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[CREDIT: Chris
Gwen Hundley

Gwen Hundley '91, a junior high health science teacher,
answers a student's question in class.

State considers teaching certification changes


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 America's Future.

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 education.

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 class.

Getting certified

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," Brickell said.

The teacher then has other requirements to meet over time to receive a continuing certificate, Brickell added.

The residency

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 continuing certificate).

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 the classroom.

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.

Skills assessment

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 certified.

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."

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Source: Pacific Lutheran Scene, Winter 1996
Edited by: Janet Prichard, Senior Editor (prichajd@plu.edu)
Maintained by: Webmaster (webmaster@plu.edu).
Last Update: 12/17/96