Almost two years and 4,800 public comments after releasing controversial proposed rules for teacher preparation programs under the federal Higher Education Act, the U.S. Department of Education adopted final rules last week. After TCTA and others called into question USDE’s proposal to base teacher preparation program accountability “in significant part” on the performance of graduates’/new teachers’ students on state tests, USDE backed down, revising the rules to be much less prescriptive. The final regulations require states to establish four indicators of academic content knowledge and teaching skills — student learning outcomes, employment outcomes, survey results, and minimum program characteristics — in assessing the level of a teacher preparation program’s performance. Under the rules, states must establish their reporting systems in the 2016-17 school year, and can use the following school year to validate their systems. All reporting systems must be in effect by 2018-2019 school year.

TCTA strongly objected to USDE’s original proposal to require states to evaluate teacher preparation programs in significant part on “student learning outcomes,” defined in part as student performance on state tests or test-based teacher evaluation results, as well as the requirement that states could only identify teacher preparation programs as effective or higher if the program has satisfactory or higher student learning outcomes. TCTA focused on the fact that the department defined “student growth” for tested grades/subjects as a student’s score on state assessments and “teacher evaluation” as a system including, as a significant factor, student growth. TCTA pointed out that these were the same prescriptive requirements the department had inappropriately and consistently promoted via its other major initiatives, including the Race to the Top grant program and state NCLB waivers. TCTA emphasized that the overwhelming weight of the research does not support using student growth on standardized tests as a valid measure of teacher effectiveness. 

In response, in the final rules, USDE: 

  • eliminated the requirement that a significant part of the evaluation of teacher preparation programs be based on student learning outcomes;
  • revised the definition of “student growth” to allow, but not require, the use of students' scores on state assessments;
  • revised the definition of “teacher evaluation measure” to eliminate the requirement that student growth be included “as a significant factor”;
  • revised the calculation of student learning outcomes to include the ability to use another state-determined measure instead of only a student growth or a teacher evaluation measure; and
  • removed the requirement that states could only identify a teacher preparation program as effective or higher if the program had satisfactory or higher student learning outcomes.

Given that the final rules no longer require teacher preparation programs to be evaluated in significant part based on student growth on state standardized tests or test-based teacher evaluation measures, TCTA views them as a significant improvement from the proposed rules.