HARTFORD -- A half-dozen private colleges expecting a routine approval of their teacher preparation programs on Wednesday instead faced a barrage of tough questions from the state Board of Education in a taste of what may be coming as the state beefs up its efforts to scrutinize the programs.
In the end, five of the programs won five-year program extensions, though not in the pro-forma manner of the past. One approval was for the University of Bridgeport, whose approval came even though fewer than 80 percent of students last fall passed a reading content test that is required for licensure.
The teacher-prep program at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, didn't fare as well, winning only "provisional" approval, which means it will receive a follow-up visit from the state in the spring of 2013.
A state appointed Education Preparation Advisory Council, which will complete its work next April, is expected to completely overhaul how programs that produce teachers are judged.
Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor promised the attention would not only focus on private teacher-preparation programs. He promised careful analysis of state college teacher-prep programs as well.
Pryor said the department is dissatisfied with how accreditations are awarded.
"I want to assure you future rounds of this process will look differently," he told the board. He said the new process will "go a level deeper." Eventually, prep programs will be judged based on how well the teachers it produces perform in the classroom and how long they stay in the teaching field. Feedback from the districts that hired the teachers will also play into the program's evaluation.
Board member Patricia Luke said it boggled her mind that such a low pass rate would be tolerated. "This very minimal, basic stuff," she said.
Nancy Pugliese, chief of the state's Bureau of Educator Standards and Certification, told the board the low-pass rate was on one test. Since then, the pass rate in reading has risen above 80 percent. As for the tracking, Pugliese said UB knows where its students are placed but was switching over to a computerized system that made it difficult to determine if all students are getting to train in both urban and suburban schools. That system is now in place.
UB was cited for not only a low-pass rate on the reading test but also a failure to adequately track the field experiences of student teachers.
The University of New Haven was cited for not having an assessment system fully in place to improve candidate performance and program effectiveness a sufficient system for tracking alumni. Nancy Niemi, chairwoman of the education department at UNH, said both those are areas that have been addressed since the state site visit last spring.
At Albertus Magnus, the state had issues with assessments, faculty qualifications, and data that confirms which students are getting the skills and knowledge required. There is also a history with Albertus improving then slipping, said Pugliese. The state wants to know that the changes made will stick.
Sean P. O'Connell, interim vice president for academic affairs at Albertus Magnus, said the college is pleased that the board of education recognized the steps it has taken to meet the standard for full accreditation and looks forward to the team visit in the spring and full accreditation a year from now.