teaching standards

Do we need to raise scores for entry into teacher education courses in Australia?

A fierce debate is raging at the moment in political and education circles about the quality of recruits into teaching courses. Universities claim that university courses can mould pre-service (student) teachers into classroom ready, quality teachers therefore students with lower entry scores should not be excluded.

On the other hand there is a popular political argument that universities need to raise entry levels to teacher education courses in order to lift the quality of teaching in Australia. The idea is if Australia had better teachers we would get better results, especially in international rankings of literacy and numeracy.

Labour’s education spokesperson, Tanya Plibersek, joined the debate recently when she said entry standards for prospective teachers in Australia must be higher than they are currently because we need the cleverest candidates to instruct our children. She proposed incentives to get smarter students into teaching.

Several states, including NSW, are already imposing increased standards for entry to teaching courses, although there remains a lot of resistance from some universities.

I believe to meet the challenges of the future and to attract and retain high quality teachers, it is important for universities to understand pre-service teacher motivation and their development of those important teacher characteristics. So I decided to have a closer look at what is happening with our student teachers: whether higher entry levels make a difference and what effect teacher education courses have on the qualities that would make them ‘classroom ready’, such as self efficacy (that is belief in one’s own ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task), resilience and persistence.

My research shows that entry levels do indeed make a difference. It also shows, perhaps surprisingly, that current teacher education programs do not seem to be influencing the major characteristics important to teachers that recruits bring into the course at entry point.

How attributes and dispositions are currently included in selection criteria

As Plibersek pointed out, entry-level grades into teacher training courses have been on a downward trend since 2006. Data show that high school marks for prospective teaching students have declined over the past 10 years. However during this time there has been an increased interest in the characteristics and attributes, other than entry score to university courses, of successful teachers.

These characteristics are recognised in the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers that drive initial teaching education course curriculum planning and policy, and determine whether pre-service (student) teachers and graduates are classroom ready. As well as literacy and numeracy benchmarks pre-service teachers must show they meet seven standards and sub-standards. These standards are underpinned by an emphasis on empathy and ethical dispositions and a set of skills that result from resourcefulness and adroit capacity to motivate students.

Selection criteria into initial teacher education courses now aim to draw upon the most suitable candidates by ascertaining these dispositional attributes. Universities contend that these attributes and dispositions go beyond academic grades and are more important because teaching, like medicine, is considered to be a vocation not merely a profession.

My study

I wanted to look more closely at what was happening with student teachers: whether university study made a difference to their personal attributes and whether their entry scores made a difference to whether they would complete their course or not. We know that a large proportion of pre-service teachers drop out of their courses before completing their qualification for a range of reasons.

My study tracked a cohort of 190 pre-service teachers enrolled in a B.Ed. degree or a Graduate Diploma of Education from their first semester at university through to their final year or when they left or completed the course. I surveyed the undergraduates several times, beginning with a survey at the end of their first semester at university and then every semester till the end of their 3rd year, a year prior to graduating. The post-graduate pre-service teachers were surveyed at the end of the first semester at university.

The surveys assessed a number of goals and character traits, such as the students’ resilience and persistence, as well as their self-efficacy for various aspects of teaching. This was based on the hypothesis that these attributes would change and develop as a result of their university training. Survey results were Rasch analysed and then imputed into structural equation models to examine the links between the survey factors and timely course completion.

As I had records of all students, including those who dropped out or did not complete the course, the characteristics of those who changed courses or dropped out were also analysed and compared to those who completed their degree.

My results show what makes a difference

My results showed no significant differences between undergraduate and post-graduate students’ self-efficacy, resilience and persistence and no significant differences in these characteristics between those who completed their degrees and those who did not.

So teacher education and a student’s experience at university did not influence those important aspects of character that are considered to be highly desirable of quality teachers. Therefore it is important that we do indeed select those who are already focused on achieving their goals and are already persistent.

However those character traits had no effect upon timely degree completion. What mattered as far as timely completion were the student’s grades. Higher grades and goal directedness were the strongest predictors of a timely completion. Post-graduate pre-service teachers were more likely than undergraduates to complete their course and within the undergraduate cohort those specialising in Early Childhood Education were least likely to complete their degree.

So indeed entry scores make a difference in whether a student is likely to successfully complete their teaching degree. Those students with higher scores and those who already have a degree are more likely to complete. Those with lower scores are more likely to drop out.

These findings pose a number of questions in relation to pre-service teacher recruitment and training. For instance: How do we best support and motivate aspiring preservice teachers throughout their degree courses to keep them engaged? What critical personal attributes of preservice teachers ensure that they have the capacity and resilience to complete their degree? Are there contextual factors that impact upon preservice teacher completion rates and how do they vary by specialisation?

More significantly my findings indicate that perhaps prospective teacher recruits need to have higher entry scores than are currently required by some universities, irrespective of other dispositional attributes, if they are to graduate and enter the profession.

Helen Boon is Associate Professor in the College of Arts, Society & Education at James Cook University. She is Head of Curriculum and Pedagogy in Education. She teaches in the areas of educational psychology, special needs and behaviour management.  Helen has a strong research interest in climate change and the intersection of ethics, climate change and adaptation to climate change. Helen initially trained in Chemistry and Physiology and then taught Chemistry and Mathematics for a number of years.  Her preferred research methods are quantitative, including statistical modelling and Rasch modelling. Helen has led a number of projects:  a WIL project with partners from the School of  Medicine, a Collaboration Across Boundaries Project with the School of Public Health, Tropical Medicine and Rehabilitation Sciences,  and an NCCARF funded project with the  School of  Earth and Environmental Sciences and Charles Sturt University.  Helen is currently working on an ARC funded project examining the most effective pedagogies for Indigenous students. Recent publications include a longitudinal study about climate change education and pre-service teacher attitudes and a paper about the dearth of ethics training in preservice teacher programs across Australia.

Helen is reporting on her research at the 2017 AARE conference today.

 2017 AARE  Conference

The theme of the 2017 AARE conference is ‘Education: What’s politics got to do with it?’ There will be over 600 presentations of current educational research and panel sessions at the conference which runs all this week in Canberra. Journalists who want to attend or arrange interviews please contact Anna Sullivan, Communications Manager of AARE, Anna.Sullivan@unisa.edu.au or our editor Maralyn Parker, maralyn@aare.edu.au

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Australian Professional Standards for Teachers are useful to teacher education students, here’s how

There is a strong critique of the impacts of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers from educational researchers. They argue teaching standards force teachers to focus too much on producing proof of classroom successes and leadership development. At the same time policy makers, who advocate and implement the standards, claim the standards provide a common language of teaching: making it easier for teachers to talk about and share their work.

Whilst both groups are equally entitled to express their informed opinions on such an important issue for education, as we see it, there are common omissions from both accounts. Both reply on persuasive arguments rather than evidence and both do not consider the views of teachers and prospective teachers. Also, educational researchers and policy makers are not the subjects of the performance standards. For these reasons we decided it was worthwhile to seek the views of teacher education students.

We wanted to develop an understanding of the actual impact of performance standards on the practice of teacher education students, specifically in relation to the assessment of their professional experience. Our study is a small and humble contribution offered as an invitation to a debate with all interested stakeholders.

Use of teaching standards in NSW

The use of teaching standards as a performance measure for teacher quality is now more than a decade old in the state of NSW in Australia. The process was introduced gradually from teacher education programs to new graduates who were labelled the ‘new scheme teachers’.

The first generation of these new scheme teachers are now into their twelfth year of teaching. In the interim, the NSW policy has been augmented by the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers in concert with a nationally audited accreditation process for teacher education.

The progressive introduction of the standards in NSW from initial teacher education programs out into the profession has meant that teacher education courses have been a testing ground for their implementation. In schools and faculties of education, the often small group of teacher educators were given the task of integrating the standards into course and program outlines. At the same time, their colleagues in critical policy research in education were typically engaging in robust debates about the overall purpose of the standards. Despite these debates, the standards had to be implemented as a condition of accreditation for providers of initial teacher education in Australia.

The biggest initial impact of the standards was on the high stakes performance assessment required in professional experience for student teachers. This is where a large group of supervising teachers, untrained in the use of the standards, had to apply the new graduate teaching standards as criteria for assessing teacher education students on professional experience. Understandably, it was difficult for the providers of initial teacher education to achieve consistency in judgment across so many assessors and with unfamiliar assessment criteria.

Criticism of standards

There has not been a lot of research on the impact of having standards for teachers in Australia. Even the definition is not clear, in that we have gone from talking about standards for teaching to talking about teacher standards. (At the same time we seem to have shifted from talking about teaching quality to teacher quality in the past decade.) It is interesting to note that NSW introduced professional standards for teaching in 2005 whilst at the federal level, more recently, they were named the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers.

This might be interpreted as a mere semantic shift from teaching to teachers but there is a view in critical policy research that this signals a significant shift in focus from the collective to the individual. The implication of this redefinition is that it will be easier for authorities to hold individual teachers to account for their performance, thus positioning the standards as a way to regulate and check on teachers rather than a way to help them develop their professional skills.

If you want more detail of the arguments against the teaching standards offered by critical policy researchers please go to our full paper (find the link at the end of this post).

Standards as a common language

The promotion of the teaching standards as a common language to describe teaching as a profession is so commonly heard that it now could be regarded as a meme. The meme was evident in the findings of our study (more about this below).

What we did in our study

Our study examined the application of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers to the assessment of professional experience in teacher education at a point more than ten years on from their first implementation in NSW. We gathered empirical data via a survey of 229 secondary teacher education students from a program based in Sydney, NSW. We followed the survey with focus groups in an endeavour to record the students’ perceptions on the use of the standards as assessment criteria for professional experience.

We focused on the application of the graduate level of the standards to the assessment of the students’ professional experience. Within this focus we acknowledge the benefit of the standards acting as a common language for teaching, their supporting role in the formative assessment of teacher education students and the variable quality of their application as assessment criteria by supervising teachers.

Our findings

Standards as a common language

The meme was evident in our study in an interview response of one of our teacher education students:

It also does give me a language to discuss those things with colleagues. It gives me a language that I can easily call on if I want to discuss any of those things, maybe I just think are intuitive or obvious, but I can still speak those things with colleagues with a language we share.

Some teachers were not au fait with the standards

Members of the focus group which took part in this study specifically identified three “groups” existing among teachers, namely the “resistors and cynics”, “middle ground”, and “converts and advocates” of the Standards. As described by one teacher education student:

I feel like there are a few levels of the use of the Standards. There is the sort of lip service, “I have been teaching for a really long time, I am not really interested in looking at them”, level. There is thelevel of teachers who are slightly versed with them but not completely and so they touch on them maybe and will have a brief conversation perhaps with you about them and be able to refer to the Standards in general but maybe not specifically. And then there are teachers -in my experience, these are the sort othree groups of conversations I have – and then there are teachers and students also, colleagues of ours, who maybe are in any of these groups. It do not think it is necessarily age -related although generally the older, more long-teaching people are probably less, at this point, anyway, until they have to be accredited, generally less familiar with them in specifics. The third one is that group that really embrace them and really use them as a tool, because it is a really useful tool.

It was evident from some of our interview responses that the teacher education students often had to guide their Supervising Teacher in their understanding and application of the standards. This is exemplified by the following quote:

I asked my Supervising Teacher to give me a report midway through so that I could work on his feedback in the last two weeks. From this a number of the standards were unknown to him and we had to look up the meanings at the back of the prac’ book.

Where a Supervising Teacher did not relate feedback to the Standards, individual TES would implement a strategy to compensate for this:

I’ve basically started to highlight individual standards and attaching them to the lesson plan so that my Supervising Teacher specifically focuses on those standards in that lesson which made him provide a little more useful feedback.’

Although the Standards perhaps have not been internalized as a common language or are consciously understood by all teachers, none-the-less many teacher education students were of the firm opinion that the majority of teachers are highly proficient and innately capable of meeting all the Standard Descriptors.

Feedback and self relection

Another of our findings related to the standards being used effectively for formative or ongoing assessment during professional experience. This theme is evident in the following response from another teacher education student:

I did relate [the feedback given] back to the Standards mainly because my teacher did use the form, and the form is related to the Standards, and I really like that. I really found it very useful. I find the Standards useful … [because] I am able to use them as a structure for reflection … no matter how much I think I am doing it, or intuitively I am doing it anyway, I still find it reassuring to be able to check myself against it.

We feel that the proactive approach on the part of the teacher education students in our study is great preparation for the ongoing accreditation now required from teachers across their career span from graduate to lead teacher. In this respect, we are heartened by the response of another student who acknowledged that “it has been my own personal reflections that led to my progress.” As well, it seemed that the standards supported the development of the teacher education student in the absence of focused mentoring from the Supervising Teacher. This is an encouraging finding for teacher educators in this interim period where not all supervising teachers are conversant with the standards

The findings presented in our paper confirm some of the arguments presented in favour of the standards by their promoters. These are the worth of the standards as a common language, their role as an explicit framework for teaching and their value in promoting self-assessment, reflection on practice and professional conversations. The findings also lend weight to the argument that the application of the standards to the practice and assessment of professional experience is variable in quality, given that not every supervising teacher on professional experience will have the necessary skills and understanding of the standards to provide constructive feedback to our students.

 

loughland

 

Tony Loughland is a senior lecturer in the School of Education at UNSW. Tony is currently working on the validation of a teacher observation instrument based upon the construct of teacher adaptive practices.

 

 

n-ellis-2

 

Dr Neville John Ellis is a Lecturer in the School of Education at UNSW. His teaching and research interests are in teacher professional learning, classroom-based research, and comparative studies in education.

 

 

Full text of our paper

Loughland, T., & Ellis, N. (2016). A Common Language? The Use of Teaching Standards in the Assessment of Professional Experience: Teacher Education Students’ Perceptions. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 41(7), 4.

 

NSW Education Standards Authority: is this new authority genuine reform or political spin?

A key recommendation of the recently released Review of the NSW Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES) is a call for “a more risk based approach to the Authority’s regulatory work”.

The BOSTES, renamed in the review as the NSW Education Standards Authority, is the authority that governs school education standards in New South Wales, including standards for curriculum, teaching and assessment, as well as school and teacher registration. So in this context ‘risk’ is an alarming concept. For us it conjured images of failing students with damaged futures in the hands of ill-prepared and incompetent teachers.

It was this mention of risk that made us particularly interested in the review, and what it might mean for us as teacher educators. We make the point here that while the review was written to guide developments in NSW, neighbouring jurisdictions in Queensland, Victoria, Australian Capital Territory and South Australia also will be paying attention. Teacher candidates and teacher graduates are very mobile these days. Changes in NSW will have a ripple effect.

We discovered the review does not suggest NSW students or schools are failing. Indeed the opening comment of the Overview synopsis states “The review found there is confidence in education standards…

So where is the risk? We decided to search for what the panel might conceive as risks. We used backward mapping from the review’s recommendations, to try to infer the risks involved. But first we looked at who was involved and who was consulted in the writing of this review.

The voice of teacher educators is largely missing

The three-member review panel held 105 consultations with organisations and individuals, but only 10 could loosely be thought of as involving teacher educators because of their connection with the Education faculties of universities. However, initial teacher education is not the only exercise of Education faculties, so indeed the connection between these 10 and actual teacher education programs and their design and implementation isn’t at all clear.

The 4,722 survey respondents comprised “principals, teachers, parents and students”. So teacher educators were not represented there either.

The review made 13 recommendations; several of these directly or indirectly affect our work as teacher educators.

The call for clarity and streamlining

The first recommendation is that education standards in NSW need to be reorganised. The argument is this is necessary to provide “greater clarity of regulatory roles and responsibilities and streamlined processes and systems” (p.5). The inference is that such clarity doesn’t exist and that processes are not clear. The regulatory processes are reported as “administratively burdensome”.

As we saw it, this is the first ‘risk’ we uncovered. We’ll call it Risk #1. It is that valuable time will be wasted and complex layers of processes and regulatory requirements will constipate vital reform.

As far as teacher education goes national authorities impose many of the processes so these cannot be part of the state’s streamlining process. Perhaps the streamlining could be of the additional requirements that NSW itself requires.

However there is no suggestion in the review that the extra layers imposed by NSW for initial teacher education accreditation should be removed. The new authority will still require initial teacher education accreditation and teacher registration to have unique NSW state based requirements. These will continue to be piled upon the rigorous national processes and requirements of AITSL (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership), ACECQA (Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority) and TEQSA (Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency).

It’s hard to imagine how a call for streamlining and unburdening might work without some attempt at removing the layers of additional state-based processes and requirements.

So this appears to be an empty recommendation. Let’s move on to another inferred risk.

Teacher quality

The review focuses on teacher quality, and declares that teacher accreditation should remain the responsibility of teacher accreditation authorities. Setting the registration/accreditation of individual teachers aside, if there was respect for the national authorities, then the story should have just ended there. But the review highlights a need for “risk based auditing” of “Teacher Accreditation Authorities for ongoing quality assurance” (p. 33).

In other words, the review panel seems to be dissatisfied, or at least lacks trust, in the effectiveness of the national teacher accreditation authorities’ to exercise their role. This is a clanger. The NSW BOSTES leaders have been at the table for the development of the nationally consistent teacher accreditation policies and processes since they were birthed.

The report indeed acknowledges this by detailing the “engagement with the Education Council and inter-government forums” (p. 33) and declaring the NSW BOSTES as a partner in developments at national levels.

But whatever the inference is here, there are some well-crafted soothing words for the benefit of the national accrediting authorities in the following statement:

“It is the Review Panel’s view that, unless there is a material difference in policy and New South Wales is setting specific and higher standards, the Authority (BOSTES) should not reproduce existing resources” (p. 33).

So what is the risk being conjured up? Is it that fine and well-designed teacher education programs might not emerge from the nationally consistent and rigorous accreditation processes? This is an unlikely risk for NSW, especially given the ongoing input NSW BOSTES has had in creating those national frameworks.

Therefore, sadly, it is more likely that we have identified Risk #2: that BOSTES will not be able to maintain control of the nationally consistent accreditation requirements. It needs to do this to sufficiently satisfy the local electorates that NSW offers bespoke education.

Another key recommendation under the heading of teacher quality is that “the authority’s oversight of initial teacher education provision… is strengthened” (p. 35). Yet again this smacks of distrust of the nationally consistent processes and policies, but also of distrust of the quality and motives of teacher education providers.

Compounding this is the review’s call for “the power to place conditions on the approval of ITE programs and the suspension and revocation of program approvals” (p. 35). We can only wonder about all of that.

Final school practicum

Specific attention is given to the final school practicum in an initial teacher education program (Recommendation 6, p. 36). This is when student teachers do their last supervised teaching in classrooms before they graduate. We believe it is seen as the greatest of all risks. We identified it as Risk #3: that incompetent graduate teachers might attain teacher accreditation due to ineffective assessment of their capabilities in the final practicum.

So, the review panel wants the new NSW Education Standards Authority to have power over whether an initial teacher education program can continue to be offered, and it will depend on whether pre-service teachers graduating from that program meet particular standards set for the final practicum. This is a truly big stick, and only possible as a recommendation from a Review panel (and suite of stakeholder consultations) that did not feature a strong representation from teacher education specialists.

If teacher educators had been given a fair voice in this review they would have explained the wicked problems of equitable final practicum assessment. The enduring fact is that classrooms are not all the same, teacher supervisors are not all the same and schools are not all the same. Pre-service teachers will teach in different levels of schooling in different regions, and with extremely divergent ranges and mixes of socioeconomic, cultural and community factors.

The story of one provider of initial teacher education, just over the border from New South Wales, explains the scope of what we are talking about. Griffith University in Queensland is our university so we confidently use it as an example to provide insight into the scale of the exercise. In 2015, Griffith placed 2639 students into school practicum at 458 schools, including some in other parts of Australia, amounting to 60,531 days of practicum which is the equivalent of 166 years. Yes 166 years for just one university. While these were not all final practicum experiences, the scale of the exercise is a powerful message about the potential for this strategy to go awry.

In Queensland, all three education sectors, together with the ten higher education institutions and the Queensland College of Teachers, have collaborated to ensure a consistent approach to final professional experience performance and evaluation. The Queensland Professional Experience Reporting Framework is a result of that collaboration. Perhaps taking a look at this might be useful.

One final practicum is not a good measure

With this in mind, many teacher educators believe performance in one final practicum is not an appropriate bar to measure the effectiveness of an entire initial teacher education program. That is, unless and until:

  • There is a greater sharing of the responsibilities for mentoring and development of pre-service teachers at the coalface, in the classroom.
  • There are reliable approaches to moderation of practicum evaluation.
  • There are specialist teachers in school that understand their role as site based teacher educators and who work in partnership with the university teacher educators.

The greatest risk

We believe the review should have seen past what might look good for politicians and or what could be used to generate simplistic “good” media coverage. A focus far more important should have been how the teacher educator sector might participate in ways of working more effectively and professionally together and how they might improve their connections with classroom teachers and schools.

The greatest risk is fussing over who has control, and who can find the best “spin” to give reforms, is distracting us from our most important collective job; that is teaching students how to succeed as learners and to be productive and positive members of society.

In all, the BOSTES Review is disappointing. It adds bricks to the already existing walls between initial teacher education and the rest of the education sector. Its recommendations are framed in ways that reinforce negative regard and disrespect for initial teacher education and those of us who work in the sector.

As we see it an unhealthy focus on risk aversion (not risk taking at all) constructs a punitive environment that separates the people in education who should be working together to raise standards. To do that effectively the voices of teacher educators should be heard.

It is about time the authorities in charge of school standards in NSW stop referring to “stakeholders” and start talking about “partners”.

 

Here is the full Review of the NSW Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES)

Nan-Bahr_250pxProfessor Nan Bahr is Dean (Learning and Teaching) for the Arts, Education and Law Group at the Griffith Univerity. She is responsible for the quality of design and implementation of programs across the Arts, Education and Law Group, both undergraduate and postgraduate and development programs, including higher degree research and coursework. The role works with the Pro Vice Chancellor with decision making responsibilities regarding students issues and applications.

Prior to joining Griffith University in 2015, Nan was Assistant Dean (Teaching and Learning) and Professor of Education for the Faculty of Education at the Queensland University of Technology. This position followed from her role as Director Teacher Education with the University of Queensland. Nan has a background as a Secondary School teacher for Sciences, and the Arts, particularly Music. Nan holds a PhD in Educational Psychology and Music Education from the University of Queensland and has postgraduate and undergraduate degrees majoring in Biology, Music, Special Needs Education, and Educational Psychology. 

Professor Bahr has a national and international profile for educational research with over 100 publications including four books (one a best seller). Key research has been in the fields of music education, educational psychology, teacher education, adolescence, resilience, and teaching innovation in higher education. As a University Teacher, she has been awarded the University of Queensland Award for Excellence in Teaching, has been a finalist (twice) for the Australian Awards for University Teaching, and has been awarded for extended service with the Australian Defence Force.

Prof Donna Pendergast colour

 

 

Professor Donna Pendergast is Dean of the School of Education and Professional Studies at Griffith University.  She has an international profile in the field of middle years education.  She is actively involved in policy discussions regarding quality teaching and is the Chair of the Queensland Council of Deans of Education.