Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Observation and Teacher Quality: Critical Analysis of Observational Instruments in Preservice Teacher Performance Assessment

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Observation and Teacher Quality: Critical Analysis of Observational Instruments in Preservice Teacher Performance Assessment

Article excerpt


The assessments that serve as gatekeeping mechanisms for any profession reflect the field's image of valued professional knowledge and practice, as well as the roles the professional takes in relation to clients and the larger social order. As assessments for new teachers shift from an old model of input measures (grade point average, credits taken, content knowledge examinations) to output measures (performance assessments, portfolios, and observations of teaching practice), what valued knowledge, performance, and professional roles are implied? What is our image of a novice professional? This study addresses these questions by comparing the valued knowledge, activities, and participant roles reflected in three observation instruments used as performance assessments in teacher education programs: the Christopher Newport University Student Teacher Observation Form (CNU), the Michigan State University Field Instructor Feedback Form (FIFF), and the Performance Assessment for California Teachers and Preservice Teachers (PACT).

We use the framework of CDA (Fairclough, 2003; Rogers, 2011) to examine these three instruments by carefully reading and noting the features that imply what is valued as quality teaching practice. We argue that the observational instruments used as tools to assess the progress and the exit performances of teacher candidates are not neutral, but reflect the values of the programs that use them through particular (and sometimes contradictory) discourses of teacher learning and student learning. These values are also reflected in assumed relations among the teacher educator, teacher candidate, and the pupils in the classroom. Because performance assessments are regarded as part of the learning process for teacher candidates (Porter, Youngs, & Odden, 2001), it is important to examine how teacher candidates are positioned as learners, when they are performing the teacher's role, by performance assessments designed to guide and evaluate candidates' teaching and expected teacher-student interactions. Thus, this study focuses on the positioning of the teacher candidate and her students as well as the pedagogical relationship between the teacher educator and the candidate afforded by the texts of performance assessment instruments.

Specifically, the research questions that guided this inquiry were as follows:

Research Question 1: To what knowledge and performances do observation instruments orient the observer's attention?

Research Question 2: How do these instruments reflect the values of the program and larger educational discourses?

Research Question 3: How are teacher candidates, their students, and teacher educators positioned in relation to each other by the textual features of observational instruments?

Research Question 4: How are professionalism and agency implicitly defined by these instruments?

This study is significant for several reasons. First, we examine the expected performances described by observational instruments to reveal naturalized values about teaching and learning embedded in social, cultural, and political contexts. Second, the instruments' projection of professionalism is revealed through examining how the grammar of performance assessment instruments positions participants and assigns agency. Third, our analysis provides a picture of what is assumed about teacher and student learning in observational instruments. Finally, although the findings of this study are particular to these instruments, recent changes in state licensure and national accreditation requirements have resulted in the wider use of observational instruments, thus making this study interesting to a larger audience.

Performance Assessment of Teacher Quality

Although many factors contribute to student academic achievement in schools, there is increasing agreement among educational researchers that teacher quality may be the most significant factor (Harris & McCaffrey, 2010; Sanders & Horn, 1998). …

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