When Candice McQueen was dean of Lipscomb University’s College of Education in Nashville, she struggled to make heads or tails of the state’s complex report card for rating teacher training programs in Tennessee.
“It was not user-friendly,” she recalls. “You would have had to have been a bit of statistician … to understand it.”
Now Tennessee’s commissioner of education, McQueen is praising the State Board of Education’s revamped report card for gauging the quality of Tennessee’s 40 teacher prep programs. The State Board unveiled the new tool on Thursday and convened a panel at the State Capitol to talk about teacher quality — and how the report card can help to improve training programs.
Read Chalkbeat’s report about how Tennessee’s teacher training program rate, according to the new report card.
The redesigned report card rates the state’s teacher prep schools and programs on a 1-to-4 scale based on nine metrics. For the first time, the ratings focus mainly on outcomes for teacher candidates from each institution, like where and what they teach and how effective they are in the classroom.
State leaders hope the user-friendly version will provide a level of transparency and understanding that ultimately will lift the quality of teacher preparation — and teaching — across the state. That’s important because teacher quality is considered a driving factor in helping students succeed.
“I think this is a good tool that’s going to help (providers) dive really deep,” said Jennifer Nelson, associate director of education for the University of Memphis, which scored a 3 on the new report card.
She said she’ll use the report card to improve programming at the Memphis school, which feeds teachers to Shelby County Schools, the state’s largest district.
Meanwhile, Riley Nolen said he plans to use the report card to help him select a college. He’s now a high school senior in Stewart County and wants to be a teacher.
Susan Bunch, superintendent of Lexington City Schools, said the report card should spark conversations between district leaders and teacher preparation providers about what local schools need teachers to be trained in, and how they can collaborate.
The panel discussion was organized to get feedback on how the new report card can be used and improved.
Nelson recommended changing how job placement is scored. This year’s report gave points only for students hired at Tennessee public schools, within a year of receiving their licenses. That put non-traditional programs, all of which received a top overall score, at an advantage because that track is a built-in part of programs such as Teach For America and Memphis Teacher Residency. But it’s a weakness, she said, for institutions like the University of Memphis, where many candidates go to teach in Arkansas or other neighboring states, or at private schools.
The job placement metric especially hurt Vanderbilt University, which had high marks across the board but was knocked down to a 3 because few of its multi-state and international students stay in Tennessee to teach. Of the teachers who did accept jobs at Tennessee public schools, Vanderbilt had a higher retention rate than non-traditional programs that received 4s, but not enough to compensate for receiving zero points on job placement.
The University of Memphis was kept from a top overall score by the low number of candidates who posted a high growth score on their teacher evaluations.
Nelson said the report card already is starting important conversations at the Memphis school, especially around racial diversity, another metric on the new report. In the 2013-14 and 14-15 school years, the university granted licenses to more than 150 teachers to work in Shelby County Schools, whose student population is only 7 percent white. That’s nearly the opposite of the university’s teaching candidates, 70 percent of whom are white.
“Our teacher candidate population should better represent our pre-K-through-12 population,” Nelson said. “We need to be talking to (the local district) about how we can recruit their high school students.”
Panelists praised the new scoring tool for identifying values, including diversity, for teacher training programs. “We’re making a statement in terms of what we care about,” said David Mansouri, a director at the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, a Nashville-based think tank.
McQueen said the report card signals a recognition that the challenges facing public schools go far beyond the schools themselves. She also offered encouragement for teacher training programs that are disappointed in their new ratings.
“Whatever your data looks like, it will improve,” she said. “The first step to improvement is honest conversation.”
The full report card can be found here.