Assessment with a New Mindset
Schools of education have a professional responsibility to ensure their programs
and graduates produce successful, productive teachers. Today, meeting that responsibility
requires using information technologies to both gather information on a teaching
candidate’s performance, as well as to assess that candidate against unfolding
national standards. The College of Education at the University of Central Arkansas
has shown that portals can help.
IT systems are becoming a necessity in the assessment field, because in the
last few years a shift has occurred in how initial teacher licensing is earned.
This in turn has institutions scrambling to revise syllabi or in some cases
entire programs. With the Educational Testing Service (ETS) introducing a new
three-tiered Praxis series of exams, new teachers will no longer take their
final examinations on paper or computer. Praxis III has an ETS-certified examiner
coming to each new beginning teacher’s classroom and taking a hard look
at their teaching effectiveness in action.
Reflective Decision Makers
The College of Education revamped its teacher training programs to reflect the
changes in standards-based and performance-based teacher education. These changes
went well beyond minor modifications to syllabi. An entire new mindset was adopted
that requires our programs to train candidates to become “reflective decision
makers.” The ability to self-assess is implied in this way of thinking.
We made several key decisions designed to prepare our teaching candidates
and align our programs to national standards. We realized that in order to assess
how well we were training new teachers, we had to start collecting a massive
amount of performance data on them and then analyze it to see how we were doing.
Indeed, final course grades and overall GPA were going to be small factors in
a program that now would require teaching candidates to reflect on their teaching
behavior and assess themselves. Surveys and performance summaries would need
to be collected at specific transition points in our program so that comparison
studies might reveal how candidates were developing.
System versus Database
Our first contact with candidates occurs when they apply for admission. In the
new program, more forms and data than ever were being collected, so we quickly
designed an Access database to store it. Even so, the Office of Candidates Services,
which handles admission, found themselves doing double duty by collecting and
filing paper-based forms while at the same time having to update the database.
And since budget cuts and a university hiring freeze meant nobody new could
be brought in, we needed a system to automate parts of the admission process.
When we first started examining which technologies would, in fact, let us
“do more with less,” the latest buzzword coming from Microsoft was
.NET. A nice educational discount, plus the ability to upgrade our Access database
to Microsoft’s enterprise database, SQL Server, led us to quickly adopt
.NET as the backbone to our system. This would provide the security we would
need if teacher candidates were going to be able to input their admission data
directly. Then all we needed was to build an interface that would allow them
to do so. With an eager technology staff leading the way, a new .NET Web portal
soon went up that automated the admission process.
The key to any Web portal is access management. Once a login is validated,
the user is assigned to a role, which varies the access options available to
them. Our portal, the Candidate Account Manager (CAM), could “hit”
our system database to determine if a user should be given the link to apply
for admission, or, if the user had already applied, a link to check his or her
admission status. Our new Web portal meant that not only did the admission forms
disappear, the number of phone calls and other inquiries diminished as applicants
could now check their status online.
Another great feature of the Web portal is that it allows applicants to request
faculty recommendations electronically. Two are required to be on file. The
previous process meant the form had to travel to the faculty member, be completed,
returned via inter-office mail, and then manually entered by the Office of Candidate
Services. Now it makes sense to send a request via e-mail with a link to a Web
form that collects this information directly from the faculty member. The applicant
initiates this request, and the status report will show what recommendations
are received in the system.
Collecting Data at Specific Transitions
The Candidate Account Manager is a role-based Web portal. The various roles
assigned are aligned perfectly with the program’s developmental benchmarks.
As teacher candidates progress in the program, their role changes and so d'es
the data that the CAM portal tries to collect.
In courses throughout our program, a candidate can be placed in local educational
settings to gain the experiences necessary to develop as a teacher. Documenting
the demographics of every classroom a candidate is placed in is virtually impossible
by traditional means, but the CAM portal was designed to allow candidates themselves
to input this data. Since every faculty advisor has a read-only interface to
the system, field coordinators can verify previous placements and ensure that
every candidate receives a range of experiences.
One of the key benefits we noticed was that our Web site was convenient for
students regardless of their location. Transfer students could apply online.
Teacher candidates could use the computers at any placement site to document
The Next Phase
The next phase in the ongoing development of our CAM portal is to collect survey
data from our program completers. The challenge will be including incentives
in the CAM portal that will keep our alumni logging in. We have just graduated
the first group that has used our portal since the inception of the program.
The portal seems to be the perfect mechanism by which we can communicate information
to our alumni. Unlike traditional Web pages, we can monitor which of our alumni
are using the portal. We also hope to fill it with documentation for helping
our beginning teachers pass the Praxis III examinations. As these results are
made available to us we can create a complete data profile for determining the
success of our programs.
The beginning of this era of standards-based, performance-based teacher education
is an ideal time to collect some baseline data about what candidates know and
are able to do today. The CAM portal is facilitating that data collection process.
Moreover, conducting standards-based performance assessment will provide data
for continued improvement of our programs and eventually to ensure the preparation
of the teachers we want in today’s schools.