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Testing Teacher Candidates: The Role of Licensure Tests in Improving Teacher Quality
ond, are the inferences drawn from the test results on specific tests (i.e., that some candidates have mastered some of the basic knowledge, skills, and abilities that are generally necessary to practice competently) sufficiently well grounded to justify the social outcomes of differential access to the teaching profession for members of different groups?
The finding that passing rates for one group are lower than those of another is not sufficient to conclude that the tests are biased. Bias arises when factors other than knowledge of a test’s content result in systematically higher or lower scores for particular groups of test takers. There are a number of factors that contribute to possible test bias: item bias, appropriateness of test content, and opportunity to learn issues.
Some researchers have found evidence of cultural bias on teacher tests that are no longer is use, especially tests of general knowledge (Medley and Quirk, 1974; Poggio et al., 1985, 1986). These findings have led to speculation that tests which rely more heavily on general life experiences and cultural knowledge than on a specific curriculum that can be studied may unfairly disadvantage candidates whose life experiences are substantially different from those of majority candidates. This would especially be the case if the content and referents represented on certain basic skills or general knowledge tests, for example, were more commonly present in the life experiences of majority candidates (Bond, 1998). At least some developers of teacher licensure tests, though, put considerable work into eliminating bias during test construction. Items are examined for potentially biasing language or situations, and questionable items often are repaired or removed (Educational Testing Service, 1999a). Additionally, items that show unusually large differences among groups are reexamined for bias. Items that show such differences may be removed from scoring. There is disagreement among committee members about the effectiveness of the statistical and other procedures used by test developers to reduce the cultural bias that might be present in test items. Some committee members contend that these procedures are effective in identifying potentially biased items, whereas others are more skeptical about these methods’ ability to detect biased questions. Some members worry that the procedures are not systematically applied.
Other researchers have reservations about the content of pedagogical knowledge tests. They argue that expectations about appropriate or effective teaching behaviors may differ in different kinds of communities and teaching settings and that tests of teacher knowledge that rely on particular ideologies of teaching (e.g., constructivist versus direct instruction approaches) may be differentially valid for different teaching contexts. Items or expected responses that overgeneralize notions about effective teaching behaviors to contexts in which they are less valid may unfairly disadvantage minority candidates who are more likely to