The Road to More Effective Disposition Assessment

September 18, 2023 Jessica Fillingame

At The University of Tampa, we’ve always known that successful teacher candidates do more than just know content and teach it well. In our teacher education program, we found that formal monitoring and assessing of total candidate performance in course and clinical experiences have been imperative to ensuring that we prepare teachers to do more than just deliver content.

While most teacher education programs have ways to assess pedagogical and content knowledge and skills, many find professional dispositions the most challenging component to gauge as an indicator of high-quality teaching.

What follows is the road we traveled to get our educator prep program to a place that allowed us to better prepare our teacher candidates to possess high-quality professional dispositions.

What Exactly is a Disposition &
Why is it Important?

Borko, Liston, and Whitcomb (2007) explain that are a person’s tendencies to act in a given manner based on personal beliefs under particular circumstances. Tendencies imply a pattern of behavior that is predictive of future actions. Therefore, we believe that dispositions demonstrated by candidates’ performance in either the classroom or the field are likely to continue when they begin teaching full time.

In fact, a substantial amount of research shows a strong relationship between teacher dispositions and teacher effectiveness. The attitudes, ideals, and principles teachers hold regarding their students, teaching, and themselves strongly influence their impact on student learning and development.

Starting with a Dispositions Checklist

In addition to our own desire to better assess candidate dispositions, the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP)—as well as state departments of education and other professional organizations—require educator preparation programs to develop appropriate assessment devices to measure and document teacher candidate dispositions.

Originally, the University of Tampa’s disposition accountability process started as a simple, informal checklist of behaviors. Professors assessed certain behaviors in each candidate entering the educator preparation program. If the checklist ratings weren’t too low, then the candidate was admitted.

However, we started noticing that even though a candidate may have had positive informal assessment in the classroom, evidenced by the checklist ratings, it didn’t necessarily translate into effective clinical experiences after admission. This finding led us to start thinking more deeply about measuring dispositions formally, so that any decisions made about the candidate based on disposition would be done on solid ground. In other words, we needed to validate the indicators so that we would have a more trustworthy measure.

That was nearly eight years ago, about the time national accrediting agencies started to mandate the assessment of candidate dispositions by providing evidence of validated indicators and estimates of reliability. Our timing couldn’t have been better!

Moving Closer to Formal Disposition Assessment

After the initial checklist experiment, we started researching what other universities were saying about candidate dispositions and which behaviors indicated good disposition, to delineate a list of expertly-rated, associated behaviors. We then interviewed all sorts of evaluators to get descriptive behaviors associated with each indicator. Well over 700 hours of research, interviews, and planning sessions later, we developed the Educator Disposition Assessment (EDA).

We designed this instrument with careful consideration of the psychometric properties associated with informal assessment, so that any inferences made about a teacher’s disposition are more likely to be true. Psychometric evaluation efforts were made that far extend expectations associated with informal assessments. This effort was grounded in a sincere attempt to clear any confusion about informally communicated dispositions so that growth in those areas may be enhanced during coursework and subsequent clinical experience.

The EDA is intended to be used at multiple points in the program to track and monitor candidate dispositions that are associated with positive learning impact of P-12 students. The suggested checkpoints provide a systematic review of candidate dispositions as they progress through the program. At any time, the survey is available to faculty, cooperating teachers, university supervisors, and other professional educators who feel the need to share professional insight on a candidate.

The EDA Impact at The University of Tampa

Transparency & Reflection
We began using the EDA to both raise concerns and identify exemplary dispositional behavior of candidates as they progressed through the program. To provide visibility into the process, we used it to inform teacher candidates of a program’s dispositional expectations and to assess baseline dispositional data. Informal disposition assessment prior to program admission provides the teacher candidates with the opportunity to reflect on their individual dispositions and a chance to alter behaviors based on the reflection.

Candidate Feedback
The EDA also serves as a teaching point for students, because they will have a better grasp on expectations once exposed to the assessments. Assessment before admission to an education program provides the Education department/school/college a chance to respond to any students who have low ratings on one or more dispositions. The department/school/college may elect to implement an intervention/remediation process and plan for those students receiving low ratings in hopes of avoiding larger issues in the future.

Documenting Changes
We then used the EDA as candidates progressed through programs to document where and when changes (good or bad) occurred in dispositions and under what set of circumstances. Candidates were expected to demonstrate the dispositions identified on the EDA in coursework and in the field. Assessment in the final phase of field experience allows programs to collect data regarding the effectiveness of the assessment and remediation. Scores from an initial assessment could be compared with scores from final internship data to determine effectiveness and dispositional growth.

Hear Our Story

A far cry from just a simple checklist, we’re now collecting data at the start, addressing it throughout, and ultimately using it to improve our candidate’s outcomes to positively impact student learning. Traveling this long road has inspired us to share our story with others. When we were asked to present our work at a recent CAEP conference, the response was overwhelming!

Attend our March 20 webinar and visit our EDA resource page to learn more.

Effective Disposition Assessment with WatermarkPictured (L to R):
Dr. Pattie Johnston, Director of the Master’s in Education Program
Dr. Adrianne Wilson, Graduate Coordinator/Educational Leadership 
Dr. Gina Almerico,  Director of Educator Preparation Programs
The University of Tampa

Borko, H., Liston, D., & Whitcomb, J. (2007). Apples and Fishes: The debate over dispositions in teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 58, 359-364.

The post "The Road to More Effective Disposition Assessment" appeared first on Watermark.

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