NCATE Approves Single Cutoff Score on Teacher Tests

By Joetta L. Sack — November 08, 2005 4 min read
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A national accrediting group will apply the same cutoff score to teacher-licensing tests nationwide as one measure of judging teacher-preparation programs.

The policy adopted by the board of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education late last month marks the first time that a common benchmark on state licensure exams for teachers will be used, a move that advocates hope will upgrade the status of the profession.

The Washington-based group believes that a uniform standard will bring teaching in line with other licensed professions, such as accounting, engineering, and medicine.


The action is a “simple, but important development,” said NCATE President Arthur E. Wise. “We believe NCATE must be in a position to do accurate and fair comparisons across state lines.”

At present, states can set whatever cutoff scores they choose on the exams given to prospective teachers. Consequently, it’s difficult to compare teacher-training programs from state to state. Under the new system, Mr. Wise emphasized, states can continue to set their own scores or use NCATE’s.

For the past two years, NCATE has been working in conjunction with the Educational Testing Service to pilot the process. As the Princeton, N.J.-based test-maker revises its series of Praxis exams, it is incorporating NCATE’s standards into them. So far, the ETS has been able to align its elementary education, biology, social studies, mathematics, and English tests to NCATE standards. Once enough tests in other subjects are also aligned, the new system of benchmarking will kick in—probably two to three years, Mr. Wise estimates.

According to NCATE, 42 states use the Praxis tests. Another eight use the tests of the National Evaluation Systems of Amherst, Mass, and three states use both. Florida has its own tests, and several states don’t test aspiring teachers.Mr. Wise hopes to work with other test-makers to ensure a uniform national standard.

Constituent Support

The NCATE board is made up of 30 members, including representatives from the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, and such subject-matter groups as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (“Popular Licensing Exam To Get Solo Cutoff Score,” June 11, 2003.)

The policy change has received support from those who could be affected by the change. Reg Weaver, the president of the NEA and an NCATE board member, applauded the move.

“This has really the potential of strengthening the profession,” he said. “What we’re talking about is applying a consistent standard across the nation so it treats all its institutions equitably.”

The AACTE, a Washington-based group that represents about 750 colleges of education, released a statement that supports the move “as an important commitment to take greater responsibility for the assessments that represent our expectations for new teachers who begin work in our profession.

“AACTE will work with other NCATE constituents to establish policy consensus, examine technical and psychometric issues, and determine how to collaborate with multiple developers of licensure tests,” the statement says.

Added Kurt Landgraf, the president and chief operating officer of the ETS: “This will, in fact, have a significant impact on how colleges of education will operate.”

Success Rate Down

Mr. Landgraf said he did not think that the move would result in more education institutions failing to meet NCATE accreditation standards. Rather, he said, he believes that the colleges will look to the standards for guidance on how to improve their educational offerings.

“This will set a strong signal that the benchmarking-test score will become part of the accreditation,” Mr. Landgraf said.

Still, Mr. Wise said he did not expect many states to realign their existing standards with the new NCATE benchmark, at least not initially.

Currently, about 600 of the 1,200 teacher education programs across the country are NCATE-accredited, and about 100 are seeking accreditation. The organization has partnerships of varying degrees with most states. About a dozen other teacher-training programs are accredited by the younger and lesser-known Teacher Education Accreditation Council, also in Washington.

Since shifting to a performance-based system in 2001, about 70 percent of the programs that seek NCATE accreditation are successful, down from the 80 percent to 85 percent passing rate before the changeover. The majority of those who do not meet the NCATE standards are given conditional approval and remedy their initial problems, according to the group.

“Now, it’s tougher than it was maybe two or three years ago,” said Jane Leibbrand, the vice president of communications. After institutions get accustomed to the performance-based system, “we expect the numbers to go back up,” she said.

A version of this article appeared in the November 09, 2005 edition of Education Week as NCATE Approves Single Cutoff Score on Teacher Tests


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