While this year’s state report card on teacher training effectiveness contains useful information, more facts and stats would help improve programs, according to local colleges included in the report.
The Tennessee Higher Education Commission’s 2011 Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs was released this week. It compares beginning teachers, defined as teachers with less than three years experience, from every university training program in the state for effectiveness as defined through student test scores.
East Tennessee State University did not score statistically significantly negative on any of the three comparisons used in the report card. Milligan College received a negative score for its beginning teachers when compared to veteran teachers.
While grateful to have any kind of information, ETSU Education Dean Hal Knight and Chair of the Education Area at Milligan Lyn Howell both want more specifics contained in the annual report to better determine where programs are lacking. Other higher education administrators in Tennessee would like the same data for their schools.
“Now our results are pretty good,” Knight said. “One of the things I can take away from this is our beginning teachers, our teachers coming out of this school, perform as well as veteran teachers.”
But the problem is the way the analysis is structured, because it is impossible to determine where deficiencies exist.
“This is such a composite of all our graduates that it doesn’t let us know where we have programs that might be lacking,” Knight said.
“This one was kind of a shock compared to where we were previously,” Howell said of this year’s report card. “It’s really difficult from this information to tell whether it’s our traditional program, our graduate program or our adult education program” that needs improvement.
In years past, Milligan has had no statistically significant decreases in any area for beginning teachers.
The report card compares all first-year teachers to veteran teachers, who are teachers with at least three years of experience. The report also compares beginning teachers from each institution that trains teachers to all other beginning teachers from all teacher-training institutions in Tennessee. The final piece of information places beginning teachers across the state in five percentiles, where teachers are represented as percentages below the 20th percentile and above the 80th percentile. A normal distribution for this kind of measurement would be 20 percent in each percentile.
In the report’s statewide distribution that uses the percentile measurements, ETSU has about 30 percent of its traditionally licensed teaching graduates performing below the top 20 percent of teachers in the state for composite scores for high school end-of-course tests. The same percentage for the same category are above the 80th percentile.
Milligan was reported to have 12.5 percent of its beginning traditionally licensed teachers in those same percentiles.
Those scores are difficult to infer meaning from, because the high school EOC tests only cover algebra I, history, English I and II and biology. No other tests are measured. The test scores are also aggregated, so the specific subject where deficiencies or successes may exist are not known by using this data.
“This is a problem we have to deal with but I don’t know where (the problem) is,” Knight said of the percentile numbers.
The same data analysis problem is true of the grades four through eight Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program measurements.
Tennessee only measures TCAP scores for fourth through eighth grades and EOC tests for high schoolers to obtain data.
The measurements overlap, too, further complicating the usefulness of the data for educators. For instance, at ETSU, four educational degree paths are provided: secondary for grades 7-12; elementary for K-6; early childhood for K-3; and special education. Milligan has divisions for elementary and secondary degrees, too.
“We don’t know if that’s middle grades, elementary school, we’re just not sure where that’s coming from,” Howell said of Milligan’s deficiencies with comparing beginning and veteran teachers.
By measuring fourth through eighth grades the report is combining teachers in two degree paths, which would make correcting any issues with program content difficult as the source of the problem would be obscured unless the data were further broken down.
“What we would really like to happen is get the data on our individual completers,” Knight said.
Completers are students who graduated from the education programs.
Garland Young, Milligan’s associate vice president of graduate and professional studies, pointed out the report’s retention rate statistics indicate Milligan graduates tend to stay in the profession. Many teachers who graduate from there end up in rural settings where professional teachers are needed. Surveys of these schools indicate Milligan teachers are top quality, Young said.
“We think that does point to the high quality of product we’re producing,” Young said “To me, where the rubber meets the road is in the local school systems, where they know what makes a good teacher.”
A representative from THEC did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the report card.