Teacher education at UMES in trouble

Program on probation after students test poorly

October 08, 2003|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

The state schools chief placed the teacher education program at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore on probation yesterday after students performed poorly on national examinations.

"There was a huge disparity" in pass rates between UMES students and those at the state's 21 other teacher training schools, said schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, who took the action as part of her responsibility under the federal Higher Education Act. Yesterday was the deadline for states to inform the U.S. secretary of education of low-performing teacher education programs.

During the two-year probationary period, UMES must publicize its low-performing status in catalogs and other materials, and the state must offer technical assistance, said Lawrence Leak, assistant state superintendent for certification and accreditation. The program won't lose state approval or state or federal aid.

UMES is the first Maryland institution to be placed on probation for poor performance on tests, but other schools, including Goucher College and Washington College, have received probation in recent years for failure to comply with a state-ordered "redesign" of teacher education. Both schools corrected the deficiencies.

The UMES probation "is a blemish," said Leak, "but it's a blemish only on teacher education." Leak said no other programs are affected, including one that prepares school counselors. About 200 of the 3,600 students at UMES are in the education school.

Grasmick said that in 2000, 2001 and 2002, UMES' pass rate on a basic skills test (known as Praxis I) and a test of subject knowledge (Praxis II) hovered around 50 percent. The state requires an 80 percent combined passing rate, and the statewide success rate in 2002 was 91 percent.

Several schools, such as Coppin State College and Towson University, report a 100 percent passing rate. That's because they require students to pass Praxis I to enter teaching training and to pass Praxis II to graduate, thus guaranteeing a 100 percent passing rate.

Congress is expected to close what many consider a loophole when it rewrites the Higher Education Act later this session.

"That there may be some gaming going on at other colleges doesn't mean there isn't work to be done at UMES," said Leak. "It was a laggard for three years."

School warned

Grasmick said state officials warned UMES at least three years ago that passing rates were unacceptable. "Nothing happened. We think there were leadership problems."

The superintendent commended Thelma Thompson, who is beginning her second year as UMES president, for undertaking reforms.

Thompson said she has put more resources into teacher education, revised the curriculum and brought in tutors and test-taking experts to counsel students on how to succeed on the two Praxis tests which, along with the SAT, are products of the Educational Testing Service.

Praxis tests are used to measure teacher skills in 32 states and territories.

"I'm not making excuses, and I'm not belittling the efforts of others," Thompson said. "We're going to do what it takes. Educating teachers has been part of our mission for 117 years."

Wearing the tag of a low-performing school "will be painful," Thompson added, "but if it makes us better, I'll bear the pain."

National accreditation

By state law, UMES must be approved by a national accrediting agency by next July, and a team of experts is scheduled to begin the process shortly with a campus visit.

The worst outcome, said Leak, would be a denial of accreditation, which would mean the university would have to close its education program.

"That would be a shame," said Grasmick. "The overwhelming majority of [UMES] students are minority. They're a major source of teachers for the Eastern Shore and Prince George's County." UMES is also the only four-year school on the Eastern Shore to train special-education teachers, Grasmick said.

The university also trains teachers in fields including social studies, English, biology, art, music and agricultural education.

From the Praxis test

Sample questions from Praxis I, test of basic skills: Which of the following fractions is least?

A. 11/10

B. 99/100

C. 25/24

D. 3/2

E. 501/500

Some values of x are less than 100.

Which of the following is NOT consistent with the sentence above?

A. 5 is not a value of x.

B. 95 is a value of x.

C. Some values of x are greater than 100.

D. All values of x are less than 100.

E. No numbers less than 100 are values of x.

Sample question from Praxis II, special education An Individualized Education Plan must include which of the following components?

A. The current level of student performance

B. A record of past student performance

C. A description of the student's intellectual functioning

D. Suggestions for parental involvement

Samples from Praxis II, elementary education

Leave me, O love which reaches but to dust;

And thou, my mind, aspire to higher things;

Grow rich in that which never taketh rust,

Whatever fades but fading pleasure brings.

In line 1 "dust" serves as a metaphor for

A. ignorance

B. death

C. loneliness

D. confusion

According to research, which of the following is the single most important home-based activity for preschool children in building the knowledge required for children's eventual success in reading?

A. Children's memorizing nursery rhymes

B. Families' talking about school

C. Parents' reading aloud to children

D. Parents' teaching the alphabet

Which of the following would be observed in a vacuum if a feather and two stones of different weights were dropped simultaneously from a height of 10 feet?

A. Both stones would hit the ground at the same time, but before the feather.

B. The heavier stone would hit the ground first.

C. The lighter stone would hit the ground first.

D. All three objects would hit the ground at the same time.

Answers: B, E, A, B, C, D Source: Educational Testing Service

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