ERIC Identifier: ED259452
Publication Date: 1984-00-00
Author: Ellis, Thomas I.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management Eugene OR.

Teacher Competency: What Administrators Can Do. ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management: ERIC Digest, Number Nine.

Recent concern for the quality of education has placed pressure on school administrators to assess and upgrade the competency of their teaching staff. No simple formula exists for measuring teacher competency, however, nor are any new methods guaranteed to improve the quality of instruction.

Nevertheless, by combining clinical supervision, teacher evaluation, and inservice education, on one hand, and incentive programs and innovative instructional leadership, on the other, administrators can increase the likelihood of attracting and retaining competent and devoted professionals in their classrooms.


Before instituting minimum standards of competency or assessing teaching staff, administrators must carefully define competency. According to Pearson (1980), three judgments must be made to identify a person as a competent teacher:

--What standards must a teacher meet to teach satisfactorily rather than minimally?

--What skills are required in general for a person to perform at this level?

--Does the person in question have these requisite skills?

Researchers, who must rely on measurable outcomes, tend to define effective teachers as those whose students show statistically significant gains on reading and mathematics achievement tests. The researchers then identify teaching behaviors correlated with these gains.

Other, more subjective qualities have been associated with effective teaching. These include positive expectations, inspirational leadership, and a wide repertoire of teaching skills and motivational techniques (since no one instructional technique or model will work with all students all the time). An essential attribute of good teaching is therefore sound judgment and good sense--qualities that cannot be reduced to finite, measurable skills. Established criteria for teacher competency can at best delineate what is necessary, but not sufficient, for effective teaching.


Until recently, the assumption has been that state certification requirements, as implemented by colleges of education, were sufficient to ensure an adequate level of teacher competency. In response to widely publicized reports of teachers deficient in basic skills, two more rigorous methods of screening prospective teachers have been proposed: standardized tests for teachers and internship programs (or probationary appointments).

Proponents of teacher testing draw an analogy between education and other professions such as law or medicine to suggest that entrance examinations are an appropriate way to maintain professional standards, to weed out incompetent teachers, and to attract higher quality applicants.

Opponents of teacher testing question whether it will lead to higher quality applicants. As Hyman has observed, people are attracted to a given field by improved working conditions and higher salaries--not simply by more stringent entrance requirements (1984). If such tests are to be adopted, most educators maintain that they should be criterion-referenced and validated against performance requirements, rather than against training programs.


According to Joki (1982), school boards can help improve the quality of teaching by writing strong, clear policies on administrative accountability (including provisions for instructional leadership); on teacher recruitment, supervision, and evaluation; on an instructional model keyed to specific objectives; and on inservice training for administrators and teachers. Superintendents also might provide principals with clerical assistance to free more time for classroom observation, clinical supervision, demonstration teaching, and staff development (Joki 1982).

Teacher evaluation, in addition to its customary function of establishing a basis for promotion, retention, or dismissal of teachers, can also be a valuable tool for improving instructional effectiveness. A good evaluation program should emerge from the cooperative efforts of teachers and their evaluators in identifying broad areas of responsibility and specific objectives (Joki 1982). Thus teachers will "own" an evaluation program, rather than have one arbitrarily imposed.

Besides monitoring teacher performance, a specific objective of teacher evaluation should be to set measurable job improvement targets (Sweeney and Manatt 1982). Once targets are set, the principal and teacher work out a specific plan of action within a given time frame, and then review the teacher's progress in conference. Such clinical supervision promotes a school climate in which continuous improvement becomes an essential part of every teacher's job.

In addition to setting and clarifying expectations, administrators can also employ incentives to induce teachers to excel in their profession. These include merit pay plans, career options (including career ladders), enhanced professional responsibilities (for example, master teacher plans), nonmonetary recognition such as annual awards, and improved working conditions.


Flippo, Rona F., and Carol R. Foster. "Teacher Competency Testing and Its Impact on Educators." JOURNAL OF TEACHER EDUCATION 35 (March-April 1984):10-13.

Gudridge, Beatrice M. TEACHER COMPETENCY: PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS. AASA Critical Issues Report. Arlington, VA and Sacramento, CA: American Association of School Administrators and Education News Service, 1980. ED 182 868.

Hyman, Ronald T. "Testing for Teacher Competence: The Logic, The Law, and The Implications." JOURNAL OF TEACHER EDUCATION 35 (March-April 1984):14-18.

Joki, Russell A. "Make Teacher Competency Your Policy." AMERICAN SCHOOL BOARD JOURNAL 169 (November 1982):32.

Pearson, Allen T. "The Competency Concept." EDUCATIONAL STUDIES 11 (Summer 1980):145-152.

Shanker, Albert, and James Gordon Ward. "Teacher Competency and Testing: A Natural Affinity." EDUCATIONAL MEASUREMENT: ISSUES AND PRACTICE 1 (Summer 1982):6-9, 26.


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