Indiana’s recently released ISTEP+ results show our state’s students failed to make progress in key subjects — such as English and math — this year, with only 51 percent of third- through eighth-graders and 34 percent of 10th-graders passing both sections of the 2016-17 exam.
Given these results, which are on par with last year’s scores, it is tempting to dismiss ISTEP+ outcomes as the product of a flawed state test.
But it’s neither productive nor fair to scapegoat ISTEP+. Instead, we should double down on solutions to address a key driver of low student academic performance: Indiana’s approach to recruiting, training and supporting teachers.
Here and across the United States, teacher training and support systems have failed to keep up with proven practices.
This reality is holding back too many teachers from realizing their potential. It’s also keeping would-be teaching talent from entering the field, as evidenced by a 33 percent decline in the number of teaching licenses issued in Indiana over the last seven years. And it’s contributing to high turnover rates for teachers, who are dissatisfied with the lack of professional autonomy and recognition.
In fact, only half of teachers stay in the profession for more than five years, and — at 9 percent — Indiana’s teacher turnover rate is more than double that of high-performing countries. These factors contribute to science and math teacher shortages that plague schools around Indiana.
This is a critical challenge because evidence from a large body of research shows teachers have the biggest impact on student academic performance.
There are two primary differences between the United States and high-performing countries when it comes to teacher recruitment, training and support. First, the U.S. takes a less rigorous approach to selecting teacher candidates and providing them with content knowledge and intensive, hands-on training. Second, once teachers enter the field, our K-12 education system is not structured to provide teachers with opportunities for career advancement and higher pay.
In most cases, promotions take teachers away from students and into administration.
It’s no surprise that on international benchmarking exams, the U.S. ranks far behind top-performing nations that prioritize teacher training and support. The U.S. came in 23rd in reading, 25th in science and 39th in math among 72 countries and economies on the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA.
The good news is we know how to address these challenges, based on the success of countries that have made elevating the teaching profession a top priority.
In these places, teacher candidates are recruited from the top third of high school graduates into competitive programs, where there are 10 times as many applicants as spots. Because teacher training programs are associated with research universities, the curriculum is constantly evolving to align with the latest research. All teacher candidates also must take courses in content areas they’re teaching, giving them rich expertise.
Teachers in top-performing countries have ample opportunities for advancement into leadership roles that keep them in the classroom with commensurately higher pay.
Indiana has begun to take these kinds of steps towards elevating the teaching profession. This fall, Marian University launched The Educators College, a teacher-training program focused on selective recruitment and intensive preparation with a year-long, paid clinical residency. Indianapolis Public Schools also has implemented the Opportunity Culture model, wherein teachers are provided career advancement opportunities within the classroom and higher pay.