THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Video assessments gain ground as way to grade future teachers

System is tested in 19 states, including Mass.

Professor Susan Gibbs Goetz videotaped Jasmine Zeppa, a St. Catherine University student and aspiring teacher, during a science lesson for fourth-graders in St. Paul, Minn. Professor Susan Gibbs Goetz videotaped Jasmine Zeppa, a St. Catherine University student and aspiring teacher, during a science lesson for fourth-graders in St. Paul, Minn. (Craig Lassig/Associated Press)
By Chris Williams
Associated Press / November 3, 2010

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Standing at the edge of a pond surrounded by her class of fourth-graders, Jasmine Zeppa filled a bucket with brown water and lectured her pupils on the science of observing and recording data.

Many of the children seemed more interested in nearby geese, a passing jogger, or the crunchy leaves underfoot.

Zeppa’s own professor from St. Catherine University stood nearby and recorded video of it all.

“I think it went as well as it possibly could have, given her experience,’’ said the professor, Susan Gibbs Goetz. Her snap review: The 25-year-old Zeppa could have done a better job holding the students’ attention, but did well building on past lessons.

Aspiring teachers like Zeppa are preparing for new, more demanding requirements to receive their teacher license. Under a new system being tested in 19 states, video of student teachers in their classroom will be evaluated, and candidates must show they can prepare a lesson, tailor it to different levels of students, and present it effectively.

Most states only require that would-be teachers pass their class work and a written test. Supporters of the new system say the Teacher Performance Assessment program is a significant improvement, while others are a little more cautious in their praise, warning that it’s not guaranteed it will lead to more successful teachers.

The assessments also place responsibility for grading the would-be teachers with teams of outside evaluators who have no stake in the result. Currently, the teachers-in-training are evaluated by their colleges, which want their students to get their teaching licenses.

“It’s a big shift that the whole country is going through,’’ said Misty Sato, a University of Minnesota education professor who is helping adapt the assessments for Minnesota. “It’s going from ‘What has your candidate experienced?’ to what your candidate can do.’’

Minnesota is set to be the first state to adopt the system when it implements it in 2012. Four other states — Massachusetts, Ohio, Tennessee, and Washington — plan to implement it within five years. Fourteen more are running pilot programs.

The teacher-assessment program is a joint project by a consortium made up of Stanford University, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Sharon P. Robinson, president of the association, an umbrella group for schools that specialize in training teachers, said the assessment will mean better teachers — and ultimately more successful students.

The assessment was developed at Stanford’s Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity. Ray Pecheone, the center’s executive director, said more than 12,000 teaching candidates have gone through it in four years of testing in California.

California and Arizona are the only states that currently require performance testing to license teachers. Two of California’s three performance tests use video review. The third California test and the one in Arizona requires evaluators to sit in the classrooms and observe the teachers-in-training.

Pecheone said once more states adopt the program, the consortium plans to track the performance of teachers who passed the assessment to see if they perform better than teachers who went through the old licensing process.

Karen Balmer, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Teaching, said the assessments will mean more accountability for teaching colleges.

For the first time, she said, her agency will have independent data that show how well those schools are preparing students.

Those that consistently produce low-performing graduates could be ordered by the state to improve their programs.

Tom Dooher, president of the Minnesota’s teachers’ union, said the group supported it because of its emphasis on developing real-world teaching skills. “This is what education reform should look like — for practitioners by practitioners,’’ he said.