As we move forward to help teachers and schools more accurately assess student achievement through performance assessments, we also need to more carefully assess our recruitment of new teachers. The current licensure requirements have been developed since the 1960s and serve as an accountability for states and districts to raise the bar of teacher quality. But do these exams really increase the quality of perspective teachers?
Standardized Tests vs. Performance Assessments
What have we learned over the past 100 years of using standardized tests is that they measure things we care about, provide a source of accountability, and allow states, districts and schools, to convey that information to school boards and parents. And although the rise of big data—the idea that everything can be measured and understood—might support the continuation of standardized tests, the alternative course of action might be to work on accuracy before adoption of larger data sets.
The Counter Arguments
The historic legitimacy of standardized test results has relied upon the agreement that everything measured comes out on a Bell curve. However, our world is much more complicated than that….as for example, the measurement of shoe sizes strongly fits a Bell curve, but the comfort level of shoes, the design of shoes, and the capitalization of shoe-making do not. The same can be said for the Praxis exam for new teachers: it weeds out lower scores but it also does not readily admit people of color who we need in our classrooms.
The most important set of questions for us to ask around this topic of teacher testing are: Why would we rely on an standardized test to tell us how well somebody will teach? What would an entry exam look like if we wanted it to tell us about how well somebody will teach? Wouldn’t we want to design a performance based assessment to help us predict who will teach well? What would be on that test?
New Teacher, New Test
The important questions on new tests for new teachers is to redesign how we test them, use performance assessments that get them to demonstrate what they know and can do, and include the most valuable teacher practices that are up to date with the research on what makes a good teacher. For example, teacher practice that is desperately needed and should therefore be examined and supported through new types of performance assessments include instructional leadership, social and emotional learning expertise, trauma-based learning, inclusivity, collaboration, and project-based learning skills to name a few.
Teacher Preparation: A New Process for Becoming a New Teacher
New teachers and new tests need to be transformed through a new process for recruiting, selecting, and supporting the process of becoming a teacher. This has to be restructured nationwide, coordinated at the national level, and paid for by a national program, so that teacher preparation becomes a much more rigorous process—and not a one time test—that results in ever more qualified teachers arriving in their first classrooms.