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March 1, 1995
Vol. 52
No. 6

How Praxis III Supports Beginning Teachers

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Developed for teacher licensing, Praxis III is a system of assessment, feedback, and support for teachers, especially those who are at the beginning of their careers.

Knots in the stomach, late nights preparing lessons, learning how to use the copy machine... Is there an educator who does not remember that chaotic first year of teaching?
Although a novice teacher's responsibilities are at least as demanding as those of a 20-year veteran, many beginners continue to be thrown in the deep end, so to speak, with no provision for gradual immersion. While most support programs began as sessions to introduce new staff to the mysteries of ordering supplies and arranging field trips, many now provide for some type of mentor or buddy. Few, however, deal explicitly with instructional issues—and certainly not in a systematic manner. Educators do not often think of assessments as serving this support role. But because they deal with instructional issues specifically, assessments can be very effective—when coupled with appropriate feedback and support.
Those of us at Educational Testing Service involved with Praxis III: Classroom Performance Assessments™ discovered that support in the critical first year evolved as a by-product of high-stakes assessment. Regardless of the system used, we believed that such a combination of assessment, feedback, and support would yield similar benefits.

Performance Assessment of Teaching

Praxis III was designed as a nationally validated system for licensing beginning teachers. The development of these assessments involved literally thousands of educators from around the country and took seven years. Taken as a whole, the criteria and the program for training assessors enable state officials to determine which provisionally licensed teachers warrant a continuing license. Currently, six states use the system, for licensing, preservice assessment, or beginning teacher support.
Teaching is complex and difficult to evaluate. Moreover, assessment for licensure is, by definition, a high-stakes issue. It must be fair, highly accurate, and reliable. Therefore, we developed both the teaching criteria and the assessor training program with extreme care. A critical element was the establishment of teaching standards. The resulting 19 criteria in 4 domains represent interrelated aspects of a complex performance—for example, communicating high expectations, encouraging students to extend thinking, and reflecting on one's teaching.
Through interviews, observations, and written documents, trained assessors gather evidence on all 19 criteria and rate them according to a behaviorally anchored scale. If assessed several times, a candidate receives scores that can be combined in a variety of ways for a variety of uses—for example, a state can use the scores to make licensing decisions, or the beginning teacher to plan professional development activities.
If such a system is to be both professionally and legally defensible, the judgments assessors make must be fair and accurate. The assessor training program, therefore, is intense and rigorous. Highly experiential, the activities require trainees to analyze teaching episodes from their own experience, from written vignettes, and from videotapes. They learn to recognize, in widely varying contexts, each of the 19 criteria, and to weigh sometimes conflicting evidence of proficiency to arrive at a fair rating.
Data from our pilot and field studies verify that trained assessors can make professionally, legally defensible decisions about teaching. States, and their representatives, have a system to help them determine which teaching candidates are entitled to a continuing license. But in order to fully appreciate the benefits of an assessment, feedback, and support system in improving instruction, it is important to clarify an additional issue.

The Role of Assessment in Coaching

For many people, assessment and coaching seem mutually exclusive: an assessment is a test, coaching is helping, and never the twain shall meet. Our experience, however, suggests that the rigid separation of assessment and coaching is not only unnecessary, but weakens both.
Consider, for example, a favorite activity in which you would like to improve, such as painting. Imagine that you have signed up for lessons and arranged for a coach to observe your performance and offer suggestions. Clearly, the coach's knowledge of painting is important—but so is his or her diagnostic skill. To improve at painting, you need a coach who can tell you that you are using too much thinner, bearing down on your brushstrokes, or whatever. Although improving any of these skills in isolation is unlikely to turn you into another Rembrandt, improving one aspect of a complex activity like painting will likely have a positive effect on your overall skill. Part of the role of an effective coach is to help you see the big picture.
  • about the lesson—goals, materials, and activities, and why I chose them;
  • what I would change if I taught the lesson again; and
  • about my own professional growth.

Some Unanticipated Consequences

While originally designed for initial teacher licensing, these classroom performance assessments have proven time and again to contribute to other critical needs facing all teachers.
For beginning teachers, the 19 criteria taken as a whole define good teaching in a meaningful way. Further, the top scoring level for each criterion describes exemplary performance in that aspect of teaching. Thus, just when beginning teachers are feeling daunted, they have a framework that both demystifies and structures the tasks of teaching. Teaching is still complex, but no longer overwhelming. Indeed, depending on the number of times candidates are assessed and the type of feedback they receive, Praxis III can yield the equivalent of an Individual Education Plan for each beginning teacher.
For assessors, the system offers a framework for looking at teaching and for reconsidering one's own practice. During assessor training, participants draw on their own teaching and/or supervisory experience to generate examples of the different criteria. As they study the descriptions and read the scoring rules, they frequently ask themselves: “Do I always perform at a `level 3' in this aspect of teaching? What might I do differently?” Many assessors report that the training experience was among the best staff development they had ever had.
To the extent that mentors are also teachers, they too can become more reflective about their practice. These individuals, however, find even greater value from Praxis III in learning how to be better mentors. Rather than relying solely on intuition about what in the novice teacher's performance needs improvement, the mentor knows which skills would benefit most from additional work. The product of an assessment, then, is diagnostic information that a mentor and a beginning teacher can use to structure activities for improvement.
For staff developers, systematic assessment in the service of induction can focus professional development activities in a way that would not be possible without such information. For example, if a number of new teachers in a district are all assessed on the same 19 criteria, the result is a great deal of useful information. If it turns out that many of them receive a “below standard” score for “establishing rapport,” for example, a staff developer would know to emphasize that area in a future professional development offering.
While our initial expectations for a licensing assessment have been more than met, we discovered in the course of our work that the true value of the approach reaches well beyond initial teacher licensing into the day-to-day lives of practicing teachers.

Charlotte Danielson is an internationally-recognized expert in the area of teacher effectiveness and founder of the Danielson Group. She has taught at all levels, from kindergarten through college, and has served as an administrator, a curriculum director, and a staff developer.

In her book, Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching, she introduced The Danielson Framework, as it has come to be called, a widely used instructional framework intended to promote clear and meaningful conversations about effective teaching practices.

As an educational consultant, Danielson has focused on teacher quality and evaluation, curriculum planning, performance assessment, and professional development with hundreds of school districts, universities, and state departments of education.

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