principal-stockFive years ago, California became the first state to mandate that all candidates for becoming a teacher demonstrate that they have the skills needed for the classroom.

Soon, it will be aspiring administrators’ turn for a performance assessment.

At its meeting on Friday, the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing will consider – and possibly make a final decision on – requiring that those pursuing a preliminary credential to be an administrator show the practical know-how and strategies needed to lead California’s diverse and complex schools.

The commission staff are recommending that an as yet to be designed performance assessment be required of those candidates pursuing a credential through the state’s 66 administrator training programs – the standard process generally taking two years part-time at a college or university – or by taking an exam testing their book knowledge of programs, regulations and requirements of the job, which roughly a quarter of the candidates do. (California is the only state allowing this expedited route to a administrative credential.) In 2011-12, the state issued 3,765 preliminary administrative credentials.

A preliminary administrative credential is required to work in a job supervising teachers and areas of instruction, such as  principals and assistant principals, directors of curriculum and personnel. Superintendents don’t have to have it either, though most have been promoted from positions requiring the credential.

Administrative overhaul

The performance assessment is just one element of the commission’s overhaul of the state’s process for preparing and training district administrators – out of the recognition that many aspects of administration have become more demanding. The adoption of the Common Core standards requires different approaches to instruction.  Changing student demographics, a new school funding formula committing more resources for equitable outcomes for high-needs students, an added focus on college and career readiness and new perspectives on student discipline and student mental health all compound challenges for administrators.

Many of these issues and the style of collaboration needed to deal effectively with staff and the outside community are reflected in 14 broad standards for administrative credentialing programs that the Commission is also expected to adopt on Friday. The extensive rewrite of the standards guiding college and university programs has been two years in the works and would take effect for candidates enrolling in programs in fall 2016.

Rebecca Cheung

Rebecca Cheung

“The existing standards were too broad and could be subject to wide interpretation, so the new language is more specific,” said Rebecca Cheung, academic coordinator for the Principal Leadership Institute at UC Berkeley and a member of the group that drafted the new standards. “We definitely heard in public comments a cry from employers (K-12 districts) to increase the rigor of standards.”

The requirement for a performance assessment of candidates is among the proposed program standards. It’s also a recommendation in “Greatness by Design,” a report commissioned by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

Building the assessment

Only one other state, Connecticut, has a similar assessment, although Massachusetts is creating its version. Candidates taking the 6 ½ hour Connecticut Assessment Test might reflect on hypothetical strategies for school improvement and, after watching video clips, comment on the advice that a supervisor shared with a teacher on instructional techniques.

Another approach would be to analyze the candidate in the field, videotaping a presentation on data or instruction. UC Berkeley’s Principal Leadership Institute already does this, Cheung said. But, unlike teacher credentialing programs, which require weeks or months of practice teaching, most administrative credentialing programs offer little field experience. Full-time teachers seeking to go into administration take the programs at night or on weekends and are prohibited by law and union contracts from doing the work of an administrator, such as evaluating and supervising teachers, until they get their license. So the Connecticut model of a written exam – or perhaps a hybrid – may become California’s model. Commission staff are planning a trip to that state next month.

California’s teaching performance assessment has been required for five years of candidates for a teaching credential and has been copied by other states. It requires that candidates show, through video clips and portfolios, how they plan lessons, lead instruction and create assessments to show what students have learned.

If the experience of the teaching performance assessment is a guide, an administrator performance assessment won’t be designed as a big filter for screening those unfit to supervise. Between 70 and 80 percent of candidates initially pass one of the three versions of the teacher performance assessment that programs can give, and, after retakes, the pass rate is about 98 percent, said Mary Vixie Sandy, executive director of the Credentialing Commission.

“It’s designed to qualify someone for the credential, not put grades on a resume,” said Doug Gephart, liaison to the Credentialing Commission for the Association of California School Administrators, which supports the concept of a performance assessment and the new program standards. “It shows what you know, not what you can do. So much of job performance is how you deal with people, intersect with colleagues, provide leadership.”

Lever for improving programs

Both Sandy and Cheung of UC Berkeley agree that an equally important goal of an administrator performance assessment is to function as a “powerful lever” for improving the quality of the credentialing programs and perhaps as evidence for the commission in accreditation decisions.

The assessment reflects a desire to have “quality assurance” just the teacher performance assessment has helped define expectations for the teaching credential, Cheung said. Just as with the teacher assessments, there would be a uniform grading system by independent scorers. “It would directly reflect on the programs, their curriculum, teaching methods and admission policies if students do not pass at acceptable rates,” Cheung said.

At its meeting on Friday, the Commission could decide whether to adapt the Connecticut model to the state’s new  standards for credentialing programs. Or it could ask staff to create an assessment, which could take a year or two.

The performance assessment applies only to a preliminary administrative credential needed to qualify for a job. At its next meeting in December, the commission will consider a plan to strengthen what’s acknowledged to be the weakest link: the lack of a strong, uniform system of on-the-job coaching and support for new administrators leading to a Tier II or “clear” administrative credential. Fifteen years ago, the state did this for new teachers when it created and funded the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment or BTSA.  The commission is assuming that districts or individual administrators, through fees to preparation programs, would cover the costs of whatever program is adopted.

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