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Education Opinion

Testing for Teachers: Redux

By Ilana Garon — December 11, 2012 2 min read
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This week, I wanted to discuss some of the comments I received based on last week’s post, in which I agreed with the AFT’s suggestion that a “bar exam” for teachers would be a good idea...

Comment #1: “Teaching is an art, it can’t be measured with an exam.”
I’ll concur that teaching is a skill only acquired with tons of practice, and that a standardized test--particularly one taken as a pre-requisite, BEFORE one begins teaching--will not necessarily be a good indicator of whether someone is going to be a skilled teacher. Nevertheless, I think it’s unrealistic to stipulate that, because teaching is an art, there should be no assessments or pre-requisites to certification. Almost every profession has some type of exam for certification, and while the lawyers who read my blog were all keen to tell me that the bar exam often has no bearing on their professional practice, I haven’t heard anyone speak of eliminating it entirely.

Comment #2: “What, because we don’t have to jump through enough hoops already?”
Agreed. Most of us did have to take lots of tests, fill out lots of forms, make videos, do demo-lessons, and all kinds of other stuff. One of the benefits that I see of all the states using a national “bar exam” for teachers is that--since we have to do all kinds of procedural stuff anyway--we might as well get it standardized, so that we can have automatic reciprocity across all states. In my understanding, the “bar exam” would replace the various tests taken by teachers in different states (such as the LAST and CST for New York, Praxis for New Jersey), not occur in addition to these tests.

Comment #3 (Regarding the suggested period of “clinical practice,” a teacher apprenticeship): “It takes several years to become a good teacher--how will a year of apprenticeship solve anything?”
It takes a long time to be good at teaching. But more time practicing with a “master teacher” before going solo is bound to benefit anyone. As I told one commenter, my period of apprenticeship was 6 weeks long, during summer school--just enough for me to realize how little I understood about the craft of teaching (and how much more my master teacher knew than I did) before I was thrown in front of a classroom alone. I don’t think there’s a specific length of teacher apprenticeship that will guarantee good teaching across the board--but very few programs have the right balance of theory and clinical practice, and that’s an issue that needs addressing.

Comment #4: “Standardized tests are never the answer.”
Standardized tests are not the holy grail of education. However, if a test is being used to assess my fitness as a teacher, it makes more sense that I be the one taking it, rather than having my students sit for an exam and retroactively using their scores to judge my performance.

Comment #5 (Regarding the idea that a “bar exam” for teachers would get us the same respect garnered by some other fields): “What, because lawyers get such universal respect?”
Perhaps not, but no one’s blaming them every day for the downfall of American society, either.

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