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National program to put would-be teachers to the test

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Standing at the edge of a pond with her class of fourth-graders, Jasmine Zeppa filled a bucket with brown water and lectured them on the science of observing and recording data. Many of the children seemed more interested in nearby geese, a passing jogger and the crunchy leaves underfoot.

Zeppa's own professor from St. Catherine University stood nearby and recorded video of it all.

"I think it went as well as it possibly could have, given her experience," the professor, Susan Gibbs Goetz, said. Her snap review: Zeppa, 25, could have done a better job holding the students' attention, but did well building on past lessons.

Zeppa is among the first class of aspiring teachers who are getting ready for new, more demanding requirements to receive their teacher license. A new licensing system is being tested in 19 states; it includes filming student teachers in their classroom and evaluating the video. Candidates must also show they can prepare a lesson, tailor it to different levels of students and present it effectively.

Most states only require that would-be teachers pass their class work and a written test. Supporters of the new system say the Teacher Performance Assessment program is a big improvement, while others warn it's not guaranteed it will lead to more successful teachers.

The assessments also place responsibility for grading the would-be teachers with teams of outside evaluators who have no stake in the result. Currently, the teachers-in-training are evaluated by their colleges, which want their students to get their teaching licenses.

Minnesota is scheduled to be the first state to adopt the new system when it implements it in 2012. Four other states - Massachusetts, Ohio, Tennessee and Washington - plan to implement it within five years. Fourteen more states are running pilot programs. California and Arizona are the only states that currently require performance testing to license teachers.

The teacher assessment program is a joint project by a consortium made up of Stanford University, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Tom Dooher, president of Minnesota's teachers' union, said the group supported it because it emphasizes real-world skills. "This is what education reform should look like, for practitioners by practitioners," he said.

Others are taking a wait-and-see attitude. Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the nonpartisan National Council on Teacher Quality, said she would support any test that could predict who will be a good teacher, but she's not sure performance assessments are it.

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