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Testing Teacher Candidates: The Role of Licensure Tests in Improving Teacher Quality
three shows the most stringent passing scores set by states for each of the tests, and data column four shows the associated national percentiles.
Table 3–6 shows substantial variation among states in the passing scores set for teacher examinations. For example, state passing scores on the Principles of Learning and Teaching (PLT): K-6 test range from 152 to 169 on a scale of 100 to 200. A score of 152 on the test places candidates at about the 6th percentile on the national distribution; a score of 169 places examinees at about the 34th percentile. That is, in one state, teacher candidates can pass the PLT testing requirement for licensure by scoring slightly above the 6th percentile of candidates in the national distribution. In another, applicants for licensure must score above the bottom third of the national candidate population on the PLT to satisfy the licensing requirement.
Variations in passing scores for states using the same tests show the states’ differing minimum requirements for entry-level teaching. It is not known whether differences in passing scores on current tests reflect methodological differences in the standard-setting process, differences in the judgments of state panels about the minimum requirements for beginning teachers, or policy makers’ adjustments to panelists’ recommendations. Also not known is the extent to which differences in states’ teaching and learning standards or differing concerns about decision errors, teacher quality, or teacher supply influence variability across states.
The large variation in passing standards that occurs among states that use the same test is not a phenomenon unique to teacher tests. For example, the differences in passing standards among states are larger for the law bar exam than they are on Praxis I, and these differences occur even though virtually every state claims that its bar exam is testing for minimum or basic competency to practice law (Wightman, 1998). States differ in the specific bar exam test score level of proficiency that they believe corresponds to this standard. The same is true in teaching.
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, with 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.