Thursday, March 11, 2010

Educator Certification Program, Region XIII, Austin, Texas

Certification/Degree Elementary
Special Education
Bilingual Education
Partners Region XIII Education
Service Center
Region XIII School Districts
Program Initiated 1989
Total Program Graduates 2,082
2004 Candidate Cohort 236
Candidate Demographics 79% Female
21% Male
Majority are White
(2003 data)
Program Duration 17 months
Cost per Candidate/Who Pays $5,200
Candidate pays
Like so many other alternative route programs, the initial driver for creating the Educator Certification Program (ECP) was a shortage of teachers with qualifications in certain certification areas. In 1989, the most critical shortages for the 59 school districts in and around Austin, Texas, were in special education. To help remedy this situation, the Region XIII Education Service Center (ESC) created an opportunity for professionals from many different fields to become special education teachers. This ESC, which serves the 16-county Austin area, is one of 20 such agencies created by the Texas legislature to function as intermediaries between the Texas Education Agency and local school districts.

The program underwent a major redesign in 1991. One of the most important changes was a switch from holding classes during the day to meeting in the evenings and on weekends. Daytime classes had forced districts to hire substitutes to fill in for the candidates while they attended classes. Night and weekend classes allow candidates to be with their own students as much as possible. The program also expanded the types of credentials offered to include bilingual and secondary education. The changes resulted in a huge increase in the number of program participants, or "interns." In 1990 the program trained 17 special education teachers; in 1991 98 teachers with various specialties exited the program. In 1995 the program again increased its offerings and added regular elementary credentials. Region XIII ECP is currently approved to provide certification in Early Childhood-4th grade (Generalist); Early Childhood-4th grade (Bilingual Generalist); Early Childhood-12th grade (Special Education); All secondary level content areas; and Seven Career and Technology Education (CATE) areas.

As the program has matured and adapted to serve increasing numbers of candidates, the ECP has also refined its program goals. Its current mission is "to be sure there is a teacher in every classroom who cares that every student, every day, learns and grows and feels like a real human being." Staff have identified as underlying program principles: 1) Accountability- The high-stakes environment that students are required to excel in makes training teachers a high-stakes endeavor and 2) Practice what you preach-Be prepared to teach through modeling and alignment of standards if you expect your teachers to do the same.

The ECP is a rigorous 17-month, field-based program that integrates theory with practice. It provides training and certification for selected candidates who hold a bachelor's degree and wish to become teachers. The cohort-based program prepares candidates to be "classroom ready" in six months through a combination of online and face-to-face preservice training. The training includes preparation and individual tutoring for the required state teacher assessment, as well as a two-week field experience. Following this six-month getting-ready process, candidates continue training while employed by one of the Austin-area districts as the teacher of record in their own classroom. During this first year of teaching, the program provides the candidates with both mentoring and field support.

The Region XIII ESC employs 15 full-time staff to support the ECP mission. The program's director also oversees other Region XIII initiatives. Under the director, there is a program coordinator who oversees day-to-day program administration. Eight education specialists serve as cohort leaders, designing and delivering instruction for their particular area of certification

One recent addition is the position of mentor and field support specialist, who ensures that individuals who support the candidates in the field know how to reinforce what is being taught in program classes. The technology support and online education position is another recent addition, created to support the required online course work and to support the technology-related learning competencies. There are also four support staff at the ECP: one registrar, one office manager, and two program secretaries.

Recruitment and Selection

Program enrollment fluctuates because the program accepts only enough candidates to fill the staffing needs in the districts it serves. The ECP program coordinator meets regularly with the regional affiliate of the Texas Association of School Personnel Administrators to stay aware of their hiring needs.

Typically the program has 800-900 applicants of which it accepts 25-30 percent. Applicants must hold at least a bachelor's degree with an overall grade point average (GPA) of 2.5, provide evidence of required competency in reading, writing, and mathematics, and have daily access to a personal computer, printer, and a private Internet connection. While the program prepares candidates in their content area for special education, bilingual, and elementary certificates, applicants seeking middle- and secondary-level certification must already have the required course work and semester hours for the desired certificate area. Applicants must also submit three letters of reference and complete the TeacherInsight™ assessment developed and administered by the Gallup Organization. While the program originally used its own interview process, it has found Gallup's 40-minute online tool to be efficient and helpful.

Upon completion of the application process, the cohort leader, in the credential specialization for which the applicant is applying, scores the applicant on a matrix, which includes the applicant's TeacherInsight™ score, the applicant's overall GPA and course work GPA, information from references, and other comments and observations. The matrix, which yields an overall applicant score, is used for the final selection of candidates.
The program averages 275 participants each year. Candidates represent a range of professional backgrounds, including computer technology, sports, journalism, social work, the military, and retail.

Candidate Training: Content and Pedagogy

Program curriculum is based on state standards established by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) and is aligned with the state board exams, the state Professional Development and Appraisal System (PDAS) Framework, and Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), the state curriculum established for Texas public schools.

Preservice training for the elementary, special education, and bilingual candidates begins in January each year with online course work to address the "highly qualified" component of No Child Left Behind legislation (NCLB). These candidates are required to take the content portion of the Texas Examination of Educator Standards before they are hired, and most candidates remain in their current employment while they accomplish this. Candidates for middle- and secondary-level certification already meet the NCLB requirements for "highly qualified" through their college course work and are not required to take a content exam.
The online course work was created by Region XIII and master teachers throughout the region. Program staff reviewed it to ensure that it aligns with the state standards and provides training necessary for candidates to pass the state exam in March. In March or April of the following year, all candidates then take the Pedagogy and Professional Responsibilities (PPR) exam. In the past, 98-99 percent of program candidates have passed this state exam.

In mid-March of the first year, all candidates begin face-to-face instruction. Required courses include Learning Foundations (human growth, development, and learning theory); Lesson Design (lesson cycle and how to incorporate standards into lessons); Classroom Environment (how to establish a positive environment); The "Learner" (instructional and questioning strategies); and Beyond the "Learner" (designed to help the candidate develop a strong philosophy regarding being an educator.)

A two-week summer field experience takes place in June, during which candidates are assigned to a summer school classroom that matches their intended level of certification. The ECP requires a two-week field experience because that is the amount of time most candidates are able to take off from their current job.
After completing the online and face-to-face preservice training and the field experience, candidates are eligible to be employed by a district for the internship year. To remain in the program at this point, candidates must obtain a position as a teacher of record at the teaching level for which they are seeking certification. Generally, over 95 percent of ECP candidates obtain positions and remain through the intern year. When they are hired, the ECP program recommends the candidate for a probationary certificate from the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). As teachers of record, candidates receive full pay and benefits for the internship year.

Candidates also receive an additional 12-18 hours of training from the ECP each month during the internship year. Some of this training is delivered over the Internet.

Mentoring, Supervision, and Support

Each ECP candidate has an on-site mentor and field supporter available during both the summer field experience and the internship year. Each mentor is selected by the campus administrator, who receives guidance from Region XIII on mentor selection guidelines. Mentors attend 15 hours of professional development provided by the ECP. The on-campus mentor and candidate are required to complete six observations during the school year. The program recommends that the mentor observe the candidate three times and the candidate observe the mentor three times. The mentor and candidate must also get together for four discussion meetings during the year.

A field supporter observes each candidate two times during the two-week summer field experience and makes four half-day visits, minimally, during the internship year. Field supporters are contracted through Region XIII and are usually educators who have a proven record in the classroom.
Before becoming field supporters, these educators attend two to four days of training developed by Region XIII. Some candidates consider the support they get from mentors and field supporters to be one of the program's greatest strengths. "I can honestly say that I don't think I would have made it through the year without my field supporter," says one candidate.

Upon successful completion of the ECP (including the internship year) and the state licensing requirements, participants typically earn a teaching certificate specific to their area of study. To receive the certificate, candidates must satisfactorily complete all ECP course work and assessments, receive at least a satisfactory rating on their teaching evaluation, pass all state board exams, receive a recommendation from their campus administrator, and be recommended by the ECP program.


The ECP is financially self-supporting. Candidates make scheduled payments that total approximately $5,200 over the 17-month program. Of this amount, $3,700 is the "internship fee," which is deducted from each candidate's paycheck on a prorated basis during the internship year. There is no cost to districts for any portion of the program, as part of the candidate's tuition pays for his or her school-based mentor.

Success Indicators

ECP's program completion rate was 89 percent during 1999-2001. According to ECP's deputy director, one of the most important benefits of becoming certified through this program is the outstanding reputation that ECP candidates enjoy in the region. Other staff members report that principals sometimes claim to prefer ECP candidates over other new teachers. When asked why, the principals reportedly cite the field support candidates receive during the induction year.

Key Success Factors

ECP leaders identify the selection process as a key factor in the program's success. They are selective and do not accept all applicants. They have a tool to identify strengths and weaknesses of potential candidates and they use it. Selectivity pays off in part because program staff can focus on supporting the candidates as they move through content, rather than on candidates who are struggling with issues outside of the content.
Program leaders also note the value of aligning the program to meet the needs of local districts and others who will be hiring their program graduates. Build a relationship with the districts you serve, they say: Take advantage of the natural relationships that are provided by proximity to schools and districts.

Alignment of the curriculum to state academic and performance standards is also key. ECP staff suggest staying in tune with the statewide education initiatives and local district initiatives. Doing so can help ensure that programs produce teachers who will be on the cutting edge and will be armed with the latest knowledge.
A candidate's relationship with his or her cohort leader is crucial. The cohort leader does most of the instruction throughout the program, and it is with this individual that a candidate can find a "safe haven" if a question or problem arises and the candidate wants to avoid taking it to someone at the school site. Program staff also point to the invaluable support provided by the field support team and mentors, without whom there would be quite a bit of anxiety among teachers and principals. Not only do the teachers have access to an extraordinary form of support, but the principals know that when they hire an ECP graduate, that teacher will have a level of support from ESC XIII that a teacher from a university education program will not generally have. This reduces the burden on the principal to be responsible for all the support needed by most first-year teachers. 

Finally, ESC XIII has a passionate, dedicated staff focused on making the program ever better.

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