Utah State School Board proposes putting teaching coaches in schools

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Representatives of the Utah State Board of Education met with the Education Interim Committee on Thursday, Oct. 16, to discuss ways to improve early childhood education. (Savannah Hopkinson)

SALT LAKE CITY — An $18 million proposal to put teaching coaches in schools is before a Utah legislative committee.

Representatives of the Utah State Board of Education met with the Education Interim Committee on Thursday, Oct. 16, to discuss ways to improve early childhood education in preschool through third grade.

Jennifer Throndsen, director of teaching and learning for the Utah State Board of Education, told committee members the board’s data shows that only one or two children in each class are proficient in math and reading by the end of third grade. “If we want to see outcomes change and not just have one or two students be proficient, we need to invest in our teachers and their ability to meet the needs of the students they serve.”

The state board’s proposal would include a teacher-centered curriculum focused on improving teachers’ skills through job-embedded coaching.

“With job-embedded coaching training, 95% of teachers will change and improve their teaching skills as opposed to 0% changing through theory and discussion training,” Throndsen said.

Under this curriculum, teachers would meet with a professional coach between teaching sessions to discuss their teaching ability and ways they can improve the impact they make on their students.

Committee Chairwoman Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, interrupted the presentation to question the suggestion that current teacher training isn’t effective. “We’ve been spending a lot of time, effort and money the past few years to increase professional training, and you’re telling us that it’s doing absolutely nothing whatsoever?” Henderson asked.

Throndsen said the Legislature’s efforts aren’t effective without coaching.

“Our rural and charter schools don’t have instructional coaching in place so they don’t have the ability to follow up on their professional learning. If we really want to change practice, it requires job-embedded coaching,” she said.

The proposed change would also include measures to improve mathematics skills.

Shannon Olsen, the Utah State Board of Education’s elementary math specialist, addressed the committee about the need to include mathematics education for young students.

“Research shows that students who do well in mathematics in their early years have greater success in reading and mathematics in later years,” Olsen said. “We propose that the early literacy plan would be converted into a learning plan to address both literacy and numeracy in our pre-kindergarten through third grade.”

To help the board understand where a student’s numeracy can be improved, Olsen proposed more math assessment exams for students in the pre-kindergarten to third grade.

“In first and second grade, we do not have a statewide math assessment. We have no data on first and second graders in mathematics at the state level,” Olsen said.

Throndsen concluded that it would take about $18 million to embed a professional learning practice that would enhance positive outcomes for students. Many committee members showed support for the proposal.

“I think it’s really important for us to look at what’s going on in our younger grades,” said Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights.

Rep. Dan Johnson, R-Logan, also voiced his support. “We cannot afford to not do things like this. If we really are talking about making changes in kids’ lives, this is the place where we need to put our money.”

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