skills, and think critically is highly complex and demanding. Teachers need to motivate and engage all students, including students from varied backgrounds and those with different learning and language needs. In addition to being responsible for student learning, teachers are expected to provide safe and nurturing classrooms, to serve as good role models, and to engage parents and the community in the business of their schools. Teachers need a wide range of knowledge, skills, abilities, and dispositions to perform these many complex tasks.
There is no single agreed-upon definition of what competencies a beginning teacher should have. Different professional organizations and many states have recently developed standards for teachers. The fact that different states have affiliations with these national and regional standards development efforts suggests some agreement between states about standards for teacher competence. Given that states have different educational standards for students, have teacher candidate pools with different characteristics, and that licensing of teachers is a state responsibility, it is not surprising that there is some variation in the knowledge and skills that states seek for beginning teachers.
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 at least 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 require tests uses a different combination of them, uses them at different points in a candidate’s education, and sets its own passing scores. Several hundred different initial licensure tests are currently in use. Two