below Level One may seek help from the Writing Center. While some may successfully use “Option Two” to verify adequate writing skill using additional writing samples, most will likely enroll in a writing course such as “Writing Well” (English 211).

Using an analytic scoring guide derived from the Department’s holistic rubric to confirm the scores of essays at or below Level One, we find that most such “failing” essays successfully focused on the assigned writing task (Table 3, 5 of 12, 42%), were not hindered by serious flaws in grammar, vocabulary, or other “mechanical” errors (8, 67%), and revealed a sense of their audience (8, 67%) as specified in the prompt. Faults evident revealed in these essays, however, seem clustered in three critical dimensions of the task. Most Level One essays revealed weak organization of ideas (8 of 12, 67%), flawed reasoning (8, 67%), and provided weak or insufficient evidence in support of a thesis (10, 83%). As these facets of a persuasive essay tend to be more heavily weighted in readers’ judgments, writing samples with weaknesses in any two of these three areas are more likely to emerge from the scoring process as Level One efforts. The following table, derived from the descriptions included in the analytic guide appended to this report, reveals this pattern.

Table 3. Characteristics of Level One Education Essays: Fall 2002

Raw

Score

Task

Focus

Organization

Reasoning

Evidence

Mechanics

Sense of Audience

6

5

1 (8%)

4

5 (42%)

2 (17%)

2 (17%)

1 (8%)

8 (67%)

8 (67%)

3

5 (42%)

8 (67%)

8 (67%)

10 (83%)

4 (33%)

4 (33%)

2

1 (8%)

2 (17%)

2 (17%)

1 (8%)

1

Note: Raw Scores of from 1 to 3 on the six step AP/ED Essay rubric are equivalent to AP Level 1.

See Appendix 3 for definitions of characteristics and performance levels represented by this table.

We might expect that second year students would be more likely to write essays at Levels Two and Three than would students in their first year of college. Second year students, most of whom would have completed First Year Symposium, should have had more practice in the preparation of an argumentative or persuasive essay. Most would also have the benefit of an additional semester or more of college-level writing for courses in which they enrolled.

Table 4 suggests that second year students may enjoy little or no advantage over their less experienced peers. About the same portion of first year (21%, 4 of 19) as second year students (23%, 7 of 31) wrote essays rated as Level One during the fall 2002 assessment. Fortunately, six of seven third year students wrote essays scored at Level Two (86%).

Table 4. Essay Performance by Year in College; Fall 2002

Performance Levels:

First Year

Second Year

Third Year

Totals:

Level 3

0 (0%)

0 (0%)

0 (0%)

0 (0%)

Level 2

15 (79%)

24 (77%)

6 (86%)

45 (79%)

Level 1

4 (21%)

7 (23%)

1 (14%)

12 (21%)

Totals:

19 (33%)

31 (54%)

7 (12%)

57 (100%)

Results: Spring 2003. Seventy-one prospective education majors and minors gathered on the morning of 22 February 2003 to complete the Academic Profile. Forty-eight of these students were women (68% of 71), 23 men (32%). Most of these 71 students declared their desire to be accepted by the Department as elementary education majors (28 of 71, 39%), with the remainder planning a minor in education. A significant minority identified themselves as social science majors seeking the Department’s acceptance as an education minor (14 of 71, 20%).

This group, unlike those tested in October, included more who were in their first year of collegiate study (39 of 71, 55%). The tested group also included twenty-eight second year students (39%) and four who were in their third year (6%). As one student left too soon after the examination began to provide meaningful performance information, the following tables offers AP results for the 70 who remained.

Table 5. Academic Profile and Essay Performance: Spring 2003

Performance Areas:

Performance Levels:

AP Reading

AP Writing

AP Mathematics

ED Essay

Level 3

10 (14%)

7 (10%)

10 (14%)

5 (7%)

Level 2

32 (46%)

31 (44%)

35 (50%)

48 (69%)

Level 1

26 (37%)

31 (44%)

25 (36%)

17 (24%)

Below Level 1

2 (3%)

1 (1%)

0 (0%)

0

Note:70 students completed the AP and wrote Education Essays on 22 February 2003.

Overall, performance on the Academic Profile for this somewhat larger group was similar to the pattern of performance revealed in the work of the 57 students tested in the fall semester. About as many spring as fall examinees reached Level Three in one or more of AP skill areas. A greater portion of those completing the spring administration of the Profile tested at Level Two in mathematics (Table 5: 35 of 70, 50%) than did so in October (Table 1: 22 of 57, 39%). Fewer of those tested in February fell below Level Two for writing (Table 5: Level 1 and Below Level 1, 28 of 71, 40%) than was true of students tested in October (Table 1: Level 1 and Below Level 1, 34 of 57, 59%). About as many students from the spring group (Table 5: 28 of 70, 47%) as from the fall (Table 1, 27 of 57, 40%) responded to the Profile’s questions in ways suggesting deficient reading comprehension.

Performance on the Education essay was also similar to that of the fall sample with one exception. Spring writers took a position on whether “Minnesota should license teachers who complete alternative preparation programs.” While about the same proportion “passed” at Level Two and above this past spring (Table 5: 48 of 70, 69%) as did last fall (Table 1: 45 of 57, 79%), the February sample included five essays scored by two or more readers at Level Three (5 of 70, 7%). About as many fell below our minimum expectation when tested in February (Table 5: 17 of 70, 24%) as did so in the fall (Table 1: 12 of 57, 21%).

How many of these 70 students might seek help in the year ahead? Table 6 estimates potential demands for developmental opportunities that could be made by students performing below Level Two in one or more of the four skill areas.

Table 6. Estimated Demand for Developmental Assistance: Spring 2003

Performance Areas:

Deficient Areas:

Students

AP Reading

AP Writing

AP Mathematics

AP Essay

TOTAL

DEMAND

None

18 (26%)

One

17 (24%)

3

3

7

4

17 (17%)

Two

20 (29%)

12

16

6

6

40 (39%)

Three

15 (21%)

15

13

10

7

45 (44%)

Four

0

TOTALS:

70 (100%)

30 (29%)

32 (31%)

23 (23%)

17 (17%)

102 (100%

Eighteen students of the 70 who completed the Academic Profile and essay in February passed all four areas at Level Two or higher (26%). This pass rate is about the same as experienced by students who completed the AP with an essay in October 2002 (17 of 57 tested in October, 30%).

Seventeen additional students tested in February earned passing test or essays scores in all but one of the four areas (17 of 70 tested, 24%), while eight of the 57 tested in October (14%) passed all but one of the four areas. None of the 70 completing the AP and essay in February will have to complete developmental work in all four areas in contrast to the eight tested in October who earned scores at or below Level One in all four skill areas (8 of 57, 14%).

If each of the 52 students tested in February who performed at or below Level One in one or more of the four academic skill areas were to seek help in resolving their developmental deficiencies (52 of 70; 74%), together they could generate as many as 102 requests for developmental assistance. They would join the 40 (40% of 54) students whose October test performance could produce as many as 98 requests for help with one or more deficient skill areas.

About one-third of the 102 possible requests from February test takers could seek mastery of the “mechanics” of writing (Table 6: 32 of 102 requests, 31%; Table 2: 35% in October). Assistance would most likely be offered by the colleges’ Writing Center or through work on Learning Plus. Nearly another one-third could seek help in reading comprehension (Table 6, 30 of 102 requests, 29%; 28% in October, Table 2) from the Reading Center or Learning Plus.  About one-fifth may visit the Math Skills Center for help in mathematics using Learning Plus (Table 6, 23 of 102 requests, 23%), slightly fewer requests than generated by those tested in October (Table 2, 25 of 98 requests, 26%).

The 17 students who wrote essays rated and confirmed to be at Level One (24% of 71 essays written) may plan a tutorial with the Writing Center, request a review of five recent samples of their writing (“Option Two”) to confirm their essay performance, or choose to enroll in a writing course such as “Writing Well” (English 211).

As with Education Essays written during the fall 2002 testing session, we might search for patterns among essays that were not scored above Level One. Table 7 summarizes information from which we might derive such patterns.

Table 7. Characteristics of Level One Education Essays: Spring 2003

Raw

Score

Task

Focus

Organization

Reasoning

Evidence

Mechanics

Sense of Audience

6

5

1 (6%)

4

13 (76%)

9 (53%)

9 (53%)

1 (8%)

14 (82%)

3

4 (24%)

6 (35%)

6 (35%)

5 (29%)

2 (12%)

14 (86%)

2

2 (17%)

2 (14%)

7 (41%)

1 (6%)

2 (14%)

1

4 (24%)

Note: Raw Scores of from 1 to 3 on the six step AP/ED Essay rubric are equivalent to AP Level

1.

Seventeen essays in this sample were rated and confirmed as written at Level 1.

Most of the Level One essays in this sample were “on task” (13 of 17, 76%) and were not hindered by significant mechanical flaws (14, 82%). This topic seemed may have encouraged weaker appeals to an audience, as more low rated essays in this sample were scored at “3” on this dimension (14, 86%), while more spring essays on educational vouchers were rated at “4” on their sense of audience (Table 3: 8 of 12, 67%).

Readers gave more of these unsuccessful essays passing scores of “4” in the two critical areas of organization and reasoning (9 of 17, 53% for each characteristic). Nearly as many, however, fell lower on the scale when judged for the effectiveness of their organization of ideas and the nature of their reasoning (8 of 17, 47% on each characteristic).

More Level One essays written in February, however, were given lower scores on the basis of the nature and quality of the evidence used by their authors. Writers of four Level One essays in this group offered no discernable evidence to support their reasoning (Table 7, 24% of 17), while seven more offered too few instances of more convincing evidence to make their cases for or against alternative teacher licensure (7 of 17, 41%). Quality and frequency of evidence appears to be the signal flaw for this group of writers (16 of 17 below passing raw score of 4, 94%).

Are sophomores better writers than their younger peers? As in the fall (see Table 4), scores awarded to students’ spring 2003 essays reveal no meaningful difference between those written by 39 first year students in their second semester of collegiate study (Table 8 below, 39 of 70, 55%) and those offered by 27 second year students (39%). Whereas 80% of first year students wrote passing essays (Levels 1 and 2, 31 of 39), 71% of essays written by second year students were scored at these levels (20 of 27). Similarly, about as many first as second year students wrote essays that were scored at Level One (8 of 39 first years, 21%; 7 of 27 second years, 25%).

Table 8. Essay Performance by Year in College; Spring 2003

Performance Levels:

First Year

Second Year

Third Year

Totals:

Level 3

3 (8%)

2 (7%)

0 (0%)

5 (7%)

Level 2

28 (72%)

18 (64%)

2 (50%)

48 (69%)

Level 1

8 (21%)

7 (25%)

2 (50%)

17 (24%)

Totals:

39 (55%)

27 (39%)

4 (6%)

70 (100%)

Trends. The Education Department began using the Academic Profile to affirm prospective candidates’ academic skills in April of 1996. Administered two or three times during each subsequent academic year to all seeking acceptance as elementary majors or secondary minors in education, their aggregated performance offers a vantage point from which to view current students’ test results.

Despite reported increases in mean entrance examination scores for entering classes of first year students over the past decade, faculty who teach these first year students have observed that many seem troubled by the need to read and understand their assigned texts. Symptoms of a possible weakness in this skill area include restricted vocabulary, incomplete comprehension, and slow reading speed. Looking at past test performance, we find that about one-fourth of all students tested between 1996 and 2001 responded to the Academic Profile as if they could not read at the level we expect of college students (Table 9A, Level 1 and below, 26%, 656 of 675). Performance of those tested in the past two years seems to confirm our subjective observations, as more of those tested during the 2001-2002 academic year could not read above this pre-college level (46%, 54 of 118). About the same portion of those who completed the AP during the last academic year tested as if they could not comprehend written information above Level 1 (43%, 55 of 127).

This trend is disturbing, given the importance of reading for our students’ success in their college courses and later as classroom teachers. We might expect growing demand for developmental work in reading if we continue to set Level Two as our minimal expectation. Fortunately, more than one-half of those tested in the past two academic years performed as we expect at Levels Two or Three (54% of 118; 56% of 127).

Table 9A. Aggregated Reading Comprehension

Performance Levels

Spring 1996

Spring 2001

Fall 2001

to

Spring 2002

Fall 2002

to

Spring 2003

Level 3

107 (16%)

0 (0%)

17 (13%)

Level 2

377 (56%)

64 (54%)

55 (43%)

Level 1

168 (25%)

45 (38%)

50 (39%)

Below 1

4 (1%)

9 (8%)

5 (4%)

Subtotal

656 ( 97%)

118 (100%)

127(100%)

Reversals

19

0

0

Total Tested

675 (100%)

118 (100%)

127 (100%)

Understanding of the “rules” or conventions of composition seems especially important for those who directly teach or indirectly encourage their K-12 students’ writing. Those who seek acceptance as candidates preparing for licensure reveal a decline in their ability to recognize accepted rules which govern English composition. Looking at Table 9B, we find those who “passed” the Academic Profile with performance at Levels Two or Level Three represented 52% (340 of 656) of all who were tested from 1996 to 2001. Only 40% of those tested in 2001-2002 reached Level 2 (47 of 118), while 48% did so last year (61 of 127). If we combine test results for students tested during recent years, we find that 44% of the 245 who completed the AP in 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 reaching Level Two or Level Three (108).

Those whose test results suggest a need for developmental work in writing “mechanics” grew from an aggregate of 46% during 1996-2001 (Levels 1 and below, 315 of 654) to 56% for the last two years combined (01-02 and 02-01, 137 of 245). This pattern may help explain the growing frequency of “comma splices,” errors in pronoun-verb agreement, and sentence fragments that appear in many students’ compositions.

Table 9B. Conventions of Writing

Performance Levels:

Spring 1996

to

Spring 2001

Fall 2001

to

Spring 2002

Fall 2002

to

Spring 2003

Level 3

81 (12%)

(14%)

16 (13%)

Level 2

259 (40%)

31 (26%)

45 (35%)

Level 1

300 (44%)

70 (59%)

62 (49%)

Below 1

15 (2%)

1 (1%)

4 (3%)

Subtotal

654 (97%)

118 (100%)

127 (100%)

Reversals

21 (3%)

0

0

Total Tested

675 (100%)

118 (100%)

127 (100%)

Many students entering college profess mathematics to be one of their weaker academic skills. Table 9C confirms this generalization for those who completed the Academic Profile. While 68% of those tested between 1996 and 2001 reached “passing” levels of Two or Three (459 of 646), a smaller portion of those tested during academic years 01-02 and 02-03 did so (57%, 139 of 245). The decline in advanced Level Three performance, from 21% of those tested in 96-01 (143 of 646) to 15% of those tested in the two most recent years (37 of 245), is troubling.

A growing demand for developmental assistance in mathematics could be accounted for by an increase in the number of tested students whose performance fell into Level One or Below Level One.  About one-fourth of those seeking to become teachers who were tested between 1996 and 2001 may have had deficient math skills (28%, 187 of 646). That portion grew to nearly one-half of those tested in 2001-2002 (56 of 118, 48%). A smaller portion of those tested in 2002-2003 (39%, 50 of 127) did not perform above Level Two. Combining test data from the two recent years, we still find an increase in the portion needed developmental assistance to meet Level Two performance (106 of 245, 43%). A growing proportion of students seeking acceptance as education majors or minors during the past eight years, from 28% of 646 tested between 1996 and 2001 growing to 43% of 245 tested in the last two years, helps us understand why more students are often unable to calculate a percentage or create a graph to portray observed events.

Table 9C. Using Mathematics

Mathematics Performance Levels:

April 1996

to

March 2001

Fall 2001

to

Spring 2002

Fall 2002

to

Spring 2003

Level 3

143 (21%)

17 (14%)

20 (16%)

Level 2

316 (47%)

45 (38%)

57 (45%)

Level 1

170 (25%)

53 (45%)

47 (37%)

Below 1

17 (3%)

3 (3%)

3 (2%)

Subtotal

646 (96%)

118 (100%)

127 (100%)

Reversals

29 (4%)

0

0

Total Tested

675 100%

118 (100%)

127 (100%)

While the Academic Profile can estimate writing ability from knowledge of “mechanics” and recognition of correctly written English passages, analysis of writing samples can provide a more accurate estimate of students’ actual writing performance. Table 10 presents aggregated performance data for those tested during 1996 to 2001 in contrast with more recent essay test results. This summary presents essays written in response to several different “prompts” or topics, each with its own unique characteristics.

Improved writing prompts, testing conditions, and in the use of readings designed to help students write stronger persuasive essays may have contributed to the positive pattern suggested by Table 10. Sixty percent of essays scored between 1996 and 2001 (440 of 727) were judged to be “passing” at Level Two or Level Three. A greater proportion of essays scored in 2001-2002 reached passing levels (92 of 130, 71%). The trend continued for essays scored in the past year, with 77% judged as passing (98 of 127, 77%). Since the “mechanics” of composition are not given much weight in the holistic process used to derive essay scores, students’ deficient knowledge of the rules they should follow in formal composition are not be reflected in these estimates.

Table 10. Prospective Candidates’ Aggregated Essay Performance

Performance Levels

April 1996

to

March 2001

Fall 2001

to

Spring 2003

Fall 2002

to

Spring 2003

Level 3 (Scores 11+12)

40 ( 5%)

0

5 (4%)

Level 2 (Scores 8+9+10)

400 (55%)

92 (71%)

93 (73%)

Level 1 (Scores 5+6+7)

240 (33%)

24 (19%)

29 (23%)

Below 1 (Scores 2+3+4)

47 (6%)

14 (11%)

0

Total Tested:

727 100%

130 (100%)

127 (100%)

Note: Planned variations in prompts, testing conditions, and supportive materials between essay administrations may influence overall performance.

Why should we care about students who do not have the skills to read, write, and use mathematics to perform in a college setting? Most could get by in other majors, even other teacher preparation programs, so why not in our program?

Understanding and using mathematics, writing, and reading skills will become a more important part of every elementary, middle, or high school teachers' practice in the next decade. All teachers must be confident of their own performance in each of these skills before they can effectively encourage their students to learn them. Anecdotal descriptions of the teaching force in other states reveal a troubling pattern of teachers with deficient skills who are unable to encourage their students to reach state mandated proficiency levels in those same skills.

While we might hope that all whose performance falls below Level Two will seek majors in other departments where proficient academic skills are not as necessary, our experience over the past eight years with many such students calls us realize that this may not be the case for many. Those who discovered, confirmed, and corrected their deficient academic skills can become more successful students. We should continue to provide the developmental opportunities that can help these young women and men to complete their preparation for licensure and begin their practice as successful teachers.

D. Leitzman

October 2003

Appendices

1. AP Performance Levels

2. ED Essay Holistic Scoring Guide, February 2003

3. ED Analytic Scoring Guide

4. Sample ED Essays: October 2002

5. Sample ED Essays: February 2003

Appendix 1: Academic Profile Proficiency Levels

Writing-Level 1.A student performing at Level 1 recognizes agreement among basic elements (nouns, verbs, pronouns) in the same clause or phrase. This student avoids gross errors in short or simple structures and can logically select and order main ideas or divisions in a sustained paragraph using appropriate transition words. Students at this level demonstrate a basic understanding of writing.

Writing-Level 2. In addition to performing successfully at Level 1, a student who is proficient at Level 2 also recognizes appropriate agreement among basic elements when they are complicated by intervening works or phrases. He avoids errors in relatively long and complicated constructions. She is able to recast several simple clauses using a single more complex combination. Students performing at this intermediate level can recognize and use the conventions of good writing.

Writing-Level 3. In addition to performing Level 1 and Level 2 skills successfully, a student at Level 3 also can identify logical statements and comparisons and is able to solve difficult or subtle writing problems such as appropriate use of parallelism. These students can make fine distinctions among closely related root words and grammatical structures characteristic of a mature writing style.

Mathematics-Level 1. A student at Level 1 demonstrates basic number sense and skills in arithmetic operations and relationships and in elementary geometry and measurement. A student at this basic level can read and interpret information from simple graphs or charts, solve simple equations or evaluate expressions, and solve simple and routine word problems.

Mathematics-Level 2. In addition to performing successfully at Level 1, a student who is proficient at Level 2 also understands number systems, including order, magnitude, and relationships of integers, functions, and decimals. A student at this level can solve moderately difficult equations and inequalities, evaluate complex formulas, compare and apply information from more complex charts and graphs, and apply reasoning, geometry, and measurement skills in solving moderately complex intermediate level problems, including word problems.

Mathematics-Level 3. In addition to performing Level 1 and Level 2 skills successfully, a student at Level 3 also can generalize and apply mathematical knowledge and skills in non-routine situations and demonstrates real comprehension of exponents, variables, geometry, and measurements. A student at this level can solve multi-step and non-routine problems involving a range of mature reasoning skills.

Reading-Level 1. At Level 1 a student recognizes and comprehends discrete pieces of information, (e.g., a single detail, information presented in a single sentence) as well as relationships or connections explicitly stated in a passage and understands words and phrases in context.

Reading-Level 2 In addition to performing successfully at Level 1, students who are proficient at Level 2 can also gather information from different sections of a passage and recombine it. These students recognize relationships that can be inferred but are not explicit. They can recognize summaries and alternative ways of stating information, interpret figurative language, and recognize the point or purpose of a passage as a whole, or significant portions of a passage.

Reading/Critical Thinking-Level 3. In addition to performing Level 1 and Level 2 skills successfully, students at Level 3 can also evaluate and analyze arguments and, within an academic field, handle interpretation, inductive generalizations, or causal explanations. Level 3 skills are differentiated within each of the three content areas include in the Profile. Questions drawn from the humanities require the evaluation of competing viewpoints and interpretations. Passages from the social sciences offer opportunities to evaluate claims, disputes, and inductive generalizations. Those at this level are able to evaluate explanatory hypotheses and draw conclusions about data drawn from the natural sciences.

Proficiency level descriptions are drawn from The Academic Profile User’s Guide published in 1998 by the College Board and the Educational Testing Service (pp. 9-10).

Appendix 2: Scoring Guide: Essay Form J

"Should Minnesota license teachers who complete alternative preparation programs that do not include introductory education courses, instruction in teaching methods, or supervised student teaching?”

Lower One-Half Essays: Scores of 1, 2, or 3

Score 1. The "1" paper shows incompetence in writing, with many serious errors. The paper suggests poor comprehension of the persuasive or argumentative task. The paper reveals an inability to arrange thoughts into minimally acceptable prose. It may be “off topic” at some point.

Score 2. The "2" paper reveals an incomplete response, neglecting some of the assigned essay's required elements. It will also lack coherence, direction, or focus. The author may or may not clearly take a stand on the topic. A paper at this level may wander off the topic or portray circular reasoning. While a "2" paper may include reasons in support of the author's position, some or all of those which are offered may not be relevant to the author's views. Restatement may appear in place of a reason or development of an argument. The reader may be distracted by errors in word choice, sentence structure, punctuation, or other "mechanics" of the composition.

Score 3. While better than a "2" essay, a paper scored as "3" remains in the lower one-half of the score range because it slights or ignores one part of the assignment, uses insufficient or weak supporting evidence, or reveals limited or faulty reasoning. It may also exhibit organizational or mechanical difficulties which, while less serious than a "2" essay, seriously weaken the paper.

Upper One-Half Essays: Scores of 4, 5, or 6

Score 4. A “4” paper takes a clear stand or position on the topic but may lack a unified argument, an arguable position, or at least three distinct reasons supporting that position.  The writer may offer a statement of personal preference, yet fail to go beyond an appeal to personal opinion as a reason for that preference. While a “4” paper may offer two or three reasons in support of a position on the topic, it may neglect to offer evidence in support of those reasons.  The argument may be uneven, with some reasons more weakly defended than others.  Mechanical or structural errors will be evident, but they will be less frequent than in a paper that falls within the lower one-half range of scores.

Score 5. The "5" essay responds to all requirements of the question, offering a clearly stated and well-argued position. Each supporting reason is distinct, going beyond a simple rephrasing of the author's position. All such reasons are clearly supported by relevant evidence. All parts of the paper will be connected in some direct manner. Papers at this level affirm the ability to write direct, clear sentences formed into coherent, fluent paragraphs. A "5" paper, while not error free, does not distract the reader with poorly chosen words, grammatical errors, or spelling mistakes. It is in most respects a “good” paper.

Score 6.An essay awarded this highest score adds a unity of tone and point of view as well as a good sense of audience to the features of a "5" paper. The writer selects and uses sufficient evidence to encourage the reader to consider the point of view expressed in his or her paper. Essays at this level may reveal a creative approach to the topic, perhaps evident in the use of quotations or humor. Sentences in a "6" paper will show more variety in form, with more sophisticated use of vocabulary, transitions, and connecting words than will be evident in a "5" essay. Papers at this level are, as Dr. Sass notes, "exquisitely written."

Note: Writers are encouraged to consider a general “model” for a persuasive composition that includes…

A. Position or thesis on the topic

B. First Reason in support of the thesis

Evidence in support of the first reason

C. Second Reason

D. Third Reason

E. Conclusion: A summary of the position and its supporting reasons with a call for action

SCORE

Task

Organization

Reasoning

Evidence

Mechanics

Audience

1

Essay is off the topic or only marginally related to the prompt.

No evident arrangement of thoughts; No implied or explicit thesis

Ideas included in the essay are not organized in any evident way; the essay does not take a persuasive form.

No evidence is provided.

Many serious errors are included in an essay that reveals minimally acceptable prose.

The essay reveals no sense of audience.

2

Some of the task’s elements missing; wanders from the topic

Weak focus or direction; implied thesis or multiple theses; does not take a clear stand.

Incoherent argument; Circular reasoning; Reasons fail to support the thesis.

Restatement of reasons rather than use of direct evidence; evidence irrelevant or contradictory

Errors in word choice, spelling, and punctuation distract the reader from the writer’s message.

3

Ignores or slights at least one part of the task

Flawed organization of ideas weakens the essay

Limited or faulty reasoning; reasons may fail to support or conflict with thesis. Reasons may be contradictory or reveal limited understanding.

Insufficient or weak evidence favoring personal opinion; some reasons may be unsupported.

Poor word choices or confusing sentence construction enervates the writer’s message.

Some sense of audience and setting reflect conditions set by the prompt.

4

All parts of the task are evident in the essay.

Takes a clear stand on the topic. Ideas are organized into a useful structure that fits the prompt (i.e. introduction, body, and conclusion).

May lack a unified, balanced argument; May offer 2 or 3 reasons in support of a thesis, of which one might restate the author’s opinion.

Stronger forms of evidence, such as expert opinion or empirically supported generalizations, will be used more often than personal opinion based on experience or logical deduction.

Fewer errors are evident; they do not hinder the writer’s message.

Recognition of an for the audience essay

5

All parts of the task are evident in an essay that may take a more inventive path toward the assignment.

A clearly stated, well argued position on the topic.

Logical transitions lead into coherent, fluent paragraphs

Each reason is distinct, supports the thesis, and moves well beyond a restatement of the author’s position.  Most “5” essays offer the required 3 reasons.

Each reason is clearly supported by a set of one or more empirically defined “facts,” pertinent expert opinion, or relevant personal experiences.

The infrequent grammatical, spelling, or word choice errors do not distract the reader from understanding the writer’s message.

The writer’s clear, direct sentences flow into coherent, fluent paragraphs that would be expected in a generally well-written paper.

The writer directly incorporates the audience and context of the prompt into the essay.

6

A creative response to the prompt that meets all its requirements.

An Introduction and a summary reveal the argument in brief. Use of a greater variety of effective transitions carries the elements of the argument forward

Each distinct reason logically supports the thesis advanced in the essay.

Believable evidence supports each reason encourages the reader to consider, even accept, the writer’s thesis.

Nearly an error-free essay that reveals the vocabulary and advanced skills of composition expected of an exquisitely written paper. One’s “red pen” would rarely touch the paper.

A refined sense of audience revealed in a creative approach to the topic.

APPENDIX 3: Analytic Scoring Guide

Appendix 4: Sample Essays, Form I, October 2002

On 22 October 2002 students preparing for acceptance as education majors or minors wrote persuasive essays on “Should public schools offer tuition vouchers to help parents who enroll their children in private schools pay the cost of schooling?” he following essays, transcribed just as written, were scored on 16 November by two or more of six readers using a holistic scoring process to rate students’ writing. No essays in this sample reached Level 3.

Sample Level 2 Essay, October 2002

School Vouchers: A Sign of Change in the Educational System

The condition of the public schools in the United States today is dismal and discouraging to those concerned about the future of this country. However, there is reason to believe that steps are being taken that will improve the quality of education being received by students throughout the country. Vouchers are just one of these steps and this is cause for hope that improvement is on the way. Although school vouchers are only one small step in the overall goal of improving education, it is a realistic and sound way to begin the process of education reform. In the three areas where vouchers are already being used there is significant evidence that they are indeed improving the quality of education for children in low-income families. Vouchers also hold public schools accountable and encourage them to improve. Finally, although many argue that vouchers are unconstitutional, there is no real evidence to support this conclusion.

Vouchers are one attempt by politicians to improve the education received by students, especially those in public schools and who are from low-income families. The statistic quoted by Gary Rosen from Education Week was the cause for much concern. It said, “Most fourth graders who live in the US cities can’t read and understand a simple children’s book, and most eighth graders can’t use arithmetic to solve a practical problem” (Rosen 196). This concerned people, and vouchers try to change it. Vouchers do this by allowing students to attend private schools which generally have a more rigorous curriculum. Vouchers are awarded to student from low-income families. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin it has been shown that voucher recipients “have resisted the normal pattern of declining achievement among inner-city students” (Rosen 196). This shows that vouchers only try and want to improve education standards.

Vouchers are also used as an accountability factor for public schools whose educational standards and objectives are below average. If students attending a failing public school were awarded vouchers to attend a private school, many would go. This would result in a decline in attendance and loss of money. Hopefully, this would force the public schools to re-evaluate and revise their standards. This then would result in a return of students and money. There is no reason public schools cannot be as challenging, if not more so, than private schools. This would not only improve the education for students who receive vouchers, but also for those attending the improved public schools.

The issue of whether or not school vouchers are constitutional was answered by the Supreme Court. In a trial about the system for school vouchers already established in Cleveland, it was ruled that it was constitutional as long as the “parents exercise ‘genuine choice’ in where to use their vouchers” (Greenhouse 2). Some argue that there are not enough schools to choose from to make a “genuine choice”. However, this can be altered either by raising the dollar amount of vouchers or by obligating all non-public schools to accept vouchers. This Supreme Court decision put the matter of school vouchers in the “public eye”. This had many positive effects, mainly because it made people aware of the problem with the education system and also because it introduces vouchers to those who may have never heard of them. This resulted in “85 percent of the urban poor” being in support of the voucher system (Rosen 196). This shows people want a change and believe vouchers are a good place to begin.

Everyone may not believe that vouchers are an acceptable means to better the education system, but it is a beginning. Something needs to change when fourth grade students cannot read a children’s book. Vouchers have proven to be effective in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and throughout Florida by improving the standards of education and challenging schools to change. There are some problems that need to be worked out, but that should not cause the whole idea of vouchers to be abandoned. Vouchers are a sound way to start changing the educational standards in this country, and they deserve a chance to give hope to children who have no hope for a better future.

Sample Level 1 Essay, October 2002

After four years of applying and being denied by various private institutions, Josh and his family decided that it was time to accept the fact that he would never be able to receive a private education (Interview). My mom is a second grade teacher and has encountered these situations for years. Josh was one of the students she recommended for private schooling. He was not denied because the schools he applied for were already filled, but because of the fact that suffers from a behavioral disorder. The idea of the school voucher program is for those who could not afford to pay for a private education, to have the option to do so. If the voucher system came into effect, students would be placed in lotteries. If selected from the lottery, families are given the option for the government to pay for their child’s private education (National edu. ssociation 206). What people do not realize is that the student may never enter one of these institutions if they do not pass one of the school’s standards of “race, gender, ability, or any other factors” (Nat. edu. association 206). The public’s tax money, if the voucher law was passed, would pay for these private institutions and therefore take money away from public schools. More students would benefit if we put our efforts, meaning our time, money, and focus, toward improving public schools rather than giving vouchers.

The use of vouchers is inequitable among students. In Florida, where school voucher use was passed, at least 93% of private schools deny any voucher students (Nat. edu. association 212). This is because voucher students are usually from lower class or even families from poverty that are not always up to par with their peers. The private institutions do not have the resources to handle those with disibility. In these cases, students are not accepted into the schools, or in some situations, are put back into the public school system. My mom faced a situation like this one in one of her classrooms. A girl who had been attending a private institution was asked to leave because she was a “disruption” to the rest of her classmates. Because private schools are not handling these students, they are being placed in public classrooms where teachers are dealing with them (Interview).

Public schools will start to crumble if vouchers are passed. 78-80% of school aged youth are enrolled in public schools (Nat. Edu. association 207). America’s youth depends on quality educations. Public schools are feeling the pressure already even with the tax payers money. Classrooms are overcrowded with students from various backgrounds.

Appendix 5: Sample Essays, Form J, February 2003

On 22 October 2003 students preparing for acceptance as education majors or minors wrote persuasive essays on, “Should Minnesota license as teachers individuals who complete alternative preparation programs that do not include introductory courses, instruction in teaching methods, and supervised student teaching?” The following essays, transcribed just as written, were scored on 5 April by two or more of six readers train to use of a holistic scoring process to rate students’ writing.

Sample Level 3 Essay, February 2003

Socrates once said that the unexamined life is not worth living. This can also be interpreted that unexamined teaching is not worth doing. To teach without serious reflection and regard for all aspects of the classroom, including those beyond teaching subject matter, is to ultimately fail at teaching. However, there is a movement underway which is doing just that. Alternative teacher preparation programs are springing up around the country with streamlined curricula that exclude instruction in teaching methods and supervised student teaching. Although this may seem appealing to teacher candidates, the problems it creates in terms of the absence of pedagogical training, poor teacher retention, and adverse effects on diverse students paint a dismal picture for the future of education. If we are to truly improve education, we must expect more than alternative programs can offer when licensing teachers.

The most important aspect of traditional teacher preparation that alternative options lack is that of pedagogy, or learning how to teach. In several studies, pedagogical instruction has been proven effective in training teachers to deal with all aspects of the school environment. This includes not only an understanding of the material, but also preparation for classroom management and motivation. Teachers must be able to convey their knowledge of a subject in such a way that students will learn effectively. This ability requires instruction and guided practice, but due to time restraints, alternative preparation programs often ignore this crucial aspect of teaching in favor of more study in academic fields while it is important that teachers have a thorough knowledge base in their academic field, “subject-matter competency alone is inadequate for instruction,” according to research done by Shulman, McDiarmid, and Wilson. Madeline Hunter’s five characteristics of successful teachers is a good indication of this. Of the five criteria, only one-teach to an objective or outcome-deals with subject matter. The other four address issues of adjusting to varying skill levels, learning styles, and other principles of learning. In short, teachers must learn how to teach students, not simply subject matter, which is a reality that most alternative preparation programs overlook.

In addition to training inadequate teachers, these alternative options have not solved the problem they set out to fix, which is that of teacher shortages. Although the theory behind these programs is that bright and capable candidates will be able to earn reaching certificates without being deterred by lengthy curricula, these new teachers often feel so unprepared that they quit after several years. The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education found that graduates of alternative programs are twice as likely to leave after three years as graduates of traditional programs. These teachers often attribute their departure to low satisfaction due to inadequate preparation. For example, the Education Department at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University strives to embody the conceptual model of “Teacher as Decision Maker,” meaning that prospective teachers are taught how to make appropriate decisions concerning all aspects of the classroom. If a teacher is not sufficiently equipped through proper training to make these decisions, it will become frusterating and difficult for him or her to succeed. In contrast, teachers with in-depth knowledge of pedagogy often feel more satisfied with themselves and are less likely to quit. In fact, the National Commission of Teaching and America’s Future has concluded that appropriate pedagogical preparation could “slash teacher turnover by at least 50% by 2006.” This shows that alternative preparation is only a short term solution to teacher shortages; in order to truly fill every school with quality teachers, it is necessary to effectively train them. Alternative preparation might get more teachers in the door, but it does not often keep them there.

Finally, the above mentioned disadvantages of alternative preparation programs have a particularly negative impact on students who already lack the appropriate resources. Graduates of alternative programs are often sent to schools with low-income or minority students, where the need for teachers is greatest. To be in these situations, however, requires that teachers understand and adapt to the different needs of their students. According to Linda Darling-Hammond, “the ability to see beyond one’s own perspective…is perhaps the most important role of universities in the preparations of teachers.” Many traditional preparation programs require courses in teaching diverse learners, whether they be diverse in race, income, or ability. These teachers therefore learn how to teach such students through direful study; it is not an ability that every teacher automatically possesses. However, since alternative preparation may ignore this since it only focuses on the teacher’s approach to the subject matter, graduates of their programs do not develop the ability to see multiple perspectives. Alternative preparation programs therefore lose an important part of teaching, which unfairly penalizes diverse classrooms.

In a time when education is so crucial and already lacking in quality teachers, we cannot afford to license unprepared graduates of alternative programs. Although the desire to reform teacher preparation is noble, this is not the way to go about it. Teachers will lose much through alternative preparation-appropriate pedagogical training, the ability and desire to continue teaching, and the skills to work with diverse students. Change will certainly come to traditional teacher preparation, but we must strive to keep pedagogy at the heart of it.

Sample Level 2 Essay; February 2003

The United States is facing a growing problem in its public schools; the need for teachers. The shortage carries with it a need to re-examine teacher training. The debate is between traditional four-year degree programs and alternative certification programs. Both sides have established that the system needs to be reformed agreeing with Tennessee statistician, William Sanders observation that, “of all the factors we study - class size, ethnicity, location, poverty - they all pale to triviality in the face of teacher effectiveness.” (380) While the claims of those in favor of alternative certification sound enticing, there are enough flags to cause doubt. To license teachers from programs lacking introductory education courses, instruction in teaching methods, or supervised teaching, would jeopardize our youth, fail to solve our shortage problem and lower the degree of professionalization we have sought to attain thus far.

Under today’s system the “gate keepers” of education are the state department of education and collegiate schools of education. Alternative proponents argue that government agencies are in charge of protecting public interests are controlled by the very people they are regulating. (382) In this way, curriculum has become laden with pedagogical courses. As a result, traditional methods are driving away bright and diverse candidates. Alternative routes seek to use tools such as value-added assessment to determine whether teachers are effective and rely heavily on subject knowledge. In the words of Robert Holland, “Principles should hire the most intellectually promising material…and then let the schools assimilate them in the nitty-gritty of preparing the lesson plans and monitoring lunch rooms.” (388).

There are flaws in this logic. Teachers are teaching children at higher and higher standards and in front of more diverse students. Teachers lacking sufficient preparation will not be able to recognize and diagnose diverse learning needs. Studies have shown that teachers prepared under such alternative routes as Teach for America (TFA) felt they had greater difficulty in planning the curriculum and managing the classroom. (pg 392).

This leads us to our next concern. A report done by TFA in 4 separate evaluations showed that out of those teachers that started in 1990, fifty-eight percent left before their third year of teaching. That is three times the attrition rate of the national average for new teachers (p. 392). The state department of education in Maryland found that 62% of its corps members beginning in 1992 left teaching within two years. The fact that alternative teacher certification has a higher attrition rate than traditional routes defeats their purpose.

When we have teachers ill-equipped to meet the needs of our students we do little to raise the countries faith in public education. In a report delivered by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future states that, “America could slash teacher turnover by at least 50% by 2006 if federal, state and local policy makers worked to ensure that educators are well trained and supported in their professional lives.” If we want teaching to be considered effective and we are to increase our professionalism, we must ensure that the training teachers undergo is held to high standards.

We need to reform in America’s schools but skipping instruction and learning how to teach as we teach should not be encouraged. As teachers we owe it to students to understand as much about teaching methods as subject matter. Germany, Belgium and France require 2-3 years of graduate school and an intensive year of clinical training before they allow teachers to graduate. (394). Studies show that extra preparation allows teachers to feel more prepared in the methods of teaching as well as content knowledge. (395). If we hold our students to higher standards we need to be prepared to guide them through learning. We also need to make sure that those who teach are ready and eager to make it their profession. In this way the students gain, teacher turnover will not be so high and as a profession teaching is held to the high standards it should be.

Sample Level 1 Essay; February 2003

“Should Minnesota license teachers who complete alternative preparation programs that do not include introductory education courses, instruction in teaching methods, or supervised student teaching?”

No, Minnesota should not license teachers who lack this training because without these elements one is not adequately prepared to teach. None of these three components can be left out and there is yet one more that must be added to the list. These three listed components are important and necessary to clear up any misconceptions about teachers or about teaching, along with exploring the different roles and responsibilities of a teacher all which can be learned from the introductory education courses. While it cannot be denied that the most important factor in teaching is having a knowledge base, the second most important is knowledge of teaching methods. Lastly, supervised student teaching or being paired with a mentor is crucial for a new teacher to more gradually becoming adjusted to the responsibilities of teaching. For these reasons it should not be allowed for Minnesota to license teachers without these qualifications met.

In clearing up any misconceptions about teachers or teaching, along with exploring the different roles and responsibilities of a teacher, introductory education courses must be included. There are a wide variety of reasons why some students dream of being a teacher and many of these are wrong such as a desire for summers of free time when one’s heart should rather be desiring to make a positive impact on the lives of the youth. Also, from pre-kindergarten to adult education there are many areas of teaching, an overview of these areas may strike an interest in students to broaden their views to where they may be needed most. Such simple issues may never be addressed outside the introductory courses but as simple as they may seem, they are still important enough to need addressing.

A teacher’s knowledge of a subject is easily spotted as an important requirement of a good teacher. Not as readily does it com to mind that a good teacher is he who can skillfully convey his knowledge to his students. As stated by Linda Darling-Hammond, “people who have never studied teaching or learning often have a very difficult time understanding how to convey material that they themselves learned effortlessly and almost subconsciously.” Therefore, knowledge of teaching methods is also instrumental and not to be left out. Solely knowledge of subject matter will not be enough to meet the needs of students with a variety of learning styles.

Supervised student teaching or being paired with a mentor is crucial for a new teacher. This teacher “buddy-system” can help a new teacher more gradually adjust to the responsibilities of teaching.  This is a necessary step for a number of reasons. Being told how to do something and then being able to do it flawlessly is a very rare trait. Practice is needed to do just about everything including teaching. With a supervisor or mentor someone is there to help correct mistakes make and give advise, one might also be willing to some tricks of the trade. These elements are instrumental for one to be an adequate teacher and anyone lacking the knowledge to be obtained from these courses should not be licensed by Minnesota.

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