The turn of the century may
bring a major shift in the way Washington
state certifies its new teachers. Several new proposals are on the table
at the Washington State Board of Education and will be up for vote in
January. Washington is leading an effort to improve teacher training
programs as part of a national trend in re-evaluating education, as
recommended by the independent National Commission on Teaching and
The proposed changes include an entry-to-practice assessment (skills
test), a two-year residency, more performance-based evaluations, and a
joint recommendation for certification.
"These are probably among the most dramatic certification changes in the
last 20 years," said John Brickell, dean of the PLU school of
The changes have been in the works for two years. If adopted, they would
be implemented in three to four years, and affect this year's freshman
As the certification system works now, education students complete an
approved college program in teacher preparation and then their
institution recommends them to the state board for an initial teaching
certificate, explained Brickell. The state board reviews the
recommendations and grants the license. "Universities and colleges are
currently the sole source of recommendations for initial certification,"
The teacher then has other requirements to meet over time to receive a
continuing certificate, Brickell added.
One of the major changes being considered is the addition of a two-year
residency. This would create three levels of certification (the
residency certificate, professional certificate and advanced
professional certificate) instead of two (initial certificate and
Under the proposed system, instead of the university making
recommendations for graduates to receive initial certification, it would
recommend graduates receive a residency certificate. The new teacher
would then be hired by a school district, and work there - for two years
with full pay - as a resident.
At the end of two years of successful teaching, the school district and
a college or university education program would make a joint
recommendation that the resident be given professional certification.
This residency would have several implications. First, the school
district would take joint responsibility for recommending a license to
teach. Second, although PLU has a partnership with school districts now,
there would be greater involvement, Brickell said.
Potential complications with the residency regulation still need to be
ironed out. If a new teacher has a residency far from his or her college
of teacher training and graduation (such as a PLU student taking a job
in Spokane), or if a new teacher is in a remote area with no colleges
nearby, a joint recommendation from the school district and a college
that could adequately evaluate the student (through classroom
observations) could present several difficulties.
But junior high school teacher George Obermiller '95 said this would not
have been a problem for him. Obermiller teaches six classes of drama a
day at West Valley Jr. High in Yakima, Wash. He said the West Valley
School District has a professor from nearby Heritage College that works
with the teachers at his school. The professor observes teachers that
take a two-year class to keep or improve their license, and the teachers
themselves are given a day off per month to observe other teachers in
Besides, Obermiller said, beginning teachers in his district are on a
two-year probationary period during which administrators observe them in
the classroom through at least two formal and several informal
observations per year, much like the proposed residency requirement.
Passing a basic skills and knowledge assessment before being licensed is
also among the major proposed changes. Oregon and California already
require such exams, which potential teachers must take to be
If adopted in Washington, the assessment would include more
performance-based evaluations. For instance, a teacher-to-be might watch
a video of a classroom where there is a discipline problem or a
disruptive student and then be required to respond to the situation.
Brickell noted that the PLU program already includes performance-based
evaluations of teaching skills, exercises such as presenting portfolios
or videotaped classroom sessions. Showing "demonstrated skills" to
become licensed to teach fits hand-in-hand with the increase in
performance-based tests for K-12 students. The increase was put in
motion by Booth Gardner's K-12 Commission on Student Learning. "The
two should be consistent with each other," Brickell said. "We should be
training teachers to be effective in performance-based classrooms."
The effect on PLU students
Brickell expects PLU students to do fine with the proposed changes.
Before arriving at PLU, Brickell had reviewed many schools for the
Washington State Board of Education, and was impressed with how early
and extensive the actual classroom experiences for PLU education
students were. Students are exposed to fieldwork from their very first
education class and spend 14 weeks instead of the state-required eight
when student teaching at the end of their studies. They also carry out
other field experiences, such as required practicums.
Gwen Hundley '91, a junior high health science teacher, agrees. Hundley,
who is in her fifth year of teaching at Frontier Junior High in Graham,
Wash., said, "My PLU experience prepared me well for the
classroom. I was ready to go ahead and teach."
Fourteen weeks of student teaching definitely made a difference, Hundley
added. Student teaching over the course of an entire semester, instead
of just part of one, gave Hundley a better understanding of how courses
would be taught and how curriculum would be organized.
"We applaud anything that improves teacher education," Brickell said.
"To prepare a teacher to work effectively in schools today requires more
class time, more extensive field experiences and finally, demonstrated
performance skills as an effective teacher, all of which will require a
longer period of time for the teacher candidate."