Teacher Preparation

Higher Standards Urged for Teacher-Prep Programs

By Brenda Iasevoli — November 29, 2016 4 min read
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How can teacher preparation programs attract the best and brightest? Raise admissions standards, says a study published this month.

Education schools nationwide are battling teacher shortages and ever-decreasing enrollments. But the report, “Within Our Grasp: Achieving Higher Admission Standards in Teacher Prep,” argues that it’s a mistake for education schools to resort to downgrading requirements to make it easier for students to gain admission. The report was published by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based research-and-advocacy group that tracks teacher policies.

Lowering the bar for education school admissions would fill the profession with subpar teachers, the report says, and discourage top students from considering a career in teaching. In support of that stance, the report points to a survey of top college students that found that 58 percent would consider majoring in education if admissions standards were higher.

“You want a surefire way to keep talent from considering teaching?” said NCTQ’s president, Kate Walsh. “Keep it a low-status proposition to major in education.”

The report cites Finland as an example of the benefits of using high standards when choosing future teachers. Finland recruits candidates from among the top 10 percent of its college graduates, the report says, and its students outperform U.S. students on international tests.

Setting New Bar?

While the idea of raising education school admissions standards often faces opposition, NCTQ’s analysis found that most of the 221 undergraduate elementary education programs it studied “likely met” higher GPA and testing standards than were actually required.

Walsh said researchers had to classify programs as “likely meeting the standard” based on the data available. Data on GPA requirements for admission came from course catalogues and program websites, while average SAT and ACT score data of admitted students came from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and the most recent College Board’s Annual Survey of Success. Walsh suggested the American Association for Colleges of Teacher Education do a more exact analysis using data from the teacher-preparation programs it represents, which is not available to NCTQ.

The report also questions the decision to lower education school admissions requirements by the Council for Accreditation for Educator Preparation. Under the education school accreditor’s old Standard 3, programs would have been required to admit a group of candidates with at least an average 3.0 GPA and scores averaging in the top half on nationally norm-referenced tests like the SAT or other similar evidence of academic achievement. The rewrite of Standard 3, however, allows teacher-preparation programs to delay meeting the requirements until candidates are ready to graduate. The report argues that under this arrangement, education schools have an easier time of meeting the GPA requirement since teacher-candidates tend to earn higher grades than students with other majors.

Chris Koch, the president of CAEP, explained that part of the concern around Standard 3 was the notion that it barred potential candidates who may have become good teachers simply because they couldn’t meet the standards at the beginning of the teacher-preparation program. The standard, in Koch’s view, is the same; it just allows candidates more time to meet it.

“Students still have to meet the standard before they graduate,” he said. “So if you’re not good in math, you could conceivably work on your math skills and when it’s time for you to do your licensure exam, you could meet the requirements. “

Koch also pointed out that many high school students graduate unprepared for college, and about half are reading below grade level. “This is the supply chain into our institutions, and we’re trying to address what’s actually there and give them a chance to meet the standards,” he said.

By NCTQ’s measure, 25 states set high admissions standards in 2013, but many backed away when CAEP began to allow education schools until graduation to prove their candidates’ academic eligibility. For instance, the number of states requiring a GPA of 3.0 or higher before being admitted to a teacher-preparation program fell from 25 to 11. The number requiring a test taken by general college applicants (such as the ACT or SAT) dropped from 19 to three.

The NCTQ study found more than half of the programs it examined “likely met” the requirements under CAEP’s original, tougher admissions standards, and another 35 percent were close to meeting them.

The report advises CAEP to approach the problem of raising admissions standards with the help of teacher-preparation programs that are already meeting the previous, more rigorous standards. If we don’t hold teacher candidates to a higher standard, argues Walsh, “we will continue to perpetuate a reputation on college campuses that the education major is for students who can’t cut it in other fields.”

Koch argued that the problem is not as simple as barring students who don’t immediately meet admissions requirements. “We agree that K-12 learning is likely to be higher when the teacher has higher academic achievement,” he said. “However, achievement is a prerequisite, rather than a predictor because it takes a lot more than knowledge of content to do well in teaching.”

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