Info icon
A fresh look at Clinical Practice
In March 2024, NCTQ produced a new framework that identifies six focus areas backed by research and supported by the field as the most important for building a quality clinical practice experience. See what actions teacher prep programs, districts, and states should take to build strong clinical practice experiences for aspiring teachers.

Brand new teachers who had a quality clinical experience are just as effective as teachers with 3 years of experience.

Most teacher candidates prepared in traditional programs—be they undergraduate or graduate—spend a semester, if not a year, working alongside a mentor teacher in a K-12 classroom. At its best, this experience makes it possible to learn how to teach from a "pro," and provides future teachers with guidance and support as they practice the skills that will be essential for success in their own classrooms.


of traditional programs don't screen their mentor teachers sufficiently

Although many elements contribute to the success of student teaching, residency, internship, and other experiences often referred to as clinical practice, top-performing programs on this standard share three essential components:

  1. Participants have an extended opportunity to participate in clinical practice in a mentor's classroom. This experience lasts for at least ten weeks and takes place for most, or all, of the school day. (Alternative route programs—not including residencies—do not include this component and therefore cannot qualify for an A or B grade).

  2. A supervisor from the program observes each teacher candidate at least four times during the semester of clinical practice (or the latter half of the year if it is a full-year), providing written feedback with each observation. In alternative route programs where participants work almost immediately as the teacher of record, supervisors need to observe these novices just as often.

  3. The program plays a role in selecting the mentor teacher who will guide teacher candidates during clinical practice — requiring the mentor teacher to have the skills needed to mentor another adult and be an effective instructor, as measured by student learning.

Info icon
Get specific guidance on how to improve clinical practice.
Review our Promising Practices

Most traditional programs—with their partner schools—are still not doing enough to ensure clinical practice quality.

Clinical Practice Grades in All Editions of the TPR (Traditional Programs)

Grades summarize program performance on the three indicators (length, supervisory visits, and selection of the mentor teacher), and have been adjusted to reflect changes in scoring between 2013 and 2020. This data does not include alternative certification programs. Figures may not add to 100% due to rounding.

Most traditional programs earn a C, typically because they include at least ten weeks as an apprentice to an experienced teacher and require university supervisors to provide adequate feedback, but don't confirm that selected mentor teachers are high-quality.

Almost all traditional programs schedule ten weeks or more of intensive clinical experience, the first essential component.

Length of Student Teaching (Traditional Programs)

Most traditional programs (71%) provide enough observations from a supervisor, the second essential component.

Supervisor Observations (Traditional Programs)

Figures may not add to 100% due to rounding.

Almost no traditional programs take an active role in screening mentor teachers.

Program Role in Screening Mentor Teachers (Traditional Programs)


Since 2013, traditional programs have not made much progress under the Clinical Practice standard.

Most programs continue to earn a grade of C, a pattern that has not changed since 2013. The trends look no different under undergraduate or graduate level models. No improvement over time can be seen in the length of the clinical practice, the number of observations, or the selection of the mentor teacher.


Most teacher preparation programs do not assert their role with school partners in selecting classroom mentors.

A strong mentor teacher can have an outsized influence on a teacher candidate's growth during clinical practice. While mentor teacher selection should be a cooperative process involving both the teacher preparation program and the placement school, currently, only 4% of traditional teacher preparation programs in the sample check that mentor teachers have either or both of two essential skills: mentorship skill, and instructional skill. Typically, programs send schools a list of student teachers who need mentors and accept the teachers that the schools propose. The one exception is that programs may push back when they have had prior negative experiences with a teacher.

Many programs report that they are not in a position to increase their involvement in the mentor selection process because mentor selection has traditionally been the responsibility of the placement schools and because it can be hard to find teachers who are willing to serve as mentors. They are not wrong. Unfortunately, mentor teachers may be selected without active oversight by both programs and districts simply because they volunteer.


Improvement in this standard will require action by K-12 school partners.

The benefits are clear: Improving clinical experience quality will result in a stronger pool of future teachers. For school districts, improving student teaching can be a clear path to improving the teacher pipeline.

Fulton County Schools, located outside of Atlanta, GA, shows how school districts can increase the value of student teaching as both a training opportunity and as a pathway to hiring great teachers. Fulton County created the First STEP internship program, in which student teachers are matched with the very best classroom teachers for a year-long experience in Fulton County schools. Student teachers, who are carefully screened, are attracted by a $3,000 stipend and guaranteed early consideration for jobs. Classroom teachers must show strong mentorship, instructional, and classroom management skills to be considered as mentors. Fulton County describes the First STEP program as enriching its teacher pipeline by attracting the best student teachers, supporting them, and raising the likelihood of their being hired by Fulton County once they are certified.

School districts which want to improve their hiring pool should take similar steps to improve their student teaching program by:

  • Matching student teachers with specially selected cooperating teachers who are passionate about developing aspiring teachers, have demonstrated effective instruction as measured by student learning, and have been trained in instructional coaching and mentorship.

  • Placing student teachers in effective schools.

  • Providing stipend and scholarship opportunities for selected student teachers.

  • Giving student teachers priority consideration for a full-time job the following year, as long as their performance is acceptable.

In future iterations of this standard, there will be a more formal acknowledgment and measurement of the role that partner schools must play in securing a high-quality practice teaching experience.


Alternative programs and residencies screen mentor teachers more carefully than traditional programs.

Program Role in Screening Mentor Teachers
(Traditional and Non-Traditional Programs)

The vast majority of elementary certification programs are university-based programs offering traditional student teaching. However, NCTQ also evaluated 59 non-traditional programs on the Clinical Practice standard. Residencies, which incorporate a year-long experience in a mentor teacher's classroom, tend to perform well on all three aspects of the Clinical Practice standard, including setting high standards for their mentor teachers. Non-residency based, alternative route programs also are more likely to identify high-quality mentor teachers than their traditional counterparts. Where these programs struggle is in providing enough time for clinical practice. Only a handful of the alternative route programs in this analysis offer practice under a mentor teacher, with those experiences typically lasting four to six weeks. Because mentors generally do not share a classroom with their mentees, instead visiting from time to time, opportunities for guidance are limited.

Promising practices

Exemplar Resources You Can Use

Analysts reviewed elements of clinical practice at more than 1200 institutions. The mentor selection processes created by the programs below stand out because they confirm that selected mentors are strong instructors and possess mentorship skills. The tools used by these programs can serve as guidance for institutions looking to strengthen their clinical practice.

Fulton County Schools provided information about their First STEP student teaching experience, and how improving their clinical practice has made it easier to hire high-quality new teachers.

Exemplary Programs

Forty elementary certification programs, including 33 university-based and seven residency programs, earned an A on this standard in 2020 because they incorporate the three essential components of effective clinical practice. Programs marked as "Consistently High Performers" received an A in every edition of the TPR in which they appeared. In addition, 16 programs below stand out because they improved their scores on the Clinical Practice Standard from an F in the edition of the TPR when they were first evaluated to an A in 2020.

Colorado Christian University
A 2020
Delaware State University
A Consistently High Performer
Daytona State College
A 2020
Valdosta State University
A 2020, Most Improved
Marian University Indianapolis
A 2020
University of Pikeville
A 2020
Louisiana State University - Alexandria
A 2016, 2020
Southeastern Louisiana University
A 2020
District of Columbia
American University
A 2020, Most Improved
University of Hawaii at Manoa
A 2020, Most Improved
Southeastern Louisiana University
A 2020, Most Improved
Johns Hopkins University
A 2016, 2020, Most Improved
New York
CUNY - City College
A 2020, Most Improved
New York
CUNY - Hunter College
A Consistently High Performer
Lipscomb University
A Consistently High Performer
Union University
A 2020, Most Improved
Alder Graduate School of Education: California Teacher Residency Program
A 2020
PEBC Teacher Residency
A 2020
District of Columbia
Urban Teachers
A 2020
Chicago Teacher Residency (AUSL)
A 2020
Boston Teacher Residency
A 2020
MATCH Teacher Residency
A 2020
New York
Relay Graduate School of Education (New York)
A 2020
How We Scored

Evaluation is based on information from a variety of sources, primarily the following:

  • Student teaching handbooks, student teaching syllabi, and other documents that describe program policies and practices during student teaching, residency, or the first year in the classroom (for non-traditional programs where participants are teachers of record)

  • Applications filled out by prospective mentor/cooperating teachers

  • Forms returned to programs by school districts with information about prospective mentor/cooperating teachers

  • Correspondence between programs and school districts during the process of selecting mentor/cooperating teachers

  • Contracts between programs and the school districts where program participants are placed for student teaching, residency, or the first year in the classroom (for non-traditional programs where participants are teachers of record)

Programs are asked to provide the documents listed above. Once they are assembled, a team of analysts reads them to collect information on 1) whether each program's clinical experiences include a period of student teaching or residency, 2) how often supervisors are required to observe candidates during clinical experiences, and 3) what role the program plays in the selection of mentor teachers.

To be hired, the analysts who work on this standard must complete a rigorous assessment of their analytical ability, which only 12% of applicants satisfy. Analysts do not begin officially rating programs until they can complete practice ratings with at least 90% agreement to experienced raters' work. To ensure consistent interrater reliability, 20% of programs are randomly selected for a second evaluation, and scoring variances are periodically assessed. Analysts may be asked to complete additional training if scoring variances are greater than 10%.

Length and Intensity of Student Teaching or Residency
For this evaluation, student teaching or residency is defined as an extended experience in which future teachers spend time in an experienced teacher's classroom.

When identifying the length of student teaching or residency, analysts look for the number of weeks during the program's final year when teacher candidates spend the equivalent of at least four days per week in an experienced teacher's classroom.

Written Feedback Based on Observations
Observations are counted if they occur during the final semester of student teaching, residency, or the equivalent. For non-traditional programs, they are counted if they occur during the first semester in which participants are teachers of record. Only observations conducted by program supervisors and that are accompanied by written feedback are relevant.

If a program does not require that written feedback is provided after each observation, analysts count the number of times that feedback based on observations is provided through a midterm and final evaluation.

Selection of Cooperating/Mentor Teachers
Recognizing that selection of mentor/cooperating teachers is a cooperative process which appropriately involves both programs and their school district partners, analysts check that programs play an active role in this process. Specifically, analysts determine whether programs collect enough information on mentors to confirm that they possess the necessary skills. This process can be accomplished in many ways: Asking cooperating teachers to fill out an application or requesting that principals comment on the skills of teachers they nominate are the most common. However, it's not enough for a principal to check "yes" or "no" on a list of criteria.

The range of relevant qualifications for which mentor teachers could be screened by programs is broad, and can include mentorship training, instructional skills, or classroom management ability. However, these qualifications must go beyond minimum standards, such as three years of experience or holding an appropriate certification. Programs are given additional credit for screening mentor teachers for demonstrated mentorship ability and instructional skills, as shown by the teacher's positive impact on students' learning.

Precise requirements for mentor teachers guide the selection process, so analysts also track whether program criteria for mentor teachers state that they should be both strong mentors of adults and highly effective instructors. However, this is not factored into overall grades.

In previous iterations of the Teacher Prep Review, traditional programs were evaluated under the Student Teaching standard and non-traditional programs under the Supervised Practice Standard. The Clinical Practice standard unifies these two standards.

Do candidates spend ten or more weeks in an experienced teacher's classroom, including at least four days per week or the equivalent in the classroom each week? What qualities does the program confirm that both new and returning mentor teachers possess? How often are program supervisors required to give student teachers written feedback based on observations?* Grade
Yes Mentorship skill and/or instructional effectiveness as measured by student learning, among other skills. At least four times A
Fewer than four times or no clear minimum is set B
Relevant skills other than mentorship skill and instructional effectiveness (as measured by student learning). At least four times B
Fewer than four times or no clear minimum is set C
Basic criteria, such as having appropriate certification and years of experience. At least four times C
Fewer than four times or no clear minimum is set D
No Mentorship skill and/or instructional effectiveness as measured by student learning, among other skills. At least four times C
Fewer than four times or no clear minimum is set D
Relevant skills other than mentorship skill and instructional effectiveness (as measured by student learning). At least four times D
Fewer than four times or no clear minimum is set D
Basic criteria, such as having appropriate certification and years of experience At least four times D
Fewer than four times or no clear minimum is set F

Research shows that several features of clinical practice have a substantial impact on the value of the experience for future teachers:

High-quality mentor teachers
Several recent studies have examined the characteristics of mentor teachers, sometimes called cooperating teachers, whose student teachers are most successful in their first teaching year. Most importantly, mentor teachers should be effective instructors, as measured by their students' learning (Ronfeldt, 2018a; Goldhaber, 2018a). Goldhaber and colleagues (2019) found that placement with an effective mentor teacher has a greater influence on a future teacher's success than the characteristics of the placement school, and calculated that, in their first year of teaching, new teachers can be as effective as typical third-year teachers if those new teachers spent their student teaching experience in the classroom of a mentor who is two standard deviations above average effectiveness. Also, some potential mentor teachers are concerned that hosting a student teacher will interfere with their own students' learning, but studies have shown that when student teachers are matched with strong mentor teachers, student learning and the mentors' evaluations are unaffected (Goldhaber 2018b; Ronfeldt, 2020). Mentor teachers have dual roles as models and coaches for their student teachers, so it is essential that they have strong mentorship skills (Ronfeldt, 2018b; Matsko, 2018).

Mentor teachers are often chosen based on factors that are not related to their effectiveness or mentorship skills, like being a willing volunteer or their number of years of teaching experience (Ronfeldt, 2018b; St. John, 2018). However, Boyd and colleagues (2009) saw benefits when teacher preparation programs provided oversight of their student teaching experience, including involvement in the selection of mentor teachers, rather than leaving the selection process entirely up to the teacher candidate or school staff. While the Clinical Practice standard focuses on the role that prep programs play, districts directly benefit from creating a strong student teaching experience because student teaching can be a powerful recruitment tool (Krieg, 2016).

Length of Clinical Practice
Many studies have documented the power of high-quality student teaching, and other forms of clinical practice, to improve teachers' effectiveness and odds of staying in the profession (NRC, 2010; Oh, 2015; AACTE, 2018; Fuller and Pendola, 2019). While the quality of the clinical experience is important, length also matters—Ronfeldt and colleagues (2014) suggested that teacher candidates should spend 8 to 11 weeks in the classroom of a mentor teacher for maximum benefit.

Observations and Feedback
Teacher candidates need frequent observations and feedback on their practice. Boyd and colleagues (2009) identified several factors that contribute to practice teaching success, including requiring supervisors to observe candidates at least five times during the semester. Rose and Church's (1998) meta-analysis of 49 studies on the effects of preservice and in-service training on practical classroom teaching behaviors and skills found stronger effects for classroom practice with performance feedback and showed the importance of frequent evaluations.

  1. American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE). (2018). A pivot towards clinical practice, its lexicon, and the renewal of educator preparation: A report of the AACTE Clinical Practice Commission.

  2. Boyd, D. J., Grossman, P. L., Lankford, H., Loeb, S., & Wyckoff, J. (2009). Teacher preparation and student achievement. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 31(4), 416-440.

  3. Fuller, E. J., & Pendola, A. (2019) Teacher Preparation and Teacher Retention:Examining the Relationship for Beginning STEM Teachers. American Association for the Advancement of Science.

  4. Goldhaber, D., Krieg, J., & Theobald, R. (2018a). Effective Like Me? Does Having a More Productive Mentor Improve the Productivity of Mentees? CEDR Work Paper No. 11232018-1-1. University of Washington, Seattle, WA.

  5. Goldhaber, D., Krieg, J., & Theobald, R. (2018b). The Costs of Mentorship? Exploring Student Teaching Placements and Their Impact on Student Achievement. Working Paper 187. National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER).

  6. Goldhaber, D., Krieg, J., Naito, N., & Theobald, R. (2019). Making the most of student teaching: The importance of mentors and scope for change. Education Finance and Policy, 1-11.

  7. Krieg, J. M., Theobald, R., & Goldhaber, D. (2016). A foot in the door: Exploring the role of student teaching assignments in teachers' initial job placements. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 38(2), 364-388.

  8. National Research Council. (2010). Preparing teachers: Building evidence for sound policy. Report by the Committee on the study of teacher preparation programs in the United States. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.

  9. Oh, D.M., Ankers, A.M, Llamas, J.M, Tomyoy, C. (2005). Impact of Pre-Service Student Teaching Experience on Urban School Teachers. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 32(1), 82-98.

  10. Ronfeldt, M., Schwartz, N., & Jacob, B. (2014). Does preservice preparation matter? Examining an old question in new ways. Teachers College Record, 116(10), 1-46.

  11. Ronfeldt, M., Brockman, S.L. and Campbell, S.L. (2018a) Does Cooperating Teachers' Instructional Effectiveness Improve Preservice Teachers' Future Performance? Educational Researcher 47(7). 405-418.

  12. Ronfeldt, M., Matsko, K.K., Greene Nolan, H., & Reininger, M. (2018b). Who Knows if our Teachers are Prepared? Three Different Perspectives on Graduates' Instructional Readiness and the Features of Preservice Preparation that Predict them. Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis.

  13. Ronfeldt, M., Bardelli, E., Brockman, S. L., & Mullman, H. (2020). Will Mentoring a Student Teacher Harm My Evaluation Scores? Effects of Serving as a Cooperating Teacher on Evaluation Metrics. American Educational Research Journal, 0002831219872952.

  14. Rose, D.J., & Church, J. R. (1998). Learning to teach: The acquisition and maintenance of teaching skills. Journal of Behavioral Education, 8(1), 5-35.

  15. St. John, E., Goldhaber, D., Krieg, J., Theobald, R. (2018) How the Match Gets Made: Exploring Student Teacher Placements Across Teacher Education Programs, Districts, and Schools. CALDER Working Paper No. 204-1018-1.


Get More Updates On Our Research