Exploring important questions through the CIS Network
This post is the first in a three-part series by Common Indicators System Network participants, who are sharing their experiences with the Network and how it’s supporting their efforts to improve through evidence.
What do pre-service teachers need in order to develop excellent classroom management skills? How can we prepare them to differentiate instruction for a wide array of learners? When is the best time for them to apprentice in real-world classrooms?
These are just a few of the questions that we in the College of Education at Temple University want to answer about our own teacher-preparation program. The answers are important not just to advance our own knowledge, but because they could have a direct influence on the quality of education received by the students of our graduates.
For many years, we’ve sought answers by collecting comprehensive and accurate information within our program about what’s working and what could improve. We gather much of our data from questionnaires that we have created; for example, at the conclusion of student teaching, teacher-candidates complete a lengthy survey that asks about their experiences throughout the program. We also conduct focus groups with teacher-candidates to explore their thoughts about our program and the teaching field as a whole.
And we have learned a lot about what works. But we have also learned that, even after student teaching, our students are concerned about some elements of their preparedness, especially their classroom management skills. Research shows this challenge is not unique to Temple — but with only our own data to explore, it has been difficult to pinpoint exactly why our students raise this concern and how we can address it. Few of the measures we created had evidence of strong reliability or validity, and our sample size was always limited to our own students, which, for some teacher-preparation strands, can be a small number.
Joining the Common Indicators System Network, a national effort to gather credible evidence of candidate knowledge and skill and program performance using common measures and data collection protocols, has supported our efforts to identify and implement program improvements in several ways.
First, the Common Indicators leadership team took on the heavy lift of evaluating new teacher assessment tools, culling the strongest and most feasible measures for programs’ consideration, and prioritizing instruments with demonstrated evidence of reliability and validity. The leadership team also provided those tools in formats that were easy to implement and ensured that the data we each collected would be straightforward to compare across contexts. This content expertise and logistical support was invaluable in easing our transition into a new series of measures.
Second, the initiative connected us to a network of other programs to help us think through how to collect these new data. In particular, we have appreciated being able to talk with others about how best to roll out observation measures such as the CLASS. The CLASS is a complex instrument with a variety of items and nuanced guidelines for scoring each one. Training multiple people to use this tool includes helping them to notice particular aspects of the classroom and also to adopt specific criteria to evaluate those aspects. Comparing notes with peer institutions during this process helped us to figure out who on our faculty should be trained first and then how they could communicate what they learned to the rest of our team.
Ultimately, we want to map out exactly how particular points or events in our program connect to growth in teachers’ knowledge and practice, as well as how teachers’ learning trajectories differ based on their own background knowledge, prior experience, and other factors. The high-quality data that the Common Indicators tools will provide, in addition to the high frequency of data collection, includes the essential ingredients for a more detailed analysis of our program than we have been able to undertake in the past. Eventually, this careful mapping will, we hope, allow us to create individualized plans for each pre-service teacher and to better monitor their progress along the way. Further, being able to compare the pathways through which our pre-service teachers learn to the pathways demonstrated by teachers in other programs in the Network may foster insights into practices that are highly effective for particular kinds of teachers in specific kinds of situations (e.g., very inexperienced teachers in urban settings, long-time paraprofessionals moving toward certification in rural settings).
Participation in the Common Indicators System Network is the first, essential step toward our long-term objective. We are excited that this Network amplifies and extends our previous work, offering us new and deeper ways to explore the pressing questions that we, and the field more broadly, need to answer.
Dr. Annemarie Hindman is an associate professor of psychology studies in education at Temple University’s College of Education, and a member of Temple’s Common Indicators System Network team.