Professor Robert Lacher shakes his head in disbelief.
“Think of all the Universities that exist in the country” he said, trailing off as he holds a copy of the nine-page form he must now fill out for his Statistics course. “We’re talking hundreds of thousands of man hours.”
Lacher is referring to the STEP Alignment tool, a set of forms that intend to match objectives from college-level courses taught to future teachers to the objectives the South Dakota Board of Education has set for K-12 students in the state.
The alignment tool is one level removed from the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the Bush Administration’s sweeping 2001 education reform package.
Among the objectives of the Act is a goal to guarantee a “highly qualified” teacher for each K-12 student in the U.S.
The STEP Alignment tool is not a requirement of the NCLB Act, but the Board of Education and the Board of Regents approved the funding of a grant to allow for the alignment tool to be phased in.
Timing is apt to align college and high school education programs.
According to Brookings High School Principal Doug Beste, the South Dakota content standards test (Dakota Step) his school gives juniors after they complete the SATs is the most important test he’s ever given.
“The Dakota Step test-that’s a pretty high stakes test now, compared to any type of testing we’ve historically done in our district or in most S.D. districts,” Beste said.
The NCLB Act requires all states to set content standards for K-12 students.
Any school receiving federal funds must test their students and evaluate the results based on the state standards. Schools which fail to make the grade are eligible for assistance, and schools failing repeatedly to meet the standards may lose students and funding to other, higher scoring schools.
According to Education Professor and alignment tool organizer Kathryn Penrod, the tool’s forms will hit the desks of instructors in the Biology and Family and Consumer Sciences departments in the Spring and the English Department next fall.
Though the idea behind the tool is to make sure that future teachers get the instruction they’ll need, Penrod is quick to point out that only some of the class objectives will be expressly for those future teachers.
“It doesn’t mean that a person with a math major will not get a great deal more, but we need to make sure that they’re learning at least minimally what they’ll be teaching at the high school level,” Penrod said.
One of the courses involved is Math 102, otherwise known as College Algebra.
Professor Chris Larson teaches this and five other courses that require her to fill out the step alignment tool.
The tool takes between three and five hours to complete. Larson, along with every instructor who fills out the forms, will receive a stipend for each course.
But that stipend may not last forever.
According to Penrod, the grant for the program runs out in two years. Penrod is unsure what the ultimate goal of the program is, but she knows what she would like to see.
“I believe a dream would be that all programs that prepare teachers are aligned because the federal government wants to assure that our students are graduating well-prepared to teach high school,” she said. “In some universities, you could get a history major and study mostly Asian or Ancient History. That does not prepare you to be a high school history teacher.”