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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Emporia State University: Rigorous Assessment Makes for Hall-of-Fame Teachers

Practice makes perfect, and so does quality assurance.
Grace Rubenstein
Former senior producer at Edutopia
Related Tags: Teacher Development
Courtesy of Emporia State University

Emporia State University's teacher-education program is simultaneously one of the oldest and one of the most modern in the country.

Founded in 1863 as the Kansas State Normal School, Emporia was, more than a century later in 1990, among the first universities to join forces with local schools to create professional-development programs.

Emporia's Teachers College has also pioneered the use of a universal student-assessment system to replace the myriad standards and grading schemes of various professors typically used to measure student success. Faculty use the results to pinpoint the program's strengths and weaknesses and ensure each graduate has the skill set required of teaching.

The college works with dozens of partner school districts, ensuring that candidates get their first taste of a real classroom in their sophomore year. Elementary school educators-to-be begin with observations, then work up to teaching individual and small-group lessons, and finally spend their full senior year as interns in two local schools. (Secondary school candidates do the same, but students teach only for the spring semester.)

All the while, professors observe them in the field and provide feedback. Class discussions and readings revolve around candidates' experiences in the schools. Seniors receive weekly evaluations from their mentor teachers (who in turn receive training and support from Emporia).

Tamara Cassidy, a 2006 graduate, recalls that when she started work, "it felt like I'd already taught for a year. I felt prepared for a lot of the basics, so I was able to focus on more nitty-gritty things, like how to adapt my lessons to meet the needs of all my students."

Assessments at Emporia emphasize skills that reflect the college's essential concept of a teacher: critical thinker, creative planner, and effective practitioner. Candidates must pass muster at multiple checkpoints, starting with entry into the teaching program as sophomores (11 percent are rejected there); grades, test scores, faculty recommendations, mentor teachers' evaluations, and demonstrations of technological competence all factor in. A capstone is the Teacher Work Sample, a series of assessments illustrating how well a student teacher delivers an entire unit of instruction.

Disposition matters, too; any faculty member from the Teachers College, the university at large, or K-12 partner schools may raise concerns about a candidate's personal traits, leading to counseling or even expulsion from the program. All told, about 5 percent of students per semester fail to meet the benchmarks.

"Not everybody gets to be a teacher here who wants to be," says Teachers College dean Tes Mehring.

The rigor appears to have a payoff. Emporia surveys show that principals consider them well prepared on a range of knowledge and skills. More than 90 percent of graduates are still teaching after three years; one in six Kansas teachers is an alum.

And that's how Emporia wants it. Beyond the Teachers College, the whole university makes teacher preparation an avowed priority, and it's no coincidence the campus is home to the National Teachers Hall of Fame.

Grace Rubenstein is a senior producer at Edutopia.

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