The report of the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG) is titled Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers and you can find out more information about it on the AITSL ITE Reform webpage. ‘Classroom ready’ is one of those phrases that rolls off the tongue, but I think it’s time to think seriously about what it means, and how we know it when we see it.
The report itself challenges us to assess initial teacher education courses based on the quality of their graduates. The problem is that we don’t really know how good the graduates of initial teacher education are. There will always be principals convinced graduates were better in the past, even if they can find some gems in the current crop. Universities will always argue back that no one passes their courses without being ready, and will make the point that you can only expect so much from new graduates.
The report from Professor Bill Louden on assessment in initial teacher education has now been released by AITSL. Bill looks at practical options that he thinks will work in Australia. He concludes that there are two that suit our current situation:
- A literacy and numeracy test, that is taken during a course, not as an entry requirement
- A comprehensive, moderated teaching performance assessment
Bill argues that a literacy and numeracy test makes sense in a system with so many pathways into initial teacher education. It is a way of dealing with criticisms about entry standards and the quality of graduates. Wherever this sort of test has been implemented, a high percentage of candidates pass it. It is not a mechanism for excluding large numbers of people, more for identifying those who do need help and ensuring public confidence.
Bill’s second proposal has much more far reaching implications. He recommends that Australia adopt a comprehensive, moderated assessment of teaching performance. In Australia’s autonomous higher education system, this mightn’t be mandated, but it would be a powerful tool for universities to demonstrate that their graduates are high quality, or to act if they are not.
The main international example of this is the American edTPA assessment. This requires candidates to put together a structured portfolio centred around a sequence of lessons and includes lesson plans, samples of student work, and analysis of teaching impact as well as video of the candidate teaching. The portfolios are scored by trained assessors – a mix of teacher educators and teachers – external to the university.
edTPA has been developed by Stanford University and tested to have a high degree of reliability and validity, so we shouldn’t be distracted by the prospect of importing an American model. Bill’s report also profiles comprehensive assessments at Deakin and Melbourne universities. The real question is whether there is a place for this sort of comprehensive, common approach to graduate assessment in Australia.
For me, there is something very attractive about an assessment that is moderated across universities. It would allow us to see what approaches are working in different contexts. It would give confidence that every graduate is meeting an agreed national standard. And it would give universities the information they need to target areas for improvement in their programs.
Bill’s report raises a lot of questions. Would a moderated assessment work in Australia? Do we have the scale to develop and sustain it? Is it fair to place so much weight on a single assessment, even if it’s well designed? These are questions we’ll need to debate if we want to raise the public debate on the quality of graduates above the level of anecdote.
I’d be interested in your views.