Federal

States’ Teacher-Exam Bar Set Low, Federal Data Show

By Stephen Sawchuk — May 14, 2013 4 min read

Teacher-training exams have been subject to many criticisms: that there are too many of them, that their content isn’t relevant, and that their costs are objectionable. New data open a further avenue for criticism: They’re too easy.

Every state sets the passing score on its teacher-licensing tests below the mean score of the pool of test-takers, according to a federal analysis released recently, suggesting that the exams pose little challenge to many of the individuals taking them.

The data confirm a 2012 Education Week analysis showing similar gaps in a sample of states.

Released in an annual report issued this month by the U.S. Department of Education, the data compare the average passing scores on each state’s teacher exams against the average performance of candidates taking those tests. A clear pattern emerges of tests that, on the whole, most teachers pass partly because of where states set the bar, even as multiple groups call on states to institute policies to recruit academically stronger candidates.

Excluding the U.S. Virgin Islands, gaps between cutoff scores and the average score of test-takers range from a low of 10.1 points, in Arizona, to 22.5 points, in Nebraska. For the nation as a whole, the average certification-test passing score is set nearly 15 points below the mean score of candidates.

The gaps aren’t strictly comparable from state to state, because of differences in the subjects and certification fields tested and in the tests’ scales. Many states use the Princeton, N.J.-based Educational Testing Service’s Praxis series for their licensing tests, and others use state-specific exams designed by Evaluation Systems Group, a Pearson entity based in Hadley, Mass.

States also administer the tests at different points, typically requiring candidates to pass one before entry to a program and others before granting a candidate a teaching certificate. Finally, test content varies, though the exams often measure knowledge beneath the college level.

The federal data represent test-taking from the 2009-10 year.

New Rules

The analysis was made possible by new provisions in federal law. In its 2008 rewrite of the Higher Education Act, Congress directed states to begin reporting both the passing rate and the average scaled score of all test-takers on each teacher examination. (A scaled score is raw performance on the exam translated to its scale, which is used to facilitate year-to-year comparisons.)

States and individual higher education institutions are required to publish that information, and many other details, on teacher preparation on annual “report cards” to the public.

Though licensing-test cutoff scores have, in general, risen in recent years, states have instituted many more tests to meet requirements in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to staff all core-content classes with a “highly qualified” teacher—one who demonstrates subject-matter knowledge, among other things.

Some officials say the gaps are expected because the tests aren’t meant to do more than prevent the weakest candidates from teaching.

“These tests are a measure of minimum content knowledge. They’re not designed or validated to say that if you score significantly higher, you’re going to be a better teacher,” said Phillip S. Rogers, the executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification, in Washington, which represents individuals who direct licensing or sit on states’ teacher-standards boards. “What it does mean is that the person who passes the test has the minimum content knowledge that the jurisdiction thinks is necessary.”

The Education Department report notes that the gaps could be the result of other factors, too.

“It is also possible that a small gap ... signals relatively low-performing test-takers and a large gap signals relatively high-performing test-takers,” it says.

It is not possible to know the relative difficulty of the exams without knowing the spread of scores on the tests’ scale—such as what percent of test-takers scored at the bottom quartile. States do not have to report that information on their report cards.

Seeking Comparability

But teacher-educators said the report does raise questions about how to make the data more transparent and comparable.

“Cut scores on state teacher-licensing tests do vary widely across states, and we need more consistency,” said Sharon P. Robinson, the president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, a Washington group that represents about 800 institutions.

The group supports efforts to establish common cutoff scores across states, which would “provide consistency across the profession in terms of expectations for candidates’ performance on these exams,” Ms. Robinson said. “However, multiple-choice and selected-response tests will not answer the most essential question: ‘Is a new teacher ready for the job?' "

AACTE has been working with a Stanford University center and about half the states to pilot an exam that purports to measure teacher-candidates’ classroom readiness, based in part on their student-teaching performance.

A version of this article appeared in the May 15, 2013 edition of Education Week as Bar for Teacher Exams Set Low in All States, Federal Data Show

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy to Advance Educational Equity
Schools are welcoming students back into buildings for full-time in-person instruction in a few short weeks and now is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and systems to build
Content provided by PowerMyLearning
Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn
Professional Development Webinar Expand Digital Learning by Expanding Teacher Training
This discussion will examine how things have changed and offer guidance on smart, cost-effective ways to expand digital learning efforts and train teachers to maximize the use of new technologies for learning.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Biden Calls on Schools to Host COVID-19 Vaccination Clinics for Kids 12 and Up
The president is focusing on vaccinating children ages 12 and older as concerns grow about the Delta variant and its impact on schools.
2 min read
President Joe Biden speaks in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, Wednesday, June 2, 2021, in Washington.
President Joe Biden speaks in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus on June 2.
Evan Vucci/AP
Federal How Political Backlash to Critical Race Theory Reached School Reopening Guidance
A lawmaker wants Miguel Cardona to repudiate the Abolitionist Teaching Network after federal COVID-19 documents referenced the group's work.
6 min read
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., is seen at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 9, 2021 in Washington.
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., is seen at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 9, 2021 in Washington.<br/>
Graeme Sloan/SIPA USA via AP
Federal Biden Team: Schools Can Go Beyond Trump Rules in Response to Alleged Sexual Misconduct
The Education Department's guidance, released July 20, states that Title IX rules from 2020 lay out "minimum steps" for educators.
3 min read
Symbols of gender.
iStock/Getty
Federal Fact Check: After Furor Over 1619 Project, Feds Adjust History and Civics Grant Plans
A previously obscure history and civics program has weathered a political storm, but what exactly has changed?
4 min read
Education secretary nominee Miguel Cardona speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination on Feb. 3, 2021, in Washington.
Education secretary nominee Miguel Cardona speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination on Feb. 3, 2021, in Washington.
Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times via AP