The Connecticut Science Education State Assessment Program (SESAP)
Michal Lomask and Raymond Pecheone, Connecticut Department of Education
The SESAP is a new program designed to tie together accountability and support for beginning science teachers in Connecticut. The main goals for the SESAP were articulated as: a) developing an assessment system that can provide worthy information about teacher performance in relation to Connecticut Professional Science Teaching Standards, and b) creating induction programs for beginning teachers to support improvement of instruction and student learning in public schools. In addition, the program aimed to set a coherent vision for science education practices in the state by creating alignment between the program of student high school science assessment and teacher assessment.
Overall, the arching theme of the program is student learning and how to improve student learning through better teaching. But what is "better teaching?" To answer this question, we have to think about the purpose of teaching and what we would like students to do in schools. Establishing a set of standards that describe the vision for excellence in science education was, therefore, the basis for the whole program.
The second step was to articulate what teachers have to know in order to meet the established standards. The SESAP claims that in order to teach well, science teachers should know and respect their students as learners of science, they should have a wide understanding of the content and processes of science, and they should know how to bring students and science together in a learning community.
How can we build an assessment system that can support teachers and provide information about the quality of their performance at the same time? In our program we decided to base the assessment system on self-documented (portfolio materials are written/selected/organized by the teacher), standards-based (portfolio tasks and evaluation criteria are connected to a set of standards), prescriptive (portfolio follows specific guidelines) teaching portfolios. The teaching portfolios are developed by beginning teachers in their second year of teaching, after they participate in a year-long Science Teaching and Learning support seminar program. In their portfolios the teachers document their teaching and provide evidence for the learning of their students in a two-week unit of explorative science. The portfolio contains teachers' daily logs, students' work, videotaped segments of classroom and lab teaching, and teachers' reflective commentary about the quality of their teaching.
Currently, all beginning science teachers in Connecticut participate in a two-year induction program and have to submit a science teaching portfolio in order to receive a provisional science teaching license. Teachers who do not meet the state standards of teaching performance in the second year of their teaching are given an opportunity to improve their teaching and submit a new portfolio in the third year of their teaching. A second failure to meet state standards means termination of teaching in Connecticut's schools.