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Let’s Test Teachers, Too!

June 18, 2015

I read with dismay Elizabeth Harris’ article in today’s NYTimes titled “Tough Tests for Teachers, With a Question of Bias”. The article describes a nascent movement to require that teachers pass rigorous tests in order to get licensure. The article outlines the pros and cons of testing and indicates the racial disparity in the Praxis test results, and offers this paragraph as rebuttal to the critic of teacher testing:

But many public education officials view rigorous entrance requirements as crucial to improving student performance and ensuring a qualified teaching force in the face of uneven preparation programs. In a court document, an expert defending the ALST on behalf of the state is quoted as saying, “The purpose of a teacher licensure test is to protect the public from incompetent teachers.”

It has been four years since I was a Superintendent, but in the 29 years I served in that capacity I can only think of a handful of my colleagues who saw the Praxis test or tests like it as being a valid means of measuring teacher competence. Testing IS cheap and fast means of determining a candidate’s knowledge base of general content, but it was never clear to me that the general knowledge base required for physical education, secondary science, kindergarten, and art had much in common. Moreover, I had at least two instances where we hired a teacher who did extraordinary work as a substitute in the district on the condition that they pass the Praxis tests only to find ourselves releasing them when they could not pass the test: one was a PE teacher and the other was a Special Education teacher. Alas, the talents– the “competence”— they brought to the classroom were immeasurable by a pencil and paper test but I’m sure an expert in the State department and the State Board members slept well knowing they had protected the public from an “incompetent teacher”.

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