The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) recently issued a report titled “What Teacher Preparation Programs Teach About K12 Assessment.” The report explores how schools of education train teachers to understand, analyze and use assessment data to inform instruction – or, in the words of ed reformers and HR specialists everywhere, how education schools build teacher’s professional capacity.
The findings should jolt anyone who has been talking about the potential of assessments and other data to transform what happens in the nation’s classrooms: Education schools aren’t giving teachers the skills they need to do the work we’re asking them to do. Here’s a quick summary of some of the more alarming stats from the report:
- Just 21 percent of the programs sampled adequately cover assessment literacy (teachers being taught the basics of what assessment is)
- Just two percent of the programs sampled adequately cover analytical skills related to assessment (teachers being taught how to analyze assessments, individually and in collaborative settings)
- Zero percent of the programs sampled adequately cover instructional decision making using assessment data (teachers being taught how to use the data to adjust instruction)
With teacher satisfaction reportedly at its lowest point in two decades, we need to do better in terms of training aspiring teachers. The NCTQ report provides some critical recommendations that articulate how policymakers and other stakeholders can incent education schools to teach teachers one of the critical skills needed to succeed in a data-driven classroom:
- Create federal incentives to support pre-service and in-service training that builds teachers’ capacity to use data to inform classroom instruction
- Ensure that states use their program approval authority to require that pre-service training programs demonstrate that they are adequately preparing teachers to use and interpret data
- Encourage districts to hire for teacher data skills, thereby using their “purchasing power” to exert pressure on schools of education
- Develop a model curriculum or course sequence that covers data-driven assessment, analysis and instructional decision-making. The model, which teacher training programs should be encouraged or incentivized to adopt, would include reusable and realistic student data sets.
The necessary infrastructure for enabling teachers to implement data-driven decision making in schools and classrooms is being rapidly put into place. And Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has made data-driven decision making a national priority by requiring recent Race to the Top investments to address “improving data systems” and “creating high quality assessments.” Yet, unless we build the capacity of educators to analyze, understand and make use of data to adjust their instructional practice, the full potential of the investments we’ve made – and the promises we’ve heard – won’t materialize.
In the face of new state laws requiring that educators be held accountable for student performance data, shouldn’t schools of education and policy makers make every effort to train teachers how to use data to close student learning gaps and, in doing so, get ahead of accountability? From where I sit, the answer is a resounding, “yes!”