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Testing Teacher Candidates: The Role of Licensure Tests in Improving Teacher Quality
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 associations, and test developers bring the intellectual and financial resources of several organizations to this difficult work.
It is crucial that states use multiple forms of evidence in making decisions about teacher candidates. Licensure systems should be designed to rely on a comprehensive but parsimonious set of high-quality indicators.
States, test developers, and professional organizations should continue exploring joint development of initial teacher licensing tests for the knowledge and skill areas they have in common. Federal and state governments and private organizations should appropriate funds to support this kind of collaboration.
Making Decisions About Candidates Based on Licensure Tests
States set passing scores on licensure tests based on judgments about the levels of knowledge and skill needed for minimally competent beginning teaching. Although many states rely on commonly used standard-setting procedures, there is little documentation about these procedures and how states actually use this information in arriving at a final decision about passing scores. In attempts to raise teacher standards, some states have recently raised their passing scores on particular tests. Some report having set passing scores that are higher than those of other states.
On all of the tests the committee reviewed, minority candidates had lower passing rates than nonminority candidates on their initial testing attempts. Though differences between the passing rates of candidate groups eventually decrease because many unsuccessful test takers retake and pass the tests, eventual passing rates for minority candidates are still lower than those for nonminority test takers.