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Dreams of Domains.

Scorpio Sphinx Praxis III Revisited 9-18-05

By Freddie A. Bowles
Posted from Fayetteville, Arkansas

In the last days of a pleasant summer, shortly before the start of another academic year, I traveled to the state capital, Little Rock, for one more in a series of Praxis III commitments. I checked into the Legacy, the landmark pink hotel, on a dry, sultry Tuesday evening and settled into my stately room in the original wing for a night of review and rest.

Pursuing Teaching Excellence
On the Edge of the Forgotten Zone.

The Legacy began as the Hotel Frederica in 1913. In 1935, the Peck family moved down from Northwest Arkansas and added indoor plumbing and other amenities. The hotel eventually was renamed the Sam Peck. (I am acquainted with Mr. Peck's daughter through a mutual interest, the study of Tai Chi Chuan. We were both students of Sifu Gary Lee.)

One of Arkansas's most notable sons, architect Edward Durrell Stone, added an art deco touch in 1938. In tribute to the fashion of motor inns in the 1960s, 49 rooms made up the third and final addition to this National Historic Register hotel.

The hotel has undergone two renovations since the 1960s and boasts a guest list of dignitaries: Former Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, President and Mrs. Bill Clinton, Muhammed Ali, and Sam Walton. I wondered if I might sleep as comfortably as those illustrious guests.

First a Review, Then the Test.

Wednesday began with an early call and a light breakfast with several of my fellow assessor trainees. Eight had arrived for the review and test. The remainder had scheduled for another date. Most of the eight had taken time off from in-service days at their schools to reconvene for the review and test. We were all a bit subdued and eager to get on with the challenge.

By 8:00 a.m. our summer trainer, Jacquelyn Wade, had gently rounded us up for the morning's agenda. Jacquelyn was joined by Paulette Blevins, the Praxis III Program Advisor from the Arkansas Department of Education. They would help us with any questions regarding how to score the nineteen criteria of the four domains. We were on a tight schedule, but fortunately, we could take as long as necessary to complete our evaluations for both the review and the actual test.

A formal assessment consists of three components: the preobservation interview, the classroom observation, and the postobservation interview.

NT Prepares Instruction, Class Profiles.

The novice teacher prepares several documents for the interviews before the assessment date. The pre-observation evidence for Domain A consists of the Instruction Profile and the Class Profile. The Instruction Profile provides the assessor with information about the NT's activities, methods, and materials used to obtain the learning goals, information about planning for the learning goals, and evaluation of the learning goals. The Class Profile gives information about the student demographics, classroom procedures, and physical arrangements of the room. The NT can also provide any handouts or other materials that will be used during the activities or evaluation.

In the pre-observation interview, the assessor asks the NT several questions about Domain A, "Organizing Content Knowledge for Student Learning." When the interview concludes, the two adjourn to the classroom for the observation.

During the observation, the assessor collects evidence for Domain B, "Creating an Environment for Student Learning," and Domain C, "Teaching for Student Learning." The assessor writes down exactly what happens in the classroom between the novice teacher and students and between students and students. This process is called "scripting."

After the lesson observation, the assessor and novice teacher sit for the last component of the assessment. The post-observation interview focuses on Domain D, "Teacher Professionalism." The novice teacher provides the assessor with evidence of communication with parents and answers questions about collaboration with a mentor and with other colleagues.

Once the post-observation concludes, the assessor thanks the teacher and concludes the observation.

Creating the Record of Evidence.

The assessor then takes the interview information from Domains A and D and the scripting of Domains B and C to create the "Record of Evidence." This document provides the scores and the evidence that supports the scores to determine whether or not the novice teacher passes Praxis III. If a Novice Teacher fails, they have a second opportunity to repeat the assessment.

All in all, an assessor's time falls within a twelve to twenty-four hour day when one counts the actual observations and the formulation of the written evidence. It's a very intense experience for both parties.

Our taste of this experience on Wednesday was no less intense than an actual observation. Fortunately, the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) in which Paulette's office, the Professional Licensure Office, is housed, provided us with an abundance of refreshments and a fine lunch to assuage the fatigue induced by our mental exertions.

Wednesday morning began with a welcome from Jackie, who outlined the procedure for the review. We were going to view a videotaped assessment of a first year teacher that included the pre-observation (Domain A) and post-observation (Domain D) interviews and the actual taped lesson (Domains B and C).

The Advantage of Immediate Feedback.

We were given several forms of written documentation from the novice teacher for Domains A and D. Our forms for these two domains included the scripting sheets for Domains B and C and the Record of Evidence for the summary of all Domains and their scores. We were also allowed to use our materials from the previous training session and any notes that we had made. There was, however, one important difference between the review and the actual test. Jackie and Paulette could give us immediate feedback on each domain for the review.

The review closely simulates a real-time assessment. For me, that meant attentive listening and attuned viewing. The mental motors were really revved up for speed and acuity.

Each of us was able to set up at our materials at individual tables. After the video interviews and observation concluded, we worked at our own pace to score each of the criteria in the four domains. The score range is one-three with three as the highest score.

Time to begin.

Let's Run the Tape.

We observed a videotaped fifth-grade math lesson. The first part of the process was the pre-observation interview. We examined the documents, the Class Profile and the Instruction Profile, before the interview began. Then we watched the interview between the NT and the assessor and wrote the information on our "Pre-observation Interview" sheet.

This part of the video/interview lasted about a half-hour. We were all taking notes furiously. Listening intently and writing legibly was the first hurdle. Fortunately, for the review, we were given the opportunity to write our summaries before we continued with the other domains. When we finished writing our evidence and scoring for Domain A, we took our sheets to either Jackie or Paulette for feedback. I wondered if my assessment matched the score sheet.

In earlier years of performing with the Arkansas Dance Theater, my colleagues and I would reassure ourselves after a bad rehearsal with the mantra, "Bad dress rehearsal, good performance." Well, I had to remind myself of this terse reassurance because I failed the first round. My assessment score didn't match the scorecard -- not an auspicious beginning for my first effort at scoring a new teacher.

My self-assessment? Too little mentoring experience and only "novice" familiarity with the domains and criteria.

Now how could this be for a teacher with 20-plus years of classroom experience? Shall I begin with "Back in the day...?" Let's not go there!

A Defined Set of Expectations.

Instead, I'll applaud the efforts of concerned educators, who established the Praxis III assessment. They determined a need for a mentoring process based on a defined set of expectations for novice teachers. My fellow trainees were well versed in this process. I admired their abilities to target a behavior that exemplified the criteria. I tended to ponder too deeply and then second-guess myself. I'm also just plain ole slow when learning something new.

I swallowed my disappointment, gave myself a pep talk, and reminded myself of all the techniques I share with my students when they face similar situations. Don't change your answers. Trust your intuition. Take your time. Look for key words.

Something positive and uplifting must have worked. I was successful on the next three domains.

Supplying Evidence to Support a Score.

We watched the math lesson and then scripted for 45 minutes. I had eleven pages of notes. From those notes, I had to pick out evidence to support the ten criteria for Domains B and C. I was redeemed. I had only missed two of the scores. My confidence (or "self-efficacy" in educationese) was increasing.

Somewhere in the scoring of the lesson observation, we took a break for a buffet lunch. Conversations turned to more routine matters -- preparing for the school year. My peers work in K-12 public education and were in the middle of state-mandated in-service days, during which they are updated about current legislation, given training in new procedures, offered a chance to hold departmental meetings, and given time to work on planning and room arrangements. Everyone expressed anticipation and excitement about another school year.

The lunch was brief, delicious, and refreshing, but we were also eager to return to the final stage of the review: Domain D. I passed this one, too, but I had a one-point difference on the last criteria. I was disappointed in my scoring. This is where the consultations with Jackie and Paulette were so helpful. They were able to identify the misunderstanding or the oversight that caused my errors. I had misread the scoring rubric for a 3.0. It was a mere omission of the modal verb "would." I had understood the score to indicate an action that was concrete and had already happened.

By five o'clock I was finished with the review, and I can honestly say it had finished me. I was ready to leave the Legacy and strike off on an evening walk to explore downtown Little Rock.

Expecting Cosmopolitan Vibrancy,
I Find the Forgotten Zone.

It was a nostalgic jaunt. Many years ago my husband and I had moved to Little Rock from my hometown in eastern Arkansas. Our son was almost three. We found a new home in my husband's boyhood neighborhood in the inner city. At that time, I was mostly a stay-at-home Mom, teaching some ballet classes and performing with the Arkansas Dance Theater. My husband worked a couple of blocks from our 100-year-old Quapaw Quarter cottage. Son Marcus and I would often join him for lunch at MacArthur Park or at one of the downtown plazas. I hold fond memories of our "urban" life in the capital city, so when I set out on my walk Wednesday evening, I expected to find a vibrant, cosmopolitan liveliness in the old city.

I headed east on Capitol Avenue and was stunned by the stark bleakness of the once vibrant downtown center. The sidewalks were uneven and cracked. Windows were boarded up and old familiar hole-in-the-wall cafes were vacant. One hopeful venture, the Oval Gallery, brightened the drabness with its colorful displays of ceramics and paintings, but for the most part the buildings were deserted. Turning north on Main Street, I sought out the nearby River Market as an antidote to the aura of despair and neglect that stared back at me from the blank facades of cracked plate glass on the storefronts.

Block after block of empty neglect made for a dulled and forlorn trail to Markham Street and the affluent River Market Area. There tourists waited to ride the trolley, visit the posh boutiques, or pop in to a pub for a microbrew. After the melancholy trek through the forgotten zone, I just couldn't bear to stay amidst the bright lights and nouveau glitz, so I circled back quickly to Center Street and returned to the seclusion of my quiet room at the Legacy. I needed to review anyway.

Que Será Será

I awoke on Thursday with a calm acceptance of que será será. I had prepared, reviewed, and slept well. Test day began with a light breakfast in the cozy dining area. We were a subdued group, ready to face the challenge of assessing a novice teacher.

We adjourned to the common room where Jackie and Paulette had readied the materials. We knew the routine, but for this go around, we received packaged test materials, "signed, sealed, and delivered."

Our packets in hand, we listened to Jackie review the procedures. First, we would watch the pre-observation interview. Immediately afterwards, we would view the videotaped lesson. We would conclude the process with the post-observation interview. After the video, we were given as much time as we needed to enter our data in the Record of Evidence. Lunch was scheduled for mid-day. When we finished, we would turn in all our materials to either Jackie or Paulette. Scores, we were told, would arrive in about three weeks.

And we were off.

I cleared my thoughts, took a deep breath, and focused my attention on the novice teacher. My evidence indicated that she was a competent and knowledgeable first-year teacher with her greatest strengths in Domain C. I hope the assessor scores agree.

The Emphasis on Objectivity.

I realized how subjective even the most stringent rubrics could be, especially in Domains C and D, where the evidence comes from the scripting. I struggled with deciding how many points the NT should receive for each criterion. My intuition clashed with the documentation I had collected during the lesson. I had to remind myself of Jackie and Mo's emphasis on being an objective observer.

I finished before 6:00 p.m., and said my farewells to the few who were still writing. The scores have not yet arrived, so I remain in suspense.

However, I have used my evolving knowledge to guide instruction in the classes I teach at the University. Most of my students are seniors and will begin their teaching block next summer. I want them to be prepared for the Pathwise mentoring and the eventual Praxis III assessment, so class begins with a domain and a criterion. I describe it and ask them to make the connection to the lesson.

The Praxis III training also benefits another area of my responsibility as a doctoral student. I am the supervisor of ten foreign language interns in the area public schools. During their rotation, I will formally assess their performance three different times, using Domain B for the first observation, Domain C for the second, and all four domains for the last observations.

I guess I'll be dreaming in Domains for the remainder of the semester.

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