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Lessons Learned from FIPSE Projects II - September 1993

Indiana University of Pennsylvania

The PreTeacher Assessment Center

Purpose

During World War II, Dr. Henry Murray, a Harvard psychologist, was asked by the Office of Strategic Services to develop a way of determining the aptitudes of potential spies for the Allies. Murray and a team of psychologists first identified the skills and characteristics that were required of espionage agents, such as problem analysis, initiative, tenacity, and stress tolerance. Then they tried to match these abilities as closely as possible with simulated activities that would trigger a demonstration of the kind of behavior required by espionage work. The operation was a success--the Allies lost fewer agents behind enemy lines, and the quality of the information gathered by these agents improved.

In the post-war years, Murray's ideas were applied to management, and in the 1970's, to school administration (the Principal Assessment Center). When Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Millersville University, Slippery Rock University and Development Dimensions International joined together to form the PreTeacher Assessment Center, they too followed the approach first developed by Murray and his team.

To assess the abilities of future teachers, the Center first identified 13 basic teaching traits and skills: planning and organization, monitoring, leadership, sensitivity, problem analysis, strategic decision making, tactical decision making, oral communication, oral presentation, written communication, innovativeness, tolerance for stress, and initiative. The staff then designed four simulations that enable students to demonstrate these skills as they solve problems and carry out tasks.

Based on the writings of teachers and faculty at all instructional levels, two of the simulations focus on classroom situations (students are asked to react to classroom scenes on a videotape and write a lesson plan) while the other two simulations assess generic traits such as initiative, sensitivity and decision making. The content validity of the four assessment simulations was established by three panels of teachers, faculty and administrators, whose comments and suggestions were incorporated into the simulations.

The Center also developed some assessor training manuals and teacher training modules. Each of the latter consists of a videotape that models good teaching and a set of assignments that allow the students to practice correct behaviors. The topics of the modules are: Beliefs About Teaching, The Sensitive Teacher, The Teacher Leader, The Innovative Teacher, and Planning and Organizing.

Evaluation

To determine how well the Center's assessment of students predicts their teaching behavior, Center staff assessed five students during the first week of their student teaching experience. Then the student's university supervisor observed the student's teaching, using clinical supervisory techniques. The final rating of the student for six of the 13 teaching skills was based on a number of classroom observations, on responses to a series of statements designed to make students reflect on their teaching, and on the students' journals, lesson plans, and other materials.

There was remarkable agreement between the Center's assessment and the ratings by the university supervisors. On 93% of the occasions, on-site observations were within a one-point range (on a scale of 1 to 5) of the assessment results. The researchers concluded that the Center's assessment scores accurately predict on-the-job performance in six skill categories.

Project Impact

The PreTeacher Assessment Center has become self-supporting, and is being used by Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Slippery Rock University. Between 1987 and 1990 the Center trained 120 assessors and assessed 200 students. The Center receives frequent requests for information and training from schools and postsecondary institutions.

Major Insights and Lessons Learned

The Center has assessed students majoring in elementary, secondary, and special education. The major does not seem to affect assessment results, probably because the simulations focus on pedagogical skills rather than on knowledge of a certain subject (the training modules strongly emphasize the importance of content knowledge).

In general, students' scores indicated little skill in leadership, initiative and innovativeness. Scores in sensitivity, oral presentation, problem analysis and decision making were judged barely adequate. Students obtained higher scores in written communication, tolerance for stress, and oral communication. However, although their oral skills were adequate, their presentations lacked enthusiasm and logical structure.

Project Continuation

The Center is supporting itself and continues to expand. In 1991-92, 100 sophomores were assessed. Carlow College, which has established its own assessment center, trained 25 assessors, and requires all education majors to undergo assessment. The Pittsburgh public schools are currently piloting the Center's training films, and other institutions are considering forming a similar center on their campus.

Recognition

The PreTeacher Assessment Center received the 1989 Christa McAuliffe Showcase for Excellence Award.

Available Information

Copies of articles about the Center, training tapes and other materials may be obtained from:

Robert E. Millward
Assessment Center
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
136 Stouffer Hall
Indiana, PA 15705-1087
412-357-5593


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Last Modified: 02/22/2006