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Content Knowledge For Teacher Candidates

As described in our conceptual framework, a broad and deep understanding of content is the foundation for the Teacher Education Program at the University of Minnesota, Morris (UMM TEP). Candidates complete the university’s general education requirements, courses required for their majors and specialty areas, and courses that are required to meet the state’s licensure requirements. This extensive course of study helps candidates acquire the knowledge they need for effective instruction.

The UMM TEP is designed to meet the requirements established by the Minnesota Board of Teaching. All programs meet the Minnesota Standards of Effective Practice (SEP), a set of rigorous content and pedagogical standards that are based on the principles of the Interstate New Teachers Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC). Within the unit, every individual program also meets the Program Standards of the Minnesota Board of Teaching. In Fall 2007, the unit submitted 18 programs (along with three SEPs and ML endorsement) to the Minnesota Board of Teaching to complete intensive program review for continuing accreditation. As part of the review process, we submitted data to provide evidence that candidates meet all of the state standards for the Standards of Effective Practice as well as the content standards for relevant licensure areas. All programs have received full approval.

The Minnesota Board of Teaching requires that all candidates for licensure demonstrate content proficiency. First, they must pass the Praxis I Pre-Professional Skills Tests (PPST) in math, reading, and writing. All applicants to our programs must take the PPST before admittance, but the state prohibits public institutions from requiring applicants to pass the test prior to admission. This mandate is due to the state’s commitment to program access and opportunity. The unit’s Praxis I PPST Data reveal that all of the programs exceed an 80% pass rate and surpass the state overall pass rates.

The Minnesota Board of Teaching also requires that candidates pass the Praxis II Content Examination in their areas of licensure including endorsements or additional licenses. 2006-2008 Praxis II Data (NCATE Table 4) for the unit and individual programs indicate that UMM TEP candidates perform well on the content examinations. Only the Spanish and German Productive Language Exams (both with small numbers of test takers) have less than 100% pass rates. Most of the candidates who did not pass these exams were still recommended for licensure in areas where they had met all requirements including examinations. Because of limited interest in the German license and limited access to appropriate field placements, we have discontinued the German K–12 license.

Candidates in both elementary and secondary education programs do well on the Praxis II content examinations as indicated by Praxis II Trend Data and by the 2006-2008 data shown in Table 4. Productive language examinations continue to challenge some candidates. We note the strong performance of elementary candidates pursuing middle level licensure in communication arts and literature, mathematics, science, and social studies. The Educational Testing Service gives Recognition of Excellence Awards to candidates who score in the top 15% of the test takers on eleven of the Praxis series. In 2008, 27% of the elementary candidates and 22% of secondary received recognition of excellence for their performance on their content examinations.

Program Assesments

The unit systematically collects additional data to ensure candidate proficiency in the content knowledge delineated in professional, state, and institutional standards. This data includes the following: GPA (overall, in the major, and in specialty areas), recommendations from higher education faculty, performance-based assessments, portfolio, and follow-up surveys of graduates and employers.

Candidates must meet minimum GPA requirements at all transition points in the program. They must maintain a minimum GPA of 2.5 overall, in their major, and in licensure areas. GPA Data for the unit indicate that most candidates far exceed the minimum GPA requirements. The three-year average GPA is 3.34 at time of admission and 3.45 upon program completion. They perform well on courses within their major and in the general education courses.

The unit solicits feedback regarding candidate content knowledge from higher education faculty. Elementary education candidates must submit three recommendations as part of the admissions process. The recommendations must be from higher education faculty who can judge academic performance including control of subject matter and both written and oral communication skills. Secondary education programs solicit feedback from higher education faculty in the applicant’s field of study. A new secondary education recommendation process, developed and first implemented in 2006, solicits feedback from the entire faculty in the discipline of the applicant’s licensure area. The faculty recommendations are important in the admissions process. Applicants who do not receive adequate scores from faculty are not admitted or are admitted with probationary status.

In their portfolios, candidates must demonstrate subject matter proficiency before beginning student teaching. Secondary candidates complete the subject matter element of the portfolio as part of the methods course for their licensure area. Elementary candidates write reflective essays and provide evidence of subject matter mastery in every content area methods course. UMM TEPs follow a mastery approach in the portfolio assignment. Candidates must revise and resubmit their portfolios until they have reached a satisfactory level of proficiency.

Program Assessments of Content Knowledge indicate that candidates know the content that they teach. Summative evaluations of student teaching include assessment of subject matter knowledge by cooperating teachers and university supervisors. These data reveal that between 96 to 100% of candidates in the past three years were rated proficient or above in their subject matter understanding.

Follow-Up Surveys

Follow-up surveys of graduates and employers are administered in the first year of the graduate’s teaching experience. The three-year average response rate is 58% for graduates and 63% for employers. The exact response rates for group and year are included on the matrix.

As shown in the Follow-Up Surveys of Content Knowledge, both graduates and their employers generally give high ratings on survey items related to subject matter understanding. We note an unusual drop in employer ratings for elementary science and mathematics understanding in the 2007-2008 surveys. Given the small number of employer surveys returned (N=9), we interpret the results cautiously. Still, we will look for and address possible causes.