Prospective Teachers’ SAT Scores Higher Than Believed, Study Finds

March 10, 1999 5 min read
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Prospective Teachers’ SAT Scores Higher Than Believed, Study Finds


Prospective teachers who earn licenses to practice have higher SAT scores than most college-bound high school seniors, according to a study released here at the recent annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

College-bound seniors who say they want to major in education have lower scores than their peers--an often-lamented fact. But the SAT scores of prospective teachers who actually seek licenses are nearly equal to those of all college-bound seniors, the study found, and scores for people who meet state licensing requirements exceed those of their peers.

The study, still in draft form, was conducted by Drew H. Gitomer and Andy S. Latham of the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, N.J., and Robert Ziomek of ACT Inc. of Iowa City, Iowa. The authors hope to shed light on questions of academic ability, teacher supply, and the diversity of the teaching force.

The researchers looked at records for 160,000 candidates who took the PRAXIS 2 tests, which measure prospective teachers’ knowledge of pedagogy and specific subjects, between 1995 and 1997 and had also taken the SAT college-entrance exam in the past 20 years. PRAXIS is administered in 37 states and the District of Columbia, although not in the large, ethnically diverse states of New York and Texas.

Candidates seeking various types of teaching licenses had very different academic profiles, the study found. SAT scores were much higher for teachers who sought licenses in specific content areas than for those who planned to teach elementary, special, or physical education.

Because an increasing number of states are considering raising the passing standards on licensure tests, the study examined the effect such policies would have. If all states used the highest state passing score now in effect, it found, only 64 percent of aspiring teachers would pass, compared with the 87 percent who are meeting the cutoff today.

The PRAXIS passing rates for candidates who attended institutions accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education were “somewhat higher” than for those who did not, despite the fact that SAT scores for entering students are higher in non-NCATE institutions, the study found. Public institutions also had slightly higher pass rates than private ones, notwithstanding their students’ somewhat lower SAT scores.

In conclusion, the study’s authors say, the academic skills of teachers applying to teach particular content areas are stronger than many researchers have suggested. But raising the passing scores for licensure, they caution, could screen out minority candidates and restrict the overall supply of teachers.

The National Network for Educational Renewal, the initiative launched by the prominent educator John I. Goodlad to renew teacher education and precollegiate schools, has elected its first governing board and is poised to expand its membership. The network made that announcement at the Feb. 24-27 meeting.

Nicholas M. Michelli, the dean of the college of education and human services at Montclair State University in Upper Montclair, N.J., is the chairman of the network’s governing council. The network now spans 14 states, with 16 sites involving 34 universities, 100 school districts, and 500 “partner schools.”

Nicholas M. Michelli

Its primary focus is on preparing students for membership in a political and social democracy, with an emphasis on the involvement of education faculty members, professors in the arts and sciences, and K-12 teachers.

Members of the network are committed to the belief that access to knowledge in American society has a moral imperative, Mr. Michelli said. That focus, he said, is different from policymakers’ “instrumental” view of the purpose of schooling.

Each of the network’s settings has chosen a representative to serve on the new governing council. That setup will enable the network to become “a tub on its own bottom,” said Roger Soder, the co-director, with Mr. Goodlad, of the Center for Educational Renewal at the University of Washington in Seattle. The center has sponsored the network.

The leadership will allow the network to grow, although whether and how to welcome new members is still under discussion, said Robert S. Patterson, the dean of the college of education at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and a member of the committee that studied the network’s future.

The continuing press for accountability in teacher education was a theme running throughout the meeting here, which drew some 2,000 deans of education programs. Conference-goers got a chance to air their views on high-stakes testing, licensure, and accreditation at an unusual interactive forum featuring Apple computers on every table.

The teacher-educators worked in small groups to answer a set of questions about accountability and type their responses into a shared database on the computers. To get things started, Steven R. Yussen, the dean of the college of education and human development at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, shared some of his experiences handling increasingly pointed questions from Minnesota legislators.

“We’re being called on to explain, justify, and validate the need to produce new teachers able to hit the ground running,” he said. “It’s real important to say over and over again that nobody in any profession is able to hit the ground running. There’s a general recognition in other disciplines that brand-new people really don’t have the expertise.”

The association plans to post the accountability dialogue on its World Wide Web site this month, at

The education historian Diane Ravitch, a leading proponent of higher academic standards, told the teacher-educators that their field is “at a crossroads.”

Diane Ravitch

Ms. Ravitch, who gave the annual Wilber J. Cohen lecture, cited a 1997 study by the nonprofit opinion-research group Public Agenda that found a substantial gap between the public’s desire for children to learn basic skills and education professors’ focus on “learning how to learn.” But teacher education’s “hidden history,” she asserted, includes two prominent faculty members at Teachers College, Columbia University, who spoke out for a rigorous core curriculum for all students, against the views of most of their contemporaries. Those men, William Chandler Bagley and Isaac Leon Kandel, taught at Teachers College in the early 1900s.

“It is our common misfortune that they have been dropped from memory,” she concluded.

--Ann Bradley

A version of this article appeared in the March 10, 1999 edition of Education Week as Prospective Teachers’ SAT Scores Higher Than Believed, Study Finds


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