According to a new report published by the National Council on Teacher Quality, three hallmarks of a strong teacher licensure test system include testing all candidates and offering limited alternatives that have the same validity and reliability; structuring the test to score each content area individually; and adhering to recommended passing scores.
The report examined 38 states and the District of Columbia, finding 21 met those standards for strong testing systems. Data collected by states meeting these three hallmarks can help identify and address systemic weaknesses across candidates — those with stronger test systems have a lower average first-attempt pass rate at 45%, compared to states with weaker systems at 76%, the report explained.
The report also notes "startling differences" between high-performing and low-performing institutions in the same state, with an average 56 percentage point gap between first-attempt pass rates. Twelve states shared incomplete data or opted not to share.
A number of studies have found positive relationships between a teacher's test scores and student outcomes, the report added. However, six states in the NCTQ study reported having at least one institution in which not a single test taker passed on the first attempt. Data also shows nearly a quarter of all test-takers (22%) do not retake the test after their first failed attempt. That percentage rises for test-takers of color, nearly 30% of whom do not retake the test.
The authors said this disparity poses "a challenge to the many efforts underway to achieve greater diversity in the teaching profession."
The report singled out three ways to improve pass rates:
- Earlier and improved identification of knowledge gaps.
- Using pass rate data to monitor and improve program effectiveness.
- Targeted coursework.
Identifying which courses aspiring teachers took during their K-12 education and prior to their professional coursework is "of particular importance," the report noted, because it ensures they fill gaps with the content they may have missed.
Some teacher licensure tests have also been criticized for their potentially exclusionary nature, on the argument that high exam fees, time required to prepare for and take the test, and videotaping components make them inaccessible to less-privileged candidates. Others say the tests set an appropriately high standard needed to enter the teaching profession.
“As we emerge from the pandemic and make critical infrastructure investments to improve and rebuild
America, we cannot continue to ignore the importance of teacher preparation,” said George Miller, a former
U.S. congressman from California who chaired the House Education and Labor Committee, in a statement.
President Joe Biden, prior to his 2020 election, also ran on a platform that promised teachers and aspiring educators mentorship, leadership and additional educational opportunities like certification. His proposed American Families Plan would also invest in teacher training and additional learning opportunities for aspiring or established teachers looking to earn credentials.