Elusive data shows teacher candidates failing baccalaureate exams in droves

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Aacross the country each year, thousands of teacher candidates prepare to begin their careers in the classroom. They complete their graduate courses, begin to enthusiastically search for employment opportunities, and then fail their state’s teacher license exams. Discouraged and discouraged by the prospect of retaking the test, many never become teachers.

It is a painful model that has been documented for years and is increasingly gaining the attention of policy makers trying to diversify the profession. As more experts point to improved academic performance for students who are assigned to a single instructor of the same racial or ethnic background, some advocates have called on states to change or even remove their licensing tests. , which are more likely to be a stumbling block for African American and Hispanic applicants.

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A report released today by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a reform-focused think tank based in Washington, DC, puts the problem into perspective. Data from 38 states and the District of Columbia show that a large proportion of aspiring elementary school teachers do not pass their licensing exam on the first try. Among those who fail, non-white teachers are much less likely to retake the test than their white classmates. And within states, students at different institutions faced drastically different chances of ultimately obtaining a teaching degree. The findings will lead many to question whether beginning educators receive sufficient training before they are hired and what can be done to help those who were not sufficiently prepared.

NCTQ President Kate Walsh, a longtime observer and often critic of teacher preparation programs, said in an interview that while the results themselves were “terrible”, a more pressing concern was the sheer difficulty of get evidence. State authorities should be active in releasing this information, she argued, but many do not even bother to collect it, and even federal efforts to investigate these matters have been “bogged down in. the confusion “.

“What I’m interested in is that states didn’t have this data,” Walsh said. “We thought so, but almost all states said it was the first time they had seen this data.”

The national results, encompassing the results of program-level exams between 2015 and 2018, clearly demonstrate that a large number of graduate students struggle to reach the finish line and become certified teachers. In all of the states that provided data, the average “best attempt” rate for prep programs – the rate at which applicants pass the test whether or not they fail on the first try – is 83%, which means that about one in six do not achieve their ambitions. And some programs are doing much better than others: the average gap between top and bottom performing institutions in each state was 44 percentage points.

Additionally, 29 percent of all preparation programs reported that less than half of their teaching students passed the licensing exam on their first try. Six states (Connecticut, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, South Carolina, and Virginia) had at least one program in which no teacher candidate had.

Florida, which employs the fourth highest number of teachers of any state, offers a telling example. In the three years studied, two different teacher preparation institutions saw no teacher candidates pass the Florida teacher certification exams for the first time, although both are tiny programs serving about a dozen. of students between them. Many others, including Florida International University, Florida Gulf Coast University, University of North Florida, and University of Central Florida, have reported first-time pass rates of 41% or less. All of these schools, which collectively produced more than 2,300 applicants, were ranked by the NCTQ among the most selective in the state.

At the same time, a large number of would-be Florida teachers who failed their bachelor’s tests the first time pass on subsequent attempts, likely with the support and encouragement of their prep programs. And a substantial number of programs educating large numbers of low-income students (measured by their eligibility to receive Pell scholarships) are reporting success rates for the first time higher than the state average.

Dan Goldhaber, a professor at the University of Washington who heads the Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER), called the data “compelling,” adding that researchers could fruitfully study which institutions are able to work best with teaching candidates who stumble first with the exam.

The results “are starting to open up the black box of teacher preparation a bit and indicate where we should look for different materials, programs and interventions that appear to be able to help teacher candidates during their preparation for teaching,” said Goldhaber.

Dodge the “heat” of the post

To reach its conclusions, the NCTQ first had to receive the data from the states. A 2019 study, using nationwide results from the commonly used Praxis exam that were provided by the ETS test provider, offered somewhat similar results, but did not delve into the differences by state or jurisdiction. institution.

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Getting results at this more granular level was much more difficult, Walsh said, because some local authorities “didn’t want the heat of being the ones releasing this data.” A total of seven states did not provide timely data on the results of licensure examinations, and eight provided only partial data. Among the states that have shared their data with the NCTQ, some have faced public record requests.

Meagan Comb, director of the Wheelock Educational Policy Center at Boston University and a former NCTQ scholar, said she was not particularly surprised at the challenges of a third-party review of test scores. During a two-year tenure as Director of Educator Effectiveness in the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Comb oversaw state policy on teacher preparation and licensing of ‘exercise. She recalled that many in the state – seen as a national leader in collecting and disseminating education data – needed more information because “it was really difficult to know how our success rates were. compared to other States ”. This often included the program managers themselves, who did not always have a clear idea of ​​which groups of struggling students or which aspects of the test caused them problems.

“This report shows you need to invest in data infrastructure,” Comb said. There are many states that cannot even link their teaching staff to their teacher preparation candidates, or there is state law that prohibits them from reviewing the effectiveness of their teacher candidates. I think there are a lot of opportunities in states across the country to think a lot about the data infrastructure they provide to teacher preparation programs for continuous improvement.

Goldhaber noted that data bottlenecks can arise in different areas. While some state education departments are “more curious than others,” he acknowledged, schools of education would often prefer the low pass rates to go unnoticed.

“I think sometimes politics is really difficult,” he said. “You have important political constituencies – the deans and everything they bring – that sometimes don’t want this data released. “

Lack of transparency can be detrimental not only to state authorities and the preparation programs themselves, but also to prospective graduate students, some of whom will unwittingly enroll in a teacher preparation program where they have a good chance. not to obtain a license. The risk of failure is particularly high for candidates of color, who are significantly less likely than white candidates to retake the exam if they fail. The stress and expense associated with the test, often running into the hundreds of dollars in fees or preparation materials, can be a barrier to attracting more diverse teachers.

Walsh said for consumer protection reasons only, this needs to change.

“The problem is, you are supposed to prepare candidates for licensure. And no one points out to the children who participate in these programs: “Your chances of getting a bachelor’s degree in this institution are zero. So they take their money, take their time, and that’s it.

Disclosure: The Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation provide financial support to the National Council on Teacher Quality and 74.

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