Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Teacher Certification and Testing

We've heard all about the push for testing of children. Here's an article about the test scores of the teachers.

Educators Repeatedly Flunk Required Exams

Lorraine Snowden is a teacher at Urban Park Elementary in East Dallas. State records show Snowden started taking her certification exams back in 1989 but failed year after year until she finally passed in 2003. She flunked exams a total of 54 times in 14 years.

The Texas Education Agency told Fox 4 most teachers in Texas pass certification exams on the first try. So, Fox 4 analyzed TEA’s teacher testing data to see how teachers at major school districts in North Texas fared on the first try. The records show: at Plano ISD 20% failed exams at least once; at Arlington ISD 25%; at Fort Worth ISD 34%; and at Dallas ISD 41% failed a test at least once, 3790 teachers. The data show 478 DISD teachers failed a test at least 5 times. 71 of them took 10 times or more to pass a certification exam.

“(It is) highly unlikely you are going to find an effective teacher among those who can’t pass those minimum competency tests.”

It’s not just teachers Fox 4 found having trouble passing certification exams. Dolores Chavez failed the exam required for school principals 16 times. State records don’t show her ever passing the exam. Yet Fox 4 found her working as an assistant principal at Barbara Jordan Elementary School.

I'm not a fan of so-called certification requirements, but I do support basic competency testing. Effective teachers and administrators will easily pass tests measuring basic competency.

Here is the 2006 version of the TAKS. I've been told that the California test is designed to be on a 10th grade level and very easy. Here is a CBEST practice test.

Here's a sample question from the CBEST (California):

After touring the plains toward the close of the cowboy era, journalist Richard Harding Davis observed, "The inhabited part of a ranch, the part of it on which the owners live, bears about the same proportion to the rest of the ranch as a lighthouse does to the ocean around it."

Based on Richard Harding Davis' observation, which of the following can be inferred about a ranch toward the close of the cowboy era?

A. Most of a ranch was uninhabited by its owners.
B. The size of a ranch rivaled the size of an ocean.
C. Inhabitants of a ranch typically lived in privacy and seclusion.
D. The working area around a ranch was uninhabitable by humans.
E. The inhabitants of a ranch, like those of a lighthouse, should be viewed as caretakers.

(The correct answer is A)

There have been some dispute that this type of testing is discrimitory because minority teachers fail the test more refrequently than whites.

Even more disturbing for some was the fact that minorities were failing the tests in disproportionately high numbers. "Fully 72 percent of blacks and 52 percent of Hispanics," Toch wrote, "have failed the Texas education school admission examination, compared with 27 percent of whites. In New York, 64 percent of blacks failed the communications-skills section of that state's teacher-licensing examination in 1987, 65 percent failed the general-knowledge section, and 43 percent failed the professional-knowledge section; the failure rates for whites were 17 percent, 22 percent, and 9 percent, respectively. In Florida, 63 percent of blacks, 50 percent of Hispanics, and 12 percent of whites have failed the state's basic-skills teacher-licensing examination since its inception in the early 1980s.

The problem with the plaintiffs' case against the CBEST is this: When you look at the test itself, it's hard to imagine how any college graduate couldn't pass it.

Albert Shanker calls the test "extremely easy." David Wright, director of professional services for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, testified that he gave portions of the test to his then 11-year-old triplets, and they answered all 60 questions correctly. "Each reported to me that they found the items 'easy,' " Wright noted. Gary Hart, the former California state lawmaker who sponsored the initial CBEST legislation, says the test is "not a particularly sophisticated examination." Mary Bergan, president of the California Federation of Teachers, which supported the CBEST right from the start, says, "It's an easy test." (The much larger California Teachers Association was less enthusiastic about the idea, but it eventually supported the CBEST. In 1993, however, it filed a friend of the court brief in support of the plaintiffs' lawsuit. The CTA argued that the test was a "major impediment" to achieving ethnic and racial diversity in the schools and therefore should be scrutinized by the court.)
[Taking on the test]"

The test may reveal racial discrimination, but not in the way the plaintiffs charged. The fact that college graduates are failing the test with such racial differences points to possible reverse discrimination. Are white students held to higher standards than minority students and are consequently receiving a better education?

All of this points to still greater problems with a teacher training system that produces so many teachers of all backgrounds who can't pass a 10th grade test.

Which brings me to this philosophical question: Should there be a place in public education for teachers with mid to low academic performance? Does it influence the quality of instruction when the shop teacher can't do geometry or a grade school teacher can't write a 10th grade essay?

There would be some that would argue that it doesn't matter. For example, the level of parental education is not much of a factor in homeschool success. Parents with no college degree routinely turn out well educated homeschooled children. However, the homeschool realm is more flexible than public education. Homeschool parents utilize resources and methods not generally available to large classroom settings.

Then, what makes a successful teacher in a classroom setting? If it were my child, I would want a teacher that spoke and wrote grammatically correct with a large vocabulary. I would want a teacher with good analytical skills. Both of these requirements are easily measured with a well- designed basic skills test. However, a test can't measure teaching and classroom management skill, high character or good judgment which are equally important. We all have had at least one really smart teacher who was a really awful teacher.

Ultimately, I do support the use of tests like the CBEST and the TAKS as a way to measure the quality of teacher training. It is important that these tests are well-designed so that they measure what they claim to measure. Also, other methods of evaluating teacher performance must also be included to weed out those who don't have the temperament or training to manage a classroom of students.

Related Tags: , , , , , , ,


Sandy said...

After I finished my junior year of college, it was time to take the bulk of the NTE (National Teacher Exam) which was required for all teachers in Louisiana. I remember being astounded at the number of people there who were taking the test for the second, third, fourth time... it really wasn't that difficult and the portion dealing with classroom and education issues seemed "common sense" to me. Ironically, it was while I was doing my student teaching that I decided, "I don't want my own children experiencing this..." And that's one reason we homeschool.

Janine Cate said...

I wonder how many families came to homeschooling by student teaching.

Lisa Giebitz said...

Here's my argument for why it's important for public school teachers to go through competency testing, but unnecessary for homeschoolers:

A single public school teacher affects anywhere from twenty to hundreds of children per year. That's a lot of potential damage.

A homeschooler affects only their own children, a significantly lower number.

So really, if you think about it in terms of numbers, it shouldn't matter a bit if some homeschooling family screws up. Especially when it's painfully obvious that there are public school teachers single-handedly screwing up many more children.

Janine Cate said...

I think the issue is receiving a salary paid by tax dollars.

If you are going to collect a tax funded salary in a job in which you can NOT easily be removed, then you better be able to prove your over-all competency by passing a simple test. Yes, it may keep out potentially successful candidates. Since public education lacks the checks and balances of a free market system, it's better than nothing.

If homeschool parents were paid salaries, it would be reasonable to expect some proof of competency.

Karen said...

Back when I took it, it was called the EXCET test, here in Texas. I can't imagine the test has changed much.

Granted, I'm a good test-taker, but I thought the tests were laughably easy. Rumor was that they were designed to have a three percent fail rate. Which always made me think, "what's the point?" quickly followed by, "no way do those bottom three percent need to be in a classroom!"

I knew a teacher's aide who had her degree and everything to teach, but couldn't pass the EXCET. If I remember right, she'd already tried twelve times.

Janine Cate said...

>I knew a teacher's aide who had her degree and everything to teach, but couldn't pass the EXCET. If I remember right, she'd already tried twelve times.


kat said...

I had to take the National Teacher Exam for K-8 about 10 years back. It was so easy that I got over 90% on every section even though I knew nothing about phonics (went to elementary school in the days of whole language) or music instruction. I bet 95% of homeschooling moms could obtain similar scores.

I knew several teachers in our local suburban "best in the area" school who couldn't pass the test to save their lives.

Who is the professional and who is the amateur?

Janine Cate said...

> I knew several teachers in our local suburban "best in the area" school who couldn't pass the test to save their lives.


Marcy Muser said...


I took the CBEST myself 23 years ago. I passed it with flying colors. I felt at the time - and if anything I feel it more strongly today - that anyone who could not pass that test the first time should not be teaching. I'd probably make an exception to allow people to take it a couple of times, since there are occasionally extenuating circumstances such as illness that might keep a test-taker from doing their best. But honestly, to pass the CBEST you only have to score at about the 20th-25th percentile of test-takers. The test consists of simple reading-comprehension questions (like the one you posted above), eighth-grade math (I don't think there's even any algebra), and writing a simple essay on a fairly generic topic. How much lower can the standard be set?

There's no excuse, in my opinion, for putting a teacher in the classroom who can't pass such a simple test. If the teacher can't solve a simple math problem or write a basic essay, they shouldn't be teaching. Any teacher who fails the test more than twice ought to be required to take a remedial course in the area in which they failed before being allowed to re-take the test.

Maybe I sound harsh - but I took this test. I know how easy it was. Even an elementary-school teacher ought to be at least a LITTLE ahead of their students, don't you think? :)

Janine Cate said...

>There's no excuse, in my opinion, for putting a teacher in the classroom who can't pass such a simple test. If the teacher can't solve a simple math problem or write a basic essay, they shouldn't be teaching.

I'm still reeling from the thought that someone with a college degree can't pass this test. Unfortunately, the way the system works, there are many people in the classroom who shouldn't be and many good and wonderful teachers who are driven away.