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Iowa’s schools must improve teacher training

Published: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 10:49 a.m. CDT

To the editor,

When we, as individuals, are evaluated for things, such as a job, a criteria list rates each component. Similarly, businesses are evaluated using a criteria list rating each item. It would be unusual for an individual or a business to meet 100 percent of each item, so ratings are weighted averages of the strengths and weaknesses.

Similarly, the National Council on Teacher Quality makes an annual assessment of the 2600 teacher training programs around the country. This year, national rankings are used so comparisons can be made. In a weighted average, Iowa’s five top-ranked teacher training programs for the elementary level are: Iowa State University (37), University of Iowa (44), Luther College (125), Briar Cliff University (242) and Simpson College (345). Absolutely none of these institutions meets all five criteria for teacher training in early reading. Luther comes closest, training in four of the five. Three of Iowa’s teacher training programs meet all five of the early reading criteria in their training but fail in other areas, keeping them out of Iowa’s top five: Grand View University, Iowa Wesleyan College and University of Dubuque. The five criteria being evaluated are: fluency, vocabulary, comprehension strategies, phonemic awareness and phonics.

Schools purchasing an expensive reading program in the hope of improving student proficiency scores on the assessment tests (routinely dumbed down every 3-4 years when 50 percent of the students fail to score high enough) complete only one step of a multi-step approach. These programs come with a training session that fails to compare with the multiple college course credits necessary to train teachers to effectively teach the five areas of these concept-based programs. 

NAEP scores show Iowa on the border of OK at the elementary level of proficiency but failing to make improvement at higher levels. The reason is the lack of solid foundation at the elementary level, necessary on which to build expanded concept applications at higher levels. Both concept-based curriculum and teacher training in all five areas to effectively teach reading concepts must be implemented in the schools. Iowa remains struggling to meet the pathetic 41st NPR (when grade level is the 65th NPR) because too many schools have failed to grasp the necessity of improved teacher training, thus creating the situation for the continued practice of dumbing down the assessment tests in order to appear to be making progress. School boards must insist school management immediately remedy this gap in teacher training.

Sue Atkinson

Baxter

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