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Testing Teacher Candidates: The Role of Licensure Tests in Improving Teacher Quality
Designing Tests for Initial Licensure
The primary goal of licensing beginning teachers is to ensure that all students have competent teachers. Teacher licensing is under the authority of individual states. There are 51 unique licensure systems in the United States; they share some commonalties, however. As in other professions, teacher licensing relies on more than tests to judge whether candidates have the knowledge, skills, abilities, and dispositions to practice responsibly. Teacher candidates generally must fulfill education requirements, successfully complete practice teaching, and receive the recommendations of their preparing institutions. These requirements help ensure that a broad range of competencies are considered in licensing new teachers.
Initial teacher licensure tests are designed to identify candidates with some of the knowledge and skills needed for minimally competent beginning practice. The tests currently used measure basic skills, general knowledge, content knowledge, and knowledge of teaching strategies. They are designed to separate teacher candidates who are minimally competent in the areas assessed from those who are not. Initial teacher licensure tests do not provide information to distinguish moderately qualified from highly qualified teacher candidates nor are they designed to test all of the competencies relevant to beginning practice.
States decide whether and what tests to use to license beginning teachers. Each of the 42 states that requires tests uses a different combination of them, uses them at different points in a candidate’s education, and sets its own passing scores. States use initial licensure tests for admission to teacher education, as a prerequisite for student teaching, as a condition of graduation, and/or as a licensure requirement. Several hundred different initial licensure tests are currently in use. Two test developers—Educational Testing Service (ETS) and National Evaluation Systems (NES)—develop the vast majority of these tests.
Because a teacher’s work is complex, even a set of well-designed tests cannot measure all of the prerequisites of competent beginning teaching. Current paper-and-pencil tests provide only some of the information needed to evaluate the competencies of teacher candidates.
States have gradually adopted tests for teacher licensure, and test developers have made various tests available over time. Therefore, it is not surprising that states have adopted a variety of tests to license beginning teachers.
Appropriate, technically sound tests are difficult and costly to develop. Collaborations among states participating in the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium and other states, professional asso-