How About National Tests for Teachers -- Not Students?

For the last couple of weeks, the dynamic duo of Checker Finn and Diane Ravitch have been pushing a return to the idea of national tests for students -- noting that state tests are misleading and in many cases not sufficient. (See Ravitch & Finn: Separated At Birth?).

To my mind, it's a worthwhile but highly unlikely idea for all sorts of practical and political reasons. National standards for new teachers, however -- there's something that actually might happen. And could, arguably, make as much or more of a difference for school improvement...

[Click below to read the full post]

...So it's worth noting that last week NCATE, one of the governing bodies for teacher ed programs, announced that it was going to set a voluntary national cut score for teacher tests and encourage states -- mildly -- to consider adopting it: NCATE Approves Single Cutoff Score on Teacher Tests (Education Week).

As most people know, states have since forever set their own minimum Praxis scores for teaching candidates -- some of them quite low. For a long time, the rationale for keeping the minimum scores low was to ensure that there were enough warm bodies to fill classrooms each year, and to prevent any arguments about whether the tests are biased against minority teachers, who tend to score lower on the tests.

Since then, things have only gotten worse. The 1997 Higher Education Act unintentionally created a new disincentive to raising cutoff scores in that it requires states to publicize ed school pass rates on the tests. Of course, everyone wants a high percentage there. And most get one.

NCLB requirements for highly qualified teachers -- with no real limits on how low states could set standards -- have only exacerbated the problem (‘Qualified’ Teachers: A Victory on Paper? EdWeek). Two weeks ago, even those lax standards were pushed back (USDE Backs Off -- Further -- On HQT).

Now, the NCATE change won't do anything immediate or transformative. This is certainly not quite the national teacher test that some including Linda Darling-Hammond have advocated in the past (The Case for National Teacher Tests NWREL). And the Praxis tests and others currently in use are certainly not super high-quality measure of the preparedness of teaching candidates that many have called for (Education Schools Use Performance Standards to Improve Graduates Ed Week).

But at very least the NCATE change will shine a light on the states with the lowest cut scores and perhaps put some pressure on them to up their standards.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I really don't ses what the purpose of shining a light on state teacher test cut off scores would do. There is no evidence that a teacher who scores X on Praxis is better than a teacher who scores X-1. And the bigger states use their own tests, so you can't compare Texas scores with New York's. Until we get a teacher test that predicts good teachers, count me out.

2:41 PM  
Blogger Alexander Russo said...

i get what you're saying about praxis et al, but i'm not sure i agree that we should wait for something better that's probably not going to come. get rid of it if it's not worth anything, or raise expectations if it is. my sense is that as a basic skills screen it's worth something, but you sound like you know more.

in the meantime, i'm glad to see the washington post agreeing with me that national standards for kids like finn and ravitch have been pumping the last few weeks arent' going to happen anytime soon, either:

"Some are advocating the setting of national standards, a proposition that sounds nice in theory but seems politically impossible in practice."

"Testing Gap" Washington Post Editorial 11-13 via Howler

9:20 PM  
Blogger Alexander Russo said...

one more take on whether we should have national standards (tests) or not:

Leaving the National Tests Behind
Sunday, November 13, 2005 Washington Post
How students stack up against the national average is no longer the chief concern of teachers, principals and superintendents in the Maryland suburbs.

9:58 PM  

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