Teacher Preparation

N.Y. Data on New Teacher-Licensing Exams Show Higher Failure Rates

By Stephen Sawchuk — November 21, 2014 | Corrected: February 21, 2019 4 min read
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Corrected: This story has been updated to correct the institutions’ passing rates on the exams.

A battery of new licensing tests in New York has led to relatively low passing rates for prospective teachers, according to data issued this week by the state education department.

During the 2013-14 testing cycle, 68 percent of candidates passed an exam measuring candidates’ grasp of key English/language arts concepts in the Common Core State Standards, and 77 percent passed an exam focused on pedagogy for teaching English-language learners and students with disabilities.

Empire State teacher-candidates did better on the Teacher Performance Assessment, or edTPA, a national exam that uses videos in part to measure classroom teaching skills, with 81 percent of them passing.

Pass rates on state licensing tests typically fall in the 90-100 percent range.

The results shine a spotlight on New York’s strategy of using licensing tests as one lever for improving teacher preparation—even as it raises questions about school staffing in the state. New York has a surplus of teachers, especially at the elementary certification level, but enrollments in the state’s teacher-preparation programs have fallen.

For now, licensing fewer teachers might not be a bad thing, said John B. King Jr., the state’s education commissioner.

“What’s striking in the data is the placement rates [of teachers] are very low. Our challenge is not that we have an undersupply of teachers; we have an oversupply, and too little rigor,” he said.

Still, the results raised the ire of faculty unions, which contend the new tests were rolled out without enough time for programs and teacher candidates to adjust.

Varied Results

The three exams—the edTPA, the Educating All Students exam, and the Academic Literacy Skills Test—were put in place between 2009 and 2012. Teacher-candidates in New York must take all three, plus content exams, in order to be licensed.

“We wanted to have a comprehensive approach that requires all of those different components,” Mr. King said. “We’ve seen already some important shifts in practice in teacher-preparation institutions; certainly the edTPA has increased focus on clinical preparation and the use of video to analyze teaching practice.”

Across the United States, about 96 percent of teacher-candidates pass their licensing tests, according to federal data. (Those results are considered to be somewhat inflated, though, because they usually represent only program completers, not all enrolled candidates.)

New York’s scores were also broken out by institution, and they showed great variation among teaching programs. Teachers College, Columbia University, for example, had passing rates on the exams above 90 percent; Touro College, among the largest education schools in the state, had a 29 percent passing rate on the edTPA and passing rates of 51 percent and 61 percent on the other two tests.

While the differences across institutions could be a reflection of varied curricular approaches or the colleges’ particular orientation toward the new exams, they may also reflect the demographics of the candidates attending the colleges. Historically, minority candidates have tended to fare less well on licensing tests. According to The New York Times, some of the state’s teacher colleges say they’ve noticed that dynamic in the scores for their institutions, too.

Faculty Pushback

Much debate in the state has focused on the edTPA.

Teacher education faculty in the state have had concerns about that exam both because of its quick rollout—it was selected in 2012 to substitute for a state-crafted version—and because of the role of Pearson Inc., the testing company, in overseeing the scoring process.

Partly in response to those concerns, New York delayed the date by which all teacher-candidates must pass the exam until July 1, 2015. So far, there has been no action to defer consequences on the two other exams, something that irks United University Professions, a faculty union that counts 17 State University of New York campuses preparing teachers among its members. The union had filed several open-records requests to obtain the scoring data, which appear at least in part to have prompted the state’s decision to release it.

“The assessments have not been adequately tested or subjected to validity and reliability studies. They are not ready for prime time,” said Jamie Dangler, the vice president for academics at the union. “The results unfairly characterize teacher education students and programs.”

Ms. Dangler said some teacher education faculty signed up to take the tests themselves last summer to get a better grasp on the content.

“It is extremely poor policymaking to base any decisions on the performance of this first group of students, who have really been the guinea pigs in a very incompetently rolled out set of exams,” she said.

But Sharon P. Robinson, the president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, praised the state for pushing forward with a “gutsy, courageous” plan to be among the first states to require the edTPA for all teachers, and for setting a high cutoff score on the test. She said the overall strong results on the edTPA are proof that the state’s efforts to help colleges understand the exam paid off. Now, both the states and programs need to start thinking about how they can use the results to improve their programming.

With the data release, “[the scores] are out there,” Ms. Robinson said. “Talk about being in the center ring, in the spotlight, on the high wire.”

A version of this article appeared in the December 03, 2014 edition of Education Week as New Teacher-Licensing Exams in N.Y. Lead to Subpar Results

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