Craig Mertler gives teachers tools for success

  Dr. Craig Mettler

American K-12 teachers are facing many more demands for accountability for what students learn in their classrooms, says Dr. Craig Mertler, educational foundations and inquiry (EDFI).

With that in mind, he is attempting to help teachers learn to use standardized tests and interpret statistical data—subjects generally held in low regard by teachers and students alike—to improve their teaching and customize their methods to the needs of their students.

Mertler has written four books since 2000 and has just signed a contract for another. The books are designed for both pre-service and in-service teachers as well as graduate students in education.

Combining his expertise in research methods, statistics, and measurement and assessment with his experience as a high school science teacher, he aims his work at creating better teachers and presenting usable information to them in a readable, accessible manner.

“Math and research methods are topics most people don’t like and tend to avoid. I want to say to teachers, ‘Don’t shy away from them, but try to learn how they can help you do your job—helping students learn—more effectively,’” Mertler said.

And while most students and teachers don’t like standardized tests, he adds, “my argument is that since standardized tests are not going to go away, especially with the No Child Left Behind law, why not use them as another source of data to help make effective decisions about what students are and are not learning?”

He is excited about the new book he is working on, Strategies for Data-Driven Instructional Decision Making, to be published in 2007 by Sage Publications. Again, the current climate of enhanced accountability has made the topic very timely, he said.

In 2001, when No Child Left Behind was introduced, he conducted what he said were successful districtwide workshops with the Bowling Green City Schools on interpreting data from test scores. Teachers can now look at tests and see which content students seem to be having trouble with and then use that information to adapt their teaching methods accordingly.

“Now that they’ve gotten into it, it’s become just something they do, and their test scores have reflected that,” said Mertler, who is also a member of the Bowling Green Board of Education. For Strategies for Data-Driven Instructional Decision Making, he plans to conduct interviews with Bowling Green teachers and administrators on their experience with the methodology.

“Craig Mertler is one of the most professional authors I’ve worked with since becoming an acquisitions editor,” said Diane McDaniel of Sage, with whom Mertler is collaborating for the second time.

His expertise in the field has also resulted in his being invited to contribute chapters to two books. The first, for reporters, is on linking curriculum alignment and test scores, and the second, for teachers, is on designing scoring rubrics for the classroom.

But, in addition to using tests to tell them how their students are doing, teachers can conduct their own studies, Mertler says. His most recent book is Action Research: Teachers as Researchers in the Classroom, also published by Sage.

“It provides the methodology to enable teachers to do research in their own classrooms, and to find results that are perfectly applicable in their classroom and their building,” he explained. “As teachers, we always try new things anyway, keeping the things that work and discarding those that don’t work. The book simply gives a way to do that in a more systematic, formalized way.”

It helps teachers learn how to collect and analyze data, utilizing procedures that can be used in conjunction with their everyday activities. Keenly aware of teachers’ time constraints, he designed the projects and suggestions to be workable for them.

According to McDaniel, “One of the primary concerns of students in K-12 teacher preparation and certification programs is that the focus of their courses be practical and directly applicable to their work in the classroom. In my interchanges with instructors, they tell me that they are constantly juggling their need to impart the big picture, which includes more theoretical and research-based material, to students who are understandably focused on preparing to work with their students.

“Action Research: Teachers as Researchers in the Classroom brings these potentially competing needs into perfect balance by focusing on research methods and procedures that teachers can use in conjunction with their everyday instructional practices and activities in classrooms.”

Mertler says he feels the action research methodology has great potential for increasing student learning because of its applicability to the specific setting. “I hope people will use it as a resource for professional development, and that local school districts will incorporate it in classrooms” as a means of improving teaching and, concurrently, test scores, he said.

“I want to encourage teachers to deeply look at and reflect on their own practice,” Mertler said. “Teaching is a profession, and if we want to be viewed as professionals, we need to do that.”

This year, he and his colleague Dr. Rachel Vannatta, also EDFI, co-authored the third edition of Advanced and Multivariate Statistical Methods: Practical Application and Interpretation, published by Pyrczak. It is aimed at the master’s and doctoral-level student.

He also is revising the fifth edition of Introduction to Educational Research, a hands-on, introductory text for graduate students composing their first educational research project. Published by Pearson, an imprint of Allyn and Bacon, it provides eight research methods and teaches learners to prepare a research plan, gather and analyze data, address research questions and hypotheses and organize a report on their findings. Mertler, who was initially asked to revise the fourth edition of the book first written in 1985 by Dr. C.M. Charles of San Diego State University, said the goal is to “take it to the next level and keep it current, trying to be responsive to the needs of the people who use the book and their students.”

For undergraduate pre-service teachers, he has written Classroom Assessment: A Practical Guide for Educators, published in 2003 by Pyrczak. Designed for use in both elementary and secondary classrooms, it provides basic information on the various forms of assessment and on designing tests and developing rubrics for grading. “This is the kind of information pre-service teachers really come to need when they’re faced with the actual classroom,” Mertler explained.

Mertler’s work exemplifies the concepts of the scholarship of engagement. “It all comes down to application,” he said. “Everything I do, from research to writing, is done to try to shed greater light on the work done by K-12 teachers and to hopefully enable them to help children learn more.”

December 19, 2005