Eliminating roadblocks to improving educator preparation in Texas

Photo by Texas Tribune Staff

Educator preparation programs (EPPs) are working diligently to address an impending teacher shortage in Texas by preparing high-quality educators, but roadblocks at the state and federal levels are stymieing progress.

The teacher shortage is one of the most serious threats facing Texas schools and future generations, according to outgoing Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael Williams in an interview during the Texas Tribune Festival earlier this month.

In 2009, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 174, which created a new EPP accountability system. Although the intention of the bill appears good – improve the quality of new educators prepared in Texas – the bill provided no mechanism by which meaningful, actionable data are returned to the EPP for the purpose of program improvement. Data only flows one way: to TEA. Federal regulations of EPPs were proposed last December for a purpose similar to SB 174 — and EPPs would again get no data to improve program quality.

EPPs that want to continuously improve their programs must have an elaborate longitudinal database that contains not only internal data about teacher candidates while they were enrolled in the EPP, but also at least five years of post-graduation data from numerous external sources such as teacher licensure testing data, teacher licensing data and teacher employment data. Unfortunately, four roadblocks to obtaining these data exist.

First, the teacher licensure testing data are only reported at a coarse-grained level. Although teacher licensure testing data are available for free through the state’s testing vendor, EPPs can know only who passed/failed the test, their overall score, and the percentage of questions answered correctly on each broad knowledge and skill domain (e.g., math). Although the finer-grained, competency-level data (e.g., number concepts, probability) are needed for program improvement purposes, TEA has not made these data available to EPPs.

Second, the teacher licensing data need regular updates to maintain accuracy. Teacher licensing data are available for free from the state, but the state’s data system is easily overwhelmed during the update process. Instead of uploading a single large file to request data about all previously prepared teachers, large EPPs spend days manually uploading little files with information about small numbers of teachers to get the updated licensure data. This process must occur monthly.

Third, the teacher employment data and principal survey data of new teacher quality are only available through paid public information requests, despite the fact that EPPs need these data for accountability purposes. These public information requests can take months to fulfill, and numerous requests are required each year to get the data.

Finally, an estimate of educator effectiveness requires a teacher-level growth measure. Both SB 174 and the proposed federal regulations require EPPs to be evaluated on the ability of each new educator to increase or “grow” their students’ standardized test score, but these growth measures are highly controversial and not fully understood. Over the last five years, TEA has contracted with multiple vendors that calculated these growth scores, and the agency has yet to make these teacher-level measures of academic growth available to EPPs.

If the Texas Legislature and TEA want to improve the quality of Texas EPPs so that all Texas students are taught by high-quality educators, they could help by eliminating these roadblocks to accessing the high-quality data needed for continuous EPP improvement. This means releasing to EPPs the finer-grained educator licensure test data; fixing the inadequate data system at TEA so data can be updated efficiently and in a timely manner; and eliminating the burdens of using the public information request system for EPP accountability data. Staff at TEA recognizes these roadblocks and has a vision for reducing or eliminating some of them, and support from the commissioner could make these fixes a reality sooner than later.

James P. Van Overschelde

Director, Evaluation & Research, Office of Educator Preparation at Texas State University