Can We Test Prospective Teachers to Greatness? We Are Chasing Away, Not Recruiting the “Best and the Brightest” Future Teachers.

From the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965) to A Nation at Risk (1983) to No Child Left Behind (2002) think tanks, universities and legislatures have been jousting over how to eliminate the racial academic achievement gap. Students of color have lower scores on tests, have lower graduation rates, higher incarceration rates and earn far fewer dollars throughout their lives.

No Children Left Behind (NCLB) saw the “stick” as the answer; annual transparent testing in grades 3 – 8, the setting of goals for each school and a range of interventions leading to school closings if schools failed to reach the goals. What was heralded as the answer to “failing” schools is yet another discredited bad idea.

The Obama administration added the carrot to the stick: dangling over four billion dollars for states who committed to implement a range of approaches: choice, meaning charter schools as an alternative to public schools, full implementation of the Common Core, Common Core testing and a teacher evaluation system based on student growth scores. When the grant ended in June New York State confronted a bitter reality, parents opting out of the testing system, angry and frustrated teachers and politicians scrambling to mollify the disillusioned public; nirvana had not been achieved,

One of ideas spinning out of academia and the US Department of Education is based on what appears to be a sensible principle: create exceptional teachers who will erase the achievement gap. The Rand Corporation  writes,

When it comes to student performance on reading and math tests, a teacher is estimated to have two to three times the impact of any other school factor, including services, facilities, and even leadership.

Non-school factors are very important; however, we cannot control these factors.

Some research suggests that, compared with teachers, individual and family characteristics may have four to eight times the impact on student achievement. But policy discussions focus on teachers because it is arguably easier for public policy to improve teaching than to change students’ personal characteristics or family circumstances. Effective teaching has the potential to help level the playing field.

And, it is difficult to predict teacher effectiveness through pre-service factors.

Despite common perceptions, effective teachers cannot reliably be identified based on where they went to school, whether they’re licensed, or (after the first few years) how long they’ve taught. The best way to assess teachers’ effectiveness is to look at their on-the-job performance, including what they do in the classroom and how much progress their students make on achievement tests.

Have no fear says Arne Duncan and John King, why don’t we raise the bar for prospective teachers, only accept candidates with 3.0 GPAs or higher, and, let’s give them a range of required tests before we actually license the candidates.

* The exams plus study guides cost $1,000

* the edTPA, a Stanford-Pearson product requires the candidate to produce a video of a lesson with an accompanying portfolio.

* the Academic Literary Skills Test, ALST,

This test consists of selected-response items, followed by focused constructed-response items and an extended writing assignment based on the critical analysis of authentic texts and graphic representations of information addressing the same topic. Each item requires the analysis of complex literary or informational texts.

* the Educating All Students test (EAS) consists of selected-response (multiple-choice) questions and three constructed-response assignments dealing with diverse populations, English language learners and Students with Disabilities.

* the Content Specialty Test  (CST) in Childhood Grades 1-6 contains 120  multiple choice questions in Literacy, English Language Arts, Mathematics and Arts and Science, over five and a half hours of testing time.

The State Education Department has set cut scores for each test, without any evidence that the cut levels produce more effective teachers: Afro-American and test takers whose native language is other than English have significantly lower grades. Schools of Education have turned into test prep mills; especially since the State Department of Education publicly released the scores with a “stick,” schools with lower student scores are threatened with “corrective action,” aka closing. Is there any evidence that the test tests actually sort prospective teachers by ability?  The answer is no.

New York City and New York State are crafting initiatives to attract teachers of color, and, the exams exclude significant numbers of teachers of color. Colleges that attract larger numbers of teacher of color and other than English native speakers are faced with sanctions. The initial result is far fewer applicants to schools of education across the state.

The Higher Education Committee of the Board of Regents is sponsoring and Open Forum to allow college staff and students to explore the impact of the tests.

The forum will be held at St Francis College, 180 Remsen Street, Brooklyn 11201 at 6 PM on Monday, December 7th.

Richard Rothstein, Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap (2004)  writes,

Teaching is both an art and a science. Pedagogical skills and content knowledge can be taught, but beyond these, the greatest teaching requires an instinctive affinity for the role. the greater the teachers, the more art and the less science is involved. This is true of all fields. Most people achieve excellence through perspiration, but greatness – consistent performance in the top quintile – requires inspiration and innate skill as well. Much can be done to improve the 50th percentile teacher, but the inspiration that gets them all the way up the 90th percentile probably cannot be taught. You have it, or we don’t; if you don’t; you can still improve your teaching, but incrementally.

There may be that teaching gene.

The ill-conceived  John King  testing requirements for prospective teachers has created chaos. Colleges converted into test prep mills, colleges dissuaded from seeking students of color, prospective students deciding not to pursue teaching. Rather than filling classrooms with the “best and brightest” we are chasing the “best and brightest” away from teaching.

If you’re around tonight come by St Francis and listen to the teachers of teachers describe yet another incredibly ill-conceived initiative.

Schools seeking new teachers interview candidates, set up an opportunity to teach a model lesson, the interviews usually include colleagues, and, if hired new teachers must work four years as an at-will probationary employee; cutting down the pool of prospective teachers without any evidence that the required candidate testing impact student achievement is mindless.

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