URI teacher education program gains national praise

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KINGSTON, R.I.—March 16, 2010 – There’s plenty of talk these days in Rhode Island and around the nation about how to reform teacher education.

Rhode Islanders need look no further than their state university to find leadership and innovation in this area.

The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education has named URI as one of 11 institutions that have exemplary teacher education program reports. URI’s School of Education has also been awarded accreditation from the national council for the past 20 years, and it also incorporates in its programs best practices gathered by the council from across the nation.

“We have been accredited in every subset of teacher education, such as mathematics, science, school psychology, elementary and secondary education and physical education,” said David Byrd, director of URI’s School of Education.

The federal and state governments have also recognized URI’s leadership, awarding about $28 million in grants over the past five years, including two from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education, to improve teacher preparation and instruction in public schools across the state.

URI’s School of Education also earned a strong endorsement from Richard L. Schwab, former dean of the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut.

“As a commissioner and member of the board of directors of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, I have had the great fortune of examining nationally recognized programs over the years and URI’s teacher preparation program is among the best,” Schwab said.

He said the future of democracy in America is dependent on the brightest and best college students committing to the career of teaching and that universities must offer programs that are rigorous, require strong content area preparation and have varied clinical experiences.

“Our states’ flagship universities must all take the lead to ensure this occurs as well as conduct cutting edge research that improves classroom practice,” Schwab said. “Director Byrd and Dean Lynn McKinney are both advocates for such rigor on the national scene, and their leadership has helped influence national polices that set high standards for other research oriented universities to follow.”

With 351 undergraduates and 295 graduate students, the School of Education at URI offers 26 programs, including a joint doctoral degree with Rhode Island College and a doctorate in school psychology.

“We have led the way in Rhode Island, initiating mandatory tests for potential students who want to enter our teacher education programs,” Byrd said.

The University has also led the way in proficiency testing of its teaching candidates.

“Before there was a test in Rhode Island, URI had a standard basic skills test for our potential teachers for about 5 years. Now we also test teacher candidates for proficiency in their content areas,” Byrd said.”

Rhode Island mandated a proficiency exam last May.

In response to the federal “No Child Left Behind” and “highly qualified teacher“ mandates, the University requires all teacher education candidates to pass the PRAXIS II PLT (Principles of Learning and Teaching) and the PRAXIS II content exams prior to student teaching. Students who don’t pass the exams cannot enter the program. The pass rate on the PRAXIS II exams has gone from 86 percent in 2003 to 100 percent in 2009.

PRAXIS is a product of the non-profit Educational Testing Service, which develops, administers and scores more than 50 million tests annually, including the Advanced Placement Program for high school students and Graduate Record Exam for entry into graduate schools.

Byrd said the School of Education also requires candidates to be proficient in content areas like science, mathematics or history. For example, students who aspire to be a high school math or biology teacher must double major in education and math or biology respectively.

“The vast majority of our teacher education students have a 3.0 grade point average in their content areas,” Byrd said.

URI’s School of Education also measures candidates’ ability to conduct informal and formal assessments in classrooms. Candidates provide copies of formal assessments used to analyze what students learn across several lessons and cite specific examples of what students know and are able to do. The analysis provides a basis for future classroom plans.

In addtion, all URI teacher education students complete multiple field experiences in a variety of school settings and must complete a yearlong final practicum in a classroom with a cooperating teacher for support.

Among some of the other teacher education initiatives funded through federal and state grants awarded to URI are:

• Science education enhancements through a $2.25 million National Science Foundation grant.

• Project RITER (Rhode Island Teacher Education Renewal), $7.5 million grant, a collaborative effort between URI’s School of Education and College of Arts and Sciences to improve teacher content knowledge, use of technology and ability to work with diverse populations of students.

• State of Rhode Island, $5.7 million to ensure teacher education students have access to current hardware, software and models of effective use of technology.

• National Science Foundation, URI in partnership with Rhode Island College, $12.5 million to transform science and mathematics teaching and learning at all Rhode Island middle and high schools. The grant was awarded to URI’s College of the Environment and Life Sciences, with major support from URI’s School of Education.