University-district partnerships to improve field experiences: Associations with candidate perceptions and performance

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Published: 
August, 2020

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education. 2020, Vol. 94.

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this study, the authors examined a program designed to improve the quality of field experiences provided in graduate certification programs for initial teacher licensure.
The purpose of this study was to compare the experiences of Early Field Immersion School (EFIS) candidates to business-as-usual candidates, in order to ascertain if a clinical model built on the three core features of EFIS (authentic partnerships, increased structures, and increased supports) was associated with candidates’ perceptions of their readiness for teaching, candidates’ knowledge/skills for teaching, and university faculty perceptions of candidate performance.
The researchers utilized a mixed methods approach to the study in order to more fully understand the nature of the participants’ experiences.

The authors addressed four research questions:
1) Did candidates who participated in the EFIS program report higher levels of perceived preparedness to teach than candidates who participated in the business-as-usual program?
2) Did candidates who participated in the EFIS program show higher levels of performance at program exit on assessments of knowledge and skill than candidates who participated in the business-as-usual program?
3) Were candidates who participated in the EFIS program engaged in field experiences aligned with the core features of EFIS to a greater extent than candidates in the business-as-usual program?
4) To what extent do university-based faculty associate candidate participation in EFIS with increased quality of field experiences?

The authors hypothesized that candidates enrolled in EFIS would report higher levels of perceived preparedness to teach and show higher levels of performance at program exit on assessments of knowledge and skill.
They also hypothesized that EFIS candidates would be engaged in field experiences aligned with the core features of EFIS, with an emphasis on sustained experiences, interactions with more clinical educators, greater engagement in classroom practices, and higher levels of support from university faculty as well as school partners.
Finally, they speculated that university-based faculty would report that EFIS candidates were better prepared to synthesize theory and practice than business-as-usual candidates.

Methodology and methods

Participants and setting
Candidates - Participants included 171 candidates enrolled in one of the college’s graduate certificate (GC) programs to prepare for initial teaching licensure.
All GC candidates have an undergraduate degree appropriate to the licensure areas they are seeking and have met admission requirements for their respective programs.
For the current study, the authors only included candidates who completed student teaching between Fall 2016 and Spring 2018. Altogether, they considered the experiences of 57 candidates enrolled in EFIS and 114 in a “business-as-usual” comparison group.

University-based faculty selection - University-based faculty participants included 11 faculty members: six clinical supervisors who served as EFIS liaisons with school sites and five course instructors.
All had worked with several EFIS candidates, as well as business-as-usual candidates, and could speak to program differences.
The EFIS model emphasized three core features:
(a) authentic partnership with school districts on placement of candidates;
(b) early placement notifications to allow candidates to plan their field placement trajectory, combined with the integration of a yearlong internship placement for student teaching; and
(c) increased structure and supports for candidates during field placements.
EFIS was structured such that EFIS candidates had just two sites for all field experiences:
the first placement site was assigned for Semester One, and a second placement site beginning in Semester Two, where the candidate remained through the end of the student teaching experience.
Candidates were required to complete a minimum of 30 clinical hours each semester, with at least ten visits to the school site.
EFIS featured support from both clinical educators and EFIS liaisons throughout a candidate’s entire clinical experience.
EFIS candidates were assigned checklists of clinical activities to pursue during their early placements.

Procedures
Field Experience Logs - At the end of each semester prior to student teaching, the authors asked candidates to complete a Field Experience Log.
Candidates submitted the logs online.

Exit Surveys (end of student teaching) - The exit survey is an online survey opened for all candidates at the end of the student teaching semester.

Educative Teacher Performance Assessment - EdTPA - All GC candidates completed edTPA during the final semester of student teaching for the Education Preparation Program (EPP).

Focus Group - The authors convened a focus group with five EFIS candidates (pseudonyms beginning with the letter S) from the Middle Grades/Secondary program.

Interviews - Each of the 11 university-based faculty participants participated in a semi-structured interview conducted by a member of the research team in a private office on campus.

Findings and discussion
The authors learned that participation in EFIS was associated with candidates’ experiences of the structure of their placements. EFIS candidates spent significantly more time at placement sites.
In fact, EFIS candidates spent five to ten more hours in their field placements prior to student teaching.
They also saw that more clinical educators observed or interacted with EFIS candidates.
This was expected given that EFIS candidates were assigned to a team of clinical educators at each school, instead of a single clinical educator.
Consistent with quantitative data indicating that EFIS candidates spent more time in their placement schools, interviewees commented on the increased amount of time spent in placements as a critical feature of EFIS.
They viewed the sustained placement experience as valuable for providing candidates with opportunities to build relationships.
This is consistent with literature suggesting candidates were more effective in their classroom practice once they entered the teaching field due to improved socialization with teachers as part of the EPP (McCray et al., 2011).
However, enrollment in EFIS was not associated with candidates’ outcomes at program exit in the ways that the authors hypothesized.
EFIS enrollment was not significantly associated with performance on edTPA or with candidates’ cumulative GPA.
This was an interesting finding, in that they assumed increased familiarity and time with the school culture/setting would also increase candidate performance on edTPA in particular.
This raised questions about connections between edTPA success and the time spent in field placements.
Other studies have noted a connection between student teaching placement characteristics and novice teacher success (Bastian & Patterson, 2018).
Interestingly, although EFIS candidates were spending more time in their placements and interacting with additional clinical educators, EFIS enrollment was not associated with candidates’ reports of applying their coursework within their field experiences, working with diverse students, or even perceptions that their placements began early enough in the semester to complete these activities.
These results are at odds with qualitative findings indicating that both EFIS candidates and liaisons valued early entry at field placement sites, the EFIS checklists, and increased support via the liaison.
EFIS liaisons in particular had a lot to say about utilizing communication to build positive relationships with candidates, which made it possible to track candidate progress and assist in problem-solving with school personnel as needed.
Collaborations with P-12 educators allowed for the collection of authentic feedback to incorporate into university classrooms resolving the disconnect that is sometimes evident between theory and viable practice (Schuster, 2014).
Liaisons supported efficient interventions when concerns regarding specific candidates emerged (Davies et al., 2015).
Candidates received multiple levels of authentic feedback from both university faculty and school partners, rather than from secondhand reports known to be less effective (Holen & Yunk, 2014).
The authors speculate that inconsistency between the quantitative and qualitative findings could be explained by differences in the two samples.
Perhaps the EFIS candidates who participated in the focus group built off each other’s positive comments, while the larger, quantitative sample had greater variability in experiences of these core EFIS constructs.
One of the most surprising results was that EFIS participants perceived lower levels of preparedness as measured on the Exit Surveys.
This result was in conflict with the qualitative findings, in which faculty noted that EFIS candidates were better prepared than their counterparts for the student teaching semester.
In interviews, EFIS liaisons and faculty reported that engagement in the EFIS checklists and increased supports during field placements were valuable for facilitating candidates’ preparedness for the field.
They reported that this was particularly true when candidates actually engaged in the activities and utilized the supports as intended.
One possibility for these findings is that through the increased time spent in schools and additional engagement with teachers/teaching styles, EFIS candidates became more aware of what they had not yet learned, noting their perceived lack of preparation on the Exit Survey.
Altogether, the authors believe these findings demonstrate how structural components of field experiences may be relatively simple to measure and to improve upon in response to the literature and to partner needs, but that assessment of surface-level features such as the number of hours or mentors may not be enough to understand candidates’ experiences and their impact on candidate success.
More research is needed to understand candidates’ development during field experiences.

Conclusion
Through the EFIS model, the authors sought to find a better way of preparing their GC population to become effective teachers while at the same time developing authentic and purposeful relationships with their district and school partners.
They accomplished this task up to a point.
While the structure and supports of the EFIS program appeared beneficial, questions of sustainability and effectiveness remained.
Increased supports to candidates and increased interactions with P-12 partners were positively perceived by university faculty.
However, program participation was not associated with increased edTPA scores or GPA.
In addition, candidates did not report increased perceptions of preparedness at program exit.
Overall, this study contributes to the literature by taking a deep dive into candidates’ field experiences prior to student teaching.
Findings suggest that more nuanced measurement of candidates’ experiences may be useful in identifying levers for improvement in teacher preparation.

References
Bastian, K. C., & Patterson, K. M. (2018). Placed for success? An analysis of student teaching placements and novice teacher performance. Education policy initiative at Carolina. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Davies, L. M., Dickson, B., Rickards, F., Dinham, S., Conroy, J., & Davis, R. (2015). Teaching as a clinical profession: Translational practices in initial teacher education e an international perspective. Journal of Education for Teaching, 41(5), 514e528. 
Holen, M. C., & Yunk, D. C. (2014). Benefits of 25 years of school district-university partnerships to improve teacher preparation and advance school renewal. Educational Considerations, 42(1), 49e54. 
McCray, E. D., Rosenberg, M. S., Brownell, M. T., deBettencourt, L. U., Leko, M. M., & Long, S. K. (2011). The role of leaders in forming school-university partnerships for special education teacher preparation. Journal of Special Education Leadership, 24(1), 47e58
Schuster, D. (2014). Creating more seamless connections between university-based coursework and school-based mentoring. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 50(4), 170e174. 

Updated: Oct. 21, 2020
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