4.2.b Continuous Improvement
Summarize activities and changes based on data that have led to continuous improvement of candidate performance and program quality and discuss plans for sustaining and enhancing performance through continuous improvement as articulated in unit Standard 4.
Three significant changes that led to continuous improvement have occurred related to Standard 4 along with several other changes with positive impact. These major changes will be discussed first: 1) Changing the PreK-3 Early Childhood Education major to a dual certification program, Early Childhood/Early Childhood Special Education; 2) Implementing the Degree+3 Assessment Program; and 3) Changing course delivery and promotion of the ESL endorsement.
A major change to the undergraduate Early Childhood program occurred in 2007. In order to prepare candidates to work with diverse populations of young children, faculty made a commitment to provide a dual certification program in which all graduates in the Early Childhood PreK-3 major take courses containing competencies for both general and special education certification. The process was a lengthy and collaborative one as faculty discussed making a change for several months prior to adopting it and then worked to inform others across campus about the value in preparing initial licensure candidates with competencies to meet the needs of an ever-increasingly diverse population of students.
The revised program contained numerous newly structured courses, expanded field experiences, and six Praxis II tests to provide evidence of competency across disciplines. The program was approved at the department, college, and campus levels after a rigorous review process and multiple presentations across campus, and implemented in fall 2007.
Adopting the new Early Childhood/Early Childhood Special Education Program required that the faculty develop several new courses in early childhood special education, explore and establish appropriate field placements and student teaching placements that address diverse populations, and determine competencies that relate to dispositions, knowledge, and performance.
A second result of the new program, was that the unit was re-structured in order to bring ECE majors formerly housed in the Human Ecology Department into the School of Education Department. With over 400 new majors, advising responsibilities changed for many unit faculty. In order to assure that all candidates have an opportunity to meet with faculty advisors, individual faculty set nine hours for office hours and teams of faculty members hold multiple group advising sessions each semester.
Furthermore, field placements and internships reflecting both general and special education programming and course work were sought out and established. Many of these sites are not school-based, but offer services and programs for diverse populations (e.g., Children’s Discovery Museum, community PreK centers, Tennessee Aquarium, and St. Andrew’s Center). In these settings, candidates have opportunities to observe and interact with children from across the community, as well as to converse with parents and family members, ensuring fuller and richer experiences.
Early Childhood candidates must pass six Praxis II tests in order to graduate from the program. In an attempt to assist students in preparations, unit faculty committed to provide Praxis review sessions that were open to all candidates. Passing rates on these tests have increased as both faculty and candidates become versed in course content and sequence..
A second change for improvement is reflected in the numbers of candidates seeking an ESL endorsement. In 2008, courses required for the ESL endorsement were moved online and advisors were encouraged to introduce advisees to the new format and to emphasize the benefits of obtaining the endorsement to increase awareness, knowledge, and expertise with diverse populations. As a result, the numbers of candidates completing the endorsement increased to approximately 25% of each graduating class (ESL data).
Candidates seeking the endorsement complete 15 hours of specialized course work and a 40 hour practicum, working with students who are English Language Learners. Through the ESL endorsement program, candidates are exposed to specialized course content as well as provided opportunities to explore and discuss cultural traditions, values, beliefs, and stereotypes. Additional opportunities to learn and implement instructional strategies that correspond to English Language Learners make candidates more versatile in their instructional expertise. Although there is no foreign language requirement, many of the students travel to countries outside of the United States for short instruction programs or to do mission and humanitarian work.
Implementation of the Degree + 3 Assessment Program was a third change. With an increasing emphasis being placed on standardized testing through legislation such as No Child Left Behind, candidates must become skilled in conducting standardized testing sessions. They also must be able to read and analyze student test scores, compare them to proficient levels, and view their students’ performance in regard to that of the whole system. In an effort to support candidates in that arena and to promote an understanding of factors that have an impact on student performance, unit faculty implemented the initiative.
All candidates in education programs must complete modules that require them to read, analyze, and understand test data. During structured, supervised, and supported instructional sessions, candidates are presented information and problems revolving around standardized test score data and move from novice to proficient users. Candidates experience ways to understand aggregated and disaggregated data sets to see differences in diverse group performance and to make data based decisions for assuring all students achieve to the best of their abilities. See additional evidence.
While the three changes discussed had the most impact, other changes have occurred to make candidates better able to complete their programs and have a rich and deep understanding of diverse populations and diversity issues. The School of Education created a position and employed an experienced educator to advise all freshman majoring in Education Programs in order to assure that they take the appropriate courses for their intended major. In addition to advising, she also tutors students in methods for taking the Praxis I or ACT exams and works with students to improve their writing skills. This position has been a valuable addition to the unit as students find support and guidance in a non-threatening environment from a professional with background and skills in working with diverse populations. The UTeaChattanooga program provides advising for each of their candidates throughout the program to include course selection, ensuring appropriate professional tests are taken in a timely manner, guiding them to tutoring services when appropriate, help with scholarship and grant services.
The Unit maintains a high level of commitment to diversity and diverse populations as it continues to monitor and revise program content and requirements in order to promote diversity and to emphasize the importance of a diverse society. Candidates in the unit have multiple opportunities to expand knowledge and experiences with diverse populations. Accompanying assessments serve to measure candidates’ growth in order to evaluate program effectiveness.