As Socrates stated long ago, “The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be.” To ensure that educators are what they pretend, want, and need to be, preparation standards must clearly state what is expected.
For more than three years, hundreds of professionals across Texas have worked together to define what teachers, administrators, and other educators should know and be able to do. Stephen Covey's (1989) principle of beginning “with the end in mind” very well describes the redesign of the educator preparation, certification, and staff development systems in our state. The proficiencies that have resulted form the basis for the development of “a comprehensive and coherent professional development system that links all aspects of the education profession” (Texas Education Agency 1994). Mastery of identified proficiencies at different levels provides benchmarks for a career-long professional development plan for teachers and administrators.
The Path to Proficiencies
Based on recommendations from several nationwide groups, the Texas Professors of Educational Administration and the Texas Consortium of State Organizations for Teacher Education drafted 12 proficiencies for teachers and 11 for administrators, including detailed descriptors of knowledge, skills, and attitudes.1
Next, they presented the draft to the Commission on Standards for the Teaching Profession, the group charged with overseeing the process. To involve even more educators in developing the proficiencies, the commission then circulated the drafts to professional organizations, universities, and regional education service centers across the state.
Focus group meetings, conducted at 10 locations throughout Texas, produced additional suggestions, including:
- Deemphasize a teacher-centered orientation to highlight students and their learning.
- Strengthen the ethics component in the administrator draft.
- Integrate diversity elements throughout all proficiencies.
Overall, Texas educators were concerned that the detail of the initial drafts would result in overlong checklists or discrete college courses for each proficiency. In response to this concern, the commission directed Texas Education Agency staff to summarize the proficiencies, using a narrative form, into more global and holistic statements.
To invite even more feedback, the commission surveyed more than 10,000 Texas educators about the importance of each proficiency in the day-to-day teaching and leading of schools. Support for the proficiencies was evident in all survey responses. In February 1994, after a final revision, the document—now fine-tuned to include five teacher and six administrator proficiencies—was approved by the State Board of Education. Figures 1 and 2 list the proficiencies for Texas teachers and administrators.
Figure 1. Proficiencies for Texas Teachers
- Learner-Centered Knowledge: The teacher possesses and draws on a rich knowledge base of content, pedagogy, and technology to provide relevant and meaningful learning experiences for all students.
- Learner-Centered Instruction: To create a learner-centered community, the teacher collaboratively identifies needs and plans, implements, and assesses instruction using technology and other resources.
- Equity in Excellence for All Learners: The teacher responds appropriately to diverse groups of learners.
- Learner-Centered Communication: While acting as an advocate for all students and the school, the teacher demonstrates effective professional and interpersonal communication skills.
- Learner-Centered Professional Development: The teacher, as a reflective practitioner dedicated to all students' success, demonstrates a commitment to learn, to improve the profession, and to maintain professional ethics and personal integrity.
Figure 2. Proficiencies for Texas Administrators
- Learner-Centered Leadership: Through inspiring leadership, the administrator maximizes learning for all students while maintaining professional ethics and personal integrity.
- Learner-Centered Climate: The administrator establishes a climate of mutual trust and respect that enables all members of the learning community to seek and attain excellence.
- Learner-Centered Curriculum and Instruction: The administrator facilitates the implementation of a sound curriculum and appropriate instructional strategies designed to promote optimal learning for all students.
- Learner-Centered Professional Development: The administrator demonstrates a commitment to student learning through a personal growth plan and fosters the professional development of all staff in the learning community.
- Equity in Excellence of All Learners: The administrator promotes equity in excellence for all by acknowledging, respecting, and responding to diversity among students and staff, while building on shared values and other similarities that bond all people.
- Learner-Centered Communication: The administrator effectively communicates the learning community's vision as well as its policies and successes in interactions with staff, students, parents, community members, and the media.
A Systemic Approach to Change
As the proficiencies evolved, certain themes emerged in both sets: sensitivity to diversity, continuous assessment and improvement, empowerment, application of technology, leadership, and collaboration. Administrator proficiencies often logically extend the teacher proficiencies. As statements are adopted for other roles—for example, school counselors—these themes will unify expectations for job positions in schools and focus educators on students and their needs.
As they were developing the proficiencies, all participants held a vision for a new learning community in which everyone is a lifelong learner.2
The proficiencies define the master level for various roles. Obviously, novice educators will not immediately exhibit these high levels of performance; rather, mastery of the proficiencies will drive career development and continuous improvement.
Adoption of the proficiencies is but one of many decisions needed to enact a performance-based system. The Commission on Standards is continuing work on the accountability system, program approval guidelines, and certification structure. Initial challenges for us were to determine how the proficiencies could be assessed and how all educator preparation institutions would be accredited. The Accountability System for Educator Preparation proposes use of the Examination for Certification of Educators in Texas as a major element. As new editions of the examination in pedagogical development and specific teaching specializations are developed, they will increasingly reflect the proficiencies.
Another major accreditation element is on-the-job performance appraisal for educators who complete preparation programs. As the present teacher appraisal system was found inadequate to the task, a statewide task force charged with designing a new system has adopted the proficiencies as its cornerstone. The administrator evaluation system will likewise focus on development of the proficiencies and might include regional assessment centers as a major component.
The Accountability System for Educator Preparation is also looking at data about retention in the profession, customer satisfaction with the preparation program, and recruitment and retention of minority candidates. Using this information, preparation institutions can monitor and adjust their programs. Together, all of the indicators reflect the State Board of Education's goals of developing and maintaining a well-qualified, diverse cadre of educators for Texas schools.
Program approval and renewal processes are changing to emphasize performance over compliance to mandated requirements. To gain initial approval, all delivery programs—university-based, alternative, or other—must submit a plan showing how the proficiencies are integrated throughout the program, including continuous performance-based assessment of candidates toward mastery of proficiencies. Initial approval continues to depend on some capacity issues, such as commitment of resources. Continuing programs, however, will be evaluated based on the performance of those who complete the program, as assessed by the accountability measures.
Finally, the proficiencies provide support for systemic change in professional development and inservice training activities. As educators progress through their careers, they will have opportunities to sharpen existing skills as well as develop new ones. The holistic nature of the proficiencies provides the flexibility for continued professional development to meet new challenges.
Some First Steps
As preparation programs are restructured, the promise of a performance-based system encourages flexibility, creativity, and risk-taking. Paths to certification in Texas include several options.
Once traditional in their coursework and student teaching experiences, university-based programs have begun to experiment with new designs now that barriers, such as required numbers of courses and mandated training topics, have been abolished. At the University of North Texas, for example, teacher education faculty held a yearlong series of meetings to discuss how to reengineer their program in light of the new proficiencies. Over time, they developed a common vision of the skill level expected of all persons completing the university certification program. Five faculty teams, meeting with classroom teachers from the university's Professional Development Schools, outlined the content and performance levels for prospective teachers, based on the proficiencies. A coordinator consolidated the five reports into a draft mission statement and 12 program outcomes for the entire faculty to revise and adopt. The Early Childhood Program also incorporated the proficiencies into course content and sequence.
Additionally, the University of North Texas and the Plano Independent School District have developed a new performance-oriented master's degree program. The planning committee has devised 10 graduate-level objectives on which to base professional development and training.
At Southwest Texas State University, administrator preparation faculty began their renewal process by agreeing to mentally erase all aspects of the current program. During the next nine months, they constructed a profile of abilities that graduates should possess. The faculty then aligned this profile with the state proficiencies and recommendations from various national commissions. Outcomes, enabling outcomes, and objectives—formulated from the statements—are now being used to determine the program delivery system and learning experiences required for mastery of these skills, concepts, and attitudes.
Alternative certification programs—which allow candidates with undergraduate degrees to intern for one year while enrolled in preparation activities either at a university, school district, or regional education service center—must align their delivery systems with the new standards. Several alternative programs across the state have begun planning to incorporate the proficiencies into their teacher-intern programs. The education service center in Austin, Texas (Region XIII), for example, solicited input from interns, school administrators, mentor teachers, and training personnel through surveys and focus groups. Using the feedback, the staff fine-tuned the evaluation system, which relied heavily on NASDTEC (National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification) standards. Over time, a consortium of alternative certification programs has formed that seeks to perfect the evaluation system and to rebuild its programs and evaluations to incorporate the proficiencies.
Finally, innovation in teacher preparation programs has been supported by legislative initiative through Centers for Professional Development and Technology, the newest option for teacher preparation. At these centers, candidates combine theory and practice through hands-on classroom experiences occurring over a longer duration than regular student teaching. As they have implemented the new state standards, these centers have piloted many creative, field-based models for teacher preparation, which serve as an example for the redesign of other preparation programs.
Regardless of the route to certification—university-based programs, alternative programs, or the new Centers for Professional Development and Technology—all programs are committed to implementing the new proficiencies with uniform accountability.
A Community of Lifelong Learners
Education leaders in Texas, as in many other states, realize the critical link between professional development opportunities for teachers and administrators and greater student learning. Recognizing that standards promote systemic change, Texas enacted standards that focus on creating a lifelong learning community for students and educators. This new system of standards based on educator proficiencies undergirds an accountability system for the preparation, program approval/accreditation, certification, evaluation, and professional development of educators.
As various elements of the professional development system are refined, the proficiencies are the missing link in the professional lives of Texas educators. By reflecting on their performance and focusing on student learning, Texas educators are becoming the professionals they aspire to be. Truly, the design has occurred by “beginning with the end in mind.”
Covey, S. (1989). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Texas Education Agency. (1994). Learner-Centered Schools for Texas: A Vision of Texas Educators. Austin: Texas Education Agency.
The groups offering recommendations were the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Policy Board for Educational Administration, the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification, the Kentucky Reform Movement, and the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills.
Participants in the process were the State Board of Education, the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of Education, staff from the Professional Development and Teacher Appraisal and Assessment Divisions of the Texas Education Agency, the Commission on Standards, professional organizations, and individual educators.
Linda Avila is Associate Professor of Educational Administration at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, College of Education, 6300 Ocean Dr., Corpus Christi, TX 78412. Frances Van Tassell and Steve Tipps are on the faculty at the University of North Texas. Marva Dixon is Principal of L. B. Johnson Elementary School in Grand Prairie, Texas. Avila and Van Tassell served as presidents of the two professional organizations involved in the development of the Texas proficiencies. Dixon and Tipps are co-chairs of the Texas Commission on Standards for the Teaching Profession.