TPI: Q&A, Methodology, and How to become a teacher in Texas

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Questions and answers about TPI

Q: My child’s school has a low TPI. What does that mean?

A: It means that, compared with other schools in Texas, your school doesn’t have as many experienced, certified teachers teaching in their fields of specialty. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad school. But schools with low TPIs tend, on average, to produce lower test scores as reflected in state accountability ratings. If your school has trouble attracting and keeping qualified teachers, it may be worth asking why that’s the case. It might be because your principal is choosing more inexperienced teachers; it also might be because experienced teachers would rather work somewhere else.

Q: Are uncertified, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers necessarily bad?

A: No. There are some great rookie teachers ? and some awful veteran teachers. But research does indicate that, on average, students do better when they’re taught by teachers with at least a couple years of classroom experience. Research also seems to support that teachers who know their subject material well and teachers who are certified produce better results with kids. Some researchers and policy analysts disagree.

Q: If my school has a low TPI, does that mean my child is being taught by an underqualified teacher?

A: No. Even schools with very low TPIs and large numbers of uncertified, rookie teachers also have many experienced teachers. Just because your school scores poorly doesn’t necessarily mean your child’s teacher will be less well-prepared ? it just means the odds are greater. You can check up on a teacher’s certification at the State Board for Educator Certification Web site.

What is the Teacher Preparation Index (TPI)?

To come up with the Teacher Preparation Index (TPI) for Texas schools, The Dallas Morning News gathered data for the 2002-03 school year from the State Board for Educator Certification. SBEC tracks the qualifications of all public educators in Texas.

The analysis focused on three areas for each school:

What percentage of teachers are certified in the subjects they’re teaching? (“% certified, in field”)

What percentage of teachers have any sort of full credential, even if it’s not in the subject they’re teaching? (“% certified”)

What percentage of teachers have at least two years of classroom experience? (“% 2 or more years”)

The data were matched with demographic information supplied by the schools to the Texas Education Agency for the 2001-02 school year. There were about 400 schools for which the state reported incomplete data in that year. In most cases, that’s because the schools were too new or they were small alternative schools that enroll students for only part of the year. Those schools were eliminated from the analysis.

What remained were 7,145 schools. The schools were ranked from top to bottom statewide by percentage of teachers who qualified in each of three areas in the analysis. Schools in the top 10 percent of each area were given a rating of 10. The next 10 percent were given a 9, and so on. Schools in the bottom 10 percent in each area were given a 1.

Each school’s Teacher Preparation Index was then calculated by averaging its ratings in the three areas of analysis.

For example: In School X, 100 percent of teachers are certified and working in the field they are teaching. In addition, 100 percent have at least two years’ experience. That means School X finishes in the top 10 percent of Texas schools and gets a 10 rating in all three categories. Its TPI is 10.0.

Because the ratings go from 1 to 10 instead of 0 to 10, the statewide average TPI is 5.5.

For purposes of the TPI, only teachers possessing a standard teaching certificate are counted as certified. Other credentials ? including probationary certificates, emergency permits, one-year certificates, and non-renewable permits ? are temporary ways for teachers to be allowed into classrooms while they work toward standard certificates. This is the same definition of “certified” that SBEC uses in its own research and analyses.

For the purposes of determining who teaches “in field,” SBEC determines the portion of a teacher’s class day spent teaching in his or her specialty. For example: A certified math teacher who spends half a day teaching social studies is credited as being half in-field and half out-of-field.

One caveat: SBEC makes one exception to requirements that say teachers must be certified in the field they’re teaching. Educators who are certified as elementary school teachers may teach a middle-school subject, and be counted as in-field, if they have 18 hours of college coursework in the subject area. However, SBEC does not require schools to report when elementary teachers are used in this way. The result is that for some middle schools, the number of in-field teachers may be slightly higher than in the SBEC data used to determine TPI. Officials said this exception to the in-field requirement is used by less than 5 percent of the state’s middle-school teachers.

How to become a teacher in Texas

There are several paths to becoming a certified teacher. They all require teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and to pass a state certification test, but they can differ widely beyond that. Here are two of the most common paths:

The Traditional Path

Some people know they want to be teachers from their first day of kindergarten. For those, there’s the traditional path. Those people go to college and major in the academic field they hope to teach in. They also take a series of courses in educational theory, teaching methods and techniques related to instruction in their chosen field. Most do some sort of student teaching. When they are near college graduation, their university recommends them as being ready to take the Texas Examination of Educator Standards (TExES). The test has two parts: one on teaching methods and one on the subject area and grade level in which they’re seeking certification. Passing both tests earns them a standard certificate ? they’re fully certified. Certification is offered in dozens of subjects.

The Alternative Path

This is the most popular path for people who make a midcareer switch to teaching. While alternative certification programs differ, they typically squeeze teacher training into a short series of night and weekend classes, often in the summer before school starts. It usually doesn’t involve much, if any, time in an actual K-12 classroom. When fall arrives, they can be issued a probationary certificate. While it’s not full certification, it allows them to get a job in a Texas public school. They’re usually assigned a mentor who checks in with them throughout the school year, and often there are further professional development classes. At the end of the year, they usually take the TExES. If they pass, their probationary certificate becomes a standard one.