This week, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released a report along with a new system of rating teacher preparation programs in the United States. NCTQ is not an accrediting organization; rather it defines itself as a nonpartisan, nonprofit and policy group. One would not, therefore, recognize this group, or any advocacy group, as an impartial assessor of fact and data.
While NCTQ evaluated 1,130 institutions on various configurations of its standards, the report states that only 10 percent of institutions fully participated. As noted by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), “while the results are generating headlines, this review – like most of NCTQ’s work – is misleading, unreliable and an effort to promote an ideological agenda rather than a genuine effort to inform the public and improve teacher preparation.” (AACTE: June 18, 2013).
Niagara University did not participate, yet was included in the ratings. While we know that the focus of NCTQ’s methodology is on inputs, it is unclear as to how this organization would have obtained any documentation from Niagara University, such as syllabi, student teaching handbooks, or assessment rubrics with candidate performance criteria, from which to rate specific programs. As opposed to what the research tells us about teacher preparation, these types of inputs, even if reviewed, would not provide an accurate assessment of the quality of instruction, what prospective teachers learn and are able to do in the classroom, or of their impact on the learning of their PreK-12 students.
The College of Education at Niagara University takes great pride in the quality of its academic programs and of the career success of its graduates in the U.S. and in Ontario. We embrace accountability through the assessment and accreditation expectations of the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities in Ontario, the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation (formerly NCATE), and the Ontario College of Teachers, among others. In addition, Niagara University has embraced the education Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA), developed by researchers at Stanford University and recently adopted by New York State. As a pilot site for the edTPA, Niagara University has brought this research-based assessment into the student teaching experience as it focuses on the candidate’s ability to plan for instruction within specific content areas of the Common Core, engaging students in learning this content, and assessing the resulting student learning.
Based on our assessment and accreditation experience, I am pleased to share a few key points that alert the public to the comprehensive results and impact of our programs:
- Our “invaluable partnerships bring rich, clinical opportunities for pre-service candidates” (NCATE, 2010) which lead to job readiness (97% of alumni report being employed, class of 2011) and connections to the outside world broadening their skills and knowledge in multiple areas. Through these partnerships, we have documented increases in student achievement (Teacher Leader Quality Partnership) and in the kindergarten readiness of young children (Niagara Quality Improvement Project).
- One hundred percent of teacher candidates participate in a comprehensive, supervised (evaluated by both the University supervisor and P-12 supervising teacher) student teaching experience of 14-15 weeks, with diverse, progressive field experiences in a broad range of school districts – beginning in the freshman year. Candidates rated their participation in a community-based program as part of their course and their contributions to the welfare of the community higher than the Carnegie and NSSE peer institutions of higher education (NSSE, 2012).
- Coursework (six credit hours) and field experiences in literacy are required components of all teacher preparation programs – focusing on a balanced literacy approach from early reading through content literacy and diagnosis. Undergraduate candidates can also complete an 18 credit hour minor in literacy which extends their core knowledge and skill. Taught by highly qualified professors, the courses require candidates to participate in relevant field experiences in diverse classrooms with experienced teachers. This study in literacy is reinforced through the Family Literacy Center (first of its kind in Niagara County), wherein University education students work directly with struggling readers in a clinical setting providing early reading and diagnostic-instructional interventions. These strategies have resulted in a 100% pass rate on the Literacy Content Specialty Test, a 95% pass rate on the Multi-subject Content Specialty Test, and a 97% pass rate on the Students with Disabilities Content Specialty Test among teacher candidates seeking their initial certification.
- Teacher candidates enter the profession with high levels of content knowledge as assessed through certification exams – 95% pass rate on the multi-subject test (includes English language arts, mathematics, science and technology, social studies, the fine arts, health and fitness, family and consumer science); 95% pass rate on the Math test, 99% pass rate on the liberal arts and science test (includes scientific, mathematical and technological processes; historical and social science awareness; artistic expression and the humanities; communication; and written analysis and expression), among others. In addition, a high level of content knowledge as Niagara’s teacher candidates enter the profession has been noted by school administrators (employer survey). All undergraduate programs require a content-area major (selecting from subjects taught at the grade level of their certification program). For teacher candidates entering at the graduate level, this content is assessed and analyzed from the academic content major of the baccalaureate degree and is a component of the entrance criteria for the programs.
- Partnerships with the P-12 schools and industries in our region have resulted in college and career readiness summer camps in the STEM fields; with a focus on extending career opportunities in fields related to energy and advanced manufacturing this year (60 middle school campers and 40 young women in STEM camps expected, summer 2013).
Niagara University’s teacher and leader preparation programs are comprehensive and tied to high standards that are developed through sound methodology and research. Our faculty has led the way in strong reciprocal partnerships that result in increased student readiness and achievement. We have led the way in assessing the performance of our candidates in their teaching practice as we are now in the forefront of the State and regional professional development initiative on teacher performance assessments. We survey our graduates during their beginning years of teaching and talk directly with employers about the skills of our graduates and about mutual partnerships as we work together to extend the continuum of learning from pre-service to induction and on-going professional learning . . . and, we most intentionally bring the mission of our Vincentian university to the comprehensive preparation of educators and engagement of all students.
As always, we will continue to strengthen the impact of our graduates and to improve programs from which they graduate – our candidates, our faculty and our higher education institutions will use credible information to inform that change. Let us remain focused on our leadership in the profession and on the diligent work we do with our educational partners to address the needs of our schools and of our community.
Debra A. Colley, Ph.D.
Dean, College of Education