Supporting Teachers in the Midst of COVID-19

Carrie Murthy

For 20 years, Westat’s management of the U.S. Department of Education’s Title II data collection, the only national data on each state’s teacher preparation and credentialing systems, has unfolded seamlessly. Not surprisingly, 2020 presented unprecedented challenges. In a typical year, the data collection hits predictable milestones: teacher preparation programs submit annual Institution and Program Report Cards (IPRCs) to their states by April 30, and states, in turn, submit State Report Cards (SRCs) to the Department by October 31. But what happened when COVID-19 interrupted this process last year? Carrie Murthy, a Westat Senior Study Director, gives us a view from the inside. She directs the Title II data collection and has a team that provides outreach, training, and technical assistance to 59 states and jurisdictions and 1,200+ teacher preparation providers nationwide.

Title II’s data informs key teacher workforce efforts across the country, including initiatives to diversify the teacher workforce and fill teacher shortages in key subject areas.

“When COVID abruptly shut down schools across the country and forced them into the virtual universe, we had to quickly adapt to the rapidly changing needs and circumstances,” says Ms. Murthy.

Working closely with the states through the early months of the pandemic, she explains, was crucial to understand the barriers and challenges, communicate those with the Department, and respond with appropriate guidance: “More than ever, our ability to be an effective liaison was critical to a successful data collection. We have strong relationships with state coordinators and teacher preparation program representatives, and we could quickly get a pulse on the challenges they were facing.”

Ms. Murthy says the pandemic triggered significant logistical challenges. “Like many professionals, the individuals submitting the reports had to abruptly adapt to working from home while juggling a variety of family and work responsibilities,” she notes. “They had to figure out how to turn in-person courses into online courses, and how to handle candidates who couldn’t do student teaching because K-12 schools were closed. They had limited access to office computers and data on campus. And with the IPRC deadline looming, they were under tremendous pressure.”

The first step was to work with the Department to determine whether a deadline extension could be granted—and it was. “That was the most important type of support we could provide in that moment—more time,” stresses Ms. Murthy. “It allowed them to focus on the urgent work of taking care of their program operations and participants first.”

Over those several months, Westat was able to provide individualized support as teacher preparation providers turned back to their IPRCs. Incredibly, the data collection still achieved its 100% response rate, despite COVID challenges.

By August 2020, it was time to shift to the SRC data collection, and Westat sought to further streamline operations so state staff had the support they needed at their fingertips, regardless of where or when they were working. Moving from hour-long live webinar trainings to a series of bite-size 5- to 7-minute video trainings offered coordinators that flexible support and garnered very positive feedback. “Going forward, we are likely to continue this model of training as we prepare to launch the next data collection for the 2021 IPRC,” says Ms. Murthy.

Visit the Title II Higher Education Act webpage and click on your state to explore the teacher preparation data in your state.

More than ever, our ability to be an effective liaison was critical to a successful data collection. We have strong relationships with state coordinators and teacher preparation program representatives, and we could quickly get a pulse on the challenges they were facing.

- Carrie Murthy, a Senior Study Director, Education Studies

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