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Testing Teacher Candidates: The Role of Licensure Tests in Improving Teacher Quality
live and work in these settings (Irvine, 1990; Ladson-Billings, 1994; Delpit, 1996).
Perhaps most important, the fact that members of minority groups have had less access to high-quality education for most of this country’s history (National Research Council, 2001), and that disparate impact occurs across a wide range of tests could suggest that differential outcomes reflect differential educational opportunities more than test bias. In addition to uneven educational opportunities, some contend that these differences may relate to differences between groups in test preparation and test anxiety (Steele, 1992). At the same time, concerns have been raised that the disparities in candidate outcomes on some teacher licensing tests exceed those on other tests of general cognitive ability (Haney et al., 1987; Goertz and Pitcher, 1985). One explanation for these larger historical differences is that there have been geographic differences in the concentrations of test takers of different groups taking particular tests and that these are correlated with differences in educational opportunities available to minorities in different parts of the country (Haney et al., 1987). This hypothesis also may explain why differences among groups are much smaller on some teacher tests than on others and why the pattern for Hispanics does not necessarily follow that for African Americans.
Another explanation is that minority candidates for teaching are drawn disproportionately from the lower end of the achievement distribution among minority college students. Darling-Hammond et al. (1999) suggest this could arise if the monetary rewards of teaching are especially low for minority group members relative to other occupations to which they now have access.
When there are major differences in test scores among groups, it is important to evaluate the extent to which the tests are related to the foundational knowledge needed for teaching or to a candidate’s capacity to perform competently as a teacher. If minority candidates pass the test at a lower rate than their white peers, the public should expect that there is substantial evidence that the test (and the standard represented by the passing scores that are in effect) is appropriate. For example, the test should be a sound measure of the foundational skills needed for teaching, such as basic literacy skills or subject matter knowledge, that teachers need to provide instruction effectively or should accurately assess skills that make a difference in teacher competence in the classroom. This concern for test validity should be particularly salient when large numbers of individuals who are members of historically underrepresented minority groups have difficulty passing the tests.
Lower passing rates for minority candidates on teacher licensure tests mean that a smaller subset of the already small numbers of minority teacher candidates will move into the hiring pool as licensees and that schools and districts will