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Standards for beginning teachers

As evidence mounts that the most important in-school influence on student achievement is teachers’ knowledge and skills, the need for teaching standards that describe what good teachers know and do has never been clearer, as Lawrence Ingvarson explains.

When it comes to the quality of learning opportunities for students in schools, the research is clear: the professional knowledge, judgement and skills of their teachers is fundamental. But there are no short cuts to building a high-quality school system. Countries such as Finland, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, which consistently rank highly on international tests of student achievement, have steadily pursued policies to improve the quality of their teachers for decades.

Quality assurance arrangements

Effective policies to promote teacher quality operate across several stages from recruitment to retention. ACER’s work on the 2013 Teacher Education and Development Study in Mathematics (TEDS-M) shows that to be effective policies also need to be coordinated. TEDS-M gathered data on quality assurance arrangements in 17 countries at four stages:

  • recruitment and selection to teacher education
  • accreditation of teacher education institutions
  • entry to the teaching profession
  • advanced certification of experienced teachers.

TEDS-M found a significant relationship between the rigour of quality assurance arrangements and the quality of graduates from teacher education programs, as measured by tests of mathematical knowledge and mathematical content knowledge.

It also found that countries that do well on international tests of student achievement, such as Chinese Taipei and Singapore, not only ensure the quality of entrants to teacher education, but also have strong systems for reviewing, assessing and accrediting teacher education providers. They also have strong mechanisms for ensuring that graduates meet high standards of performance before gaining certification and full entry to the profession. And they provide relatively attractive salaries, working conditions and career paths that reward evidence of reaching high teaching standards.

While recruitment and selection, and advanced certification have a significant impact on teacher quality, this article focuses on policies and practices for assuring the quality of teacher education programs and of teachers who graduate from those programs.

Defining good teaching through teaching standards

A first step in the development of teaching standards is to articulate a vision of quality learning that in turn guides a more detailed description of what teachers should know and be able to do.

The ultimate purpose of standards is to improve the quality of learning opportunities for students in schools. A productive approach to beginning the process of writing standards is to bring groups of expert teachers and researchers together to discuss, first, not teaching but their views on what counts as quality learning in their field of teaching, say, primary teaching or specialist mathematics teaching. This discussion can be facilitated by asking what we would see in a classroom where quality learning was taking place. National curriculum guidelines will often be useful for this kind of discussion.

As the discussion begins to resolve around common views on quality learning, it can then turn to the central question: what would teachers need to know and be able to do to promote what we regard as quality learning in our field of teaching?

In addressing this question, standards writers will draw on a variety of sources, such as the experience and wisdom of expert teachers and research on effective teaching practices in the fields in which they teach. Well-written standards are grounded in a clear understanding of what counts as quality learning for students.

As they go about their task, standards writers are essentially describing the scope of teachers’ professional work and responsibilities. They need to reach agreement on the scope of teachers’ duties and responsibilities, and the underlying principles that guide them. The statements they write typically move from the general to the specific, from principles to more detailed descriptions of what good teachers know and do, and then elaborations of these for each field of teaching.

Organising categories for teaching standards

While there are many ways to organise standards frameworks for teachers, there is a remarkable similarity in the categories and sub-categories emerging from standards developed across different countries.

Research by Linda Darling-Hammond and John Bransford examining the work on standards frameworks for teachers across countries found it addresses three questions about what beginning teachers need to know and be able to do:

  • What kinds of knowledge do effective teachers need to have about their subject matter, and about the learning process and development of their students?
  • What skills do effective teachers need in order to provide productive learning experiences for a diverse set of students, to offer informative feedback on students’ ideas, and to critically evaluate their own teaching practices and improve them?
  • What professional commitments do effective teachers need to make to help every learner to succeed and for teachers to continue to develop their own knowledge and skills?

While there is an emerging international consensus about features of the standards required for new teachers, it might be expected that local cultural considerations will affect the character of teaching standards. However, from the international examples appearing so far, this is not turning out to be the case, at least not in terms of the structure and content of standards framework. To some extent, this may be because countries are sharing their standards and borrowing from each other, but it may also be because the nature of teachers’ work and conceptions of good teaching are themselves shared across countries and cultures. For example, what a teacher of mathematics needs to know and be able to do is unlikely to vary greatly from one country to the next.

Standards and teacher education programs

If standards are to be useful as a guide to developers of teacher education programs, they need to ‘drill down’ to specify what teachers need to know and be able to do. Generic standards, in other words, need to be elaborated to identify what is unique about the things primary teachers, for example, or mathematics or science teachers need to learn in their teacher education programs. They need to differentiate between what good teachers know and do in those specialist fields, with a focus on what counts as quality learning for students.

Such standards enable teacher education institutions to develop coherent teacher education programs. A feature of coherent programs is that the aims and objectives for each course within the program are described in terms of their contribution to helping students meet particular standards.

Courses within standards-based teacher education programs are more likely to be carefully sequenced and to build on each other. They are guided by a consistent vision and model of good teaching, which is constantly revisited. Coherence also refers to strong links between formal coursework, school experiences and assignments. School supervisors share a common understanding with university staff about the standards to be used in assisting student teachers and providing them with feedback about their performance. School experience begins early and occurs regularly. Students are regularly asked to show how they have applied what they are currently learning about in their coursework in school settings.

Teaching standards: a key role

Teaching standards describe what good teachers know and do – addressing the policies and systems by which a country monitors and assures the quality of entrants to teacher education in terms of enrolment and subject matter requirements, and the attractiveness of teaching as a career.

Teaching standards have a key role to play in the accreditation of teacher education institutions and in ensuring that graduates are competent and qualified before gaining certification and full entry to the profession. ■

Find out more:
Read Lawrence Ingvarson’s Standards for Graduation and Initial Teacher Certification: The international experience at < http://works.bepress.com/lawrence_ingvarson1 >

RD

About the author

Dr Lawrence Ingvarson is a Principal Research Fellow in ACER's Teaching and Learning research program.

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