Current Licensure Testing

Licensure is a state function. It is aimed, above all, at protecting the public. As defined by the federal government, licensure is “ the process by which an agency of government grants permission to persons to engage in a given profession or occupation by certifying that those licensed have attained the minimal degree of competency necessary to ensure that the public health, safety, and welfare will be reasonably well protected” (U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, 1971:7). States issue licenses for more than 900 professions, from lawyers and architects to food handlers and cosmetologists.

To be consistent with conventional parlance, this report uses the terms “licensure” and “licensure testing” to refer to the decisions that states make and the tools they use to make those decisions. However, this term is not precisely accurate when referring to teachers. Unlike members of other professions, teachers who do not earn licenses can teach in independent schools, and they can teach in public schools with temporary “emergency” permits or credentials.

Licensure is distinct from hiring. Although state licenses grant permission for teachers to teach in public schools, local agencies —school districts and, in many cases, schools—actually hire the teachers and so determine who will teach and what they will teach. The districts and schools that hire teachers may decide to use criteria in addition to the holding of a license in deciding which teachers to hire. They may also, depending on local needs, decide to hire teachers for positions for which they are not licensed. That is, schools may hire or place a teacher licensed to teach mathematics in science classes or one with a license to teach in middle schools in an elementary school.



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TESTS AND Teaching Quality: Interim Report Current Licensure Testing Licensure is a state function. It is aimed, above all, at protecting the public. As defined by the federal government, licensure is “ the process by which an agency of government grants permission to persons to engage in a given profession or occupation by certifying that those licensed have attained the minimal degree of competency necessary to ensure that the public health, safety, and welfare will be reasonably well protected” (U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, 1971:7). States issue licenses for more than 900 professions, from lawyers and architects to food handlers and cosmetologists. To be consistent with conventional parlance, this report uses the terms “licensure” and “licensure testing” to refer to the decisions that states make and the tools they use to make those decisions. However, this term is not precisely accurate when referring to teachers. Unlike members of other professions, teachers who do not earn licenses can teach in independent schools, and they can teach in public schools with temporary “emergency” permits or credentials. Licensure is distinct from hiring. Although state licenses grant permission for teachers to teach in public schools, local agencies —school districts and, in many cases, schools—actually hire the teachers and so determine who will teach and what they will teach. The districts and schools that hire teachers may decide to use criteria in addition to the holding of a license in deciding which teachers to hire. They may also, depending on local needs, decide to hire teachers for positions for which they are not licensed. That is, schools may hire or place a teacher licensed to teach mathematics in science classes or one with a license to teach in middle schools in an elementary school.

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TESTS AND Teaching Quality: Interim Report VARIATION IN STATE POLICIES In setting policies for licensing teachers, states determine the basic skills (usually reading, writing, and mathematics abilities), general knowledge, specific subject-matter knowledge, and knowledge about teaching and learning they believe beginning teachers ought to possess. States also establish the criteria for determining whether prospective teachers have these skills and knowledge. These criteria generally include coursework in state-approved teacher education programs at the undergraduate or graduate levels, a major or minor in the intended teaching field, and student-teaching experience. Forty-one states also require prospective teachers to pass one or more tests. A growing number of states have supplemented college and university preparation programs for licensure with alternative routes for people to enter teaching from other fields. These routes often include an entrance requirement for content expertise and experience in the field. The candidates then participate in an intensive study of teaching and learning, and they are provided on-site supervision as beginning teachers. In most cases, such teachers are required to pass the same tests as those who become teachers through traditional routes. Requirements vary widely across states. Approximately 30 states specify academic requirements for entry into a teacher preparation program. Nearly all states require prospective teachers to complete coursework —in content areas and pedagogy—in approved teacher-education programs. A few states, including Ohio, Connecticut, and Kansas, have abandoned prescriptive coursework requirements and have adopted instead broad-based standards or sets of competencies that must be mastered, presumably by completing a state's approved teacher preparation program. Many states also include ancillary licensure requirements such as U.S. citizenship, minimum age, adequate health, good moral character, and allegiance to the government. Eight states grant a permanent license for which there are no further requirements. The majority of states, though, have a two- or three-tiered licensure process. After earning a provisional license, which usually includes passing a test, teachers in these states typically must complete advanced degrees or continue professional development to earn a permanent license. A small number of states, including Ohio, North Carolina, and Connecticut, require demonstration of competent teaching practice to obtain the next level of license. TYPES OF TESTS The 41 states that require teachers to pass a test to earn a license vary widely in their practices. Tests are available to measure aspects of teacher knowledge, and state agencies have chosen different tests depending on what knowledge and skills they believe teachers ought to demonstrate. (See the appendix for a table

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TESTS AND Teaching Quality: Interim Report showing the diversity of assessment requirements among state licensure systems.) The content of the tests varies from the assessment of basic reading, writing, and mathematics skills to deep subject-matter knowledge to the demonstration of teaching skill. The format varies from multiple choice to constructed response. The tests assess five general aspects of teacher knowledge: basic skills, content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, and teaching performance. Basic Skills. The most common type of test measures basic literacy and mathematics. Thirty-seven states assess prospective teachers' basic skills, using a variety of options. Twenty-four states have chosen Praxis I (formerly called the Pre-Professional Skills Test), the first part of the Praxis Series produced by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). According to ETS, Praxis I measures the basic knowledge in mathematics, reading, and writing deemed essential for all teachers. The other 13 states have chosen to use basic skills tests specifically designed for their teacher-candidates. In five states, the basic skills test is designed by National Evaluation Systems (NES), with the test owned by the respective state (National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification, 1999). The remaining eight states have developed their own basic skills tests. Subject-Matter Knowledge. In addition to the assessments of teachers' basic skills, 31 states require teachers to take a test on subject-matter knowledge. As with the basic skills tests, states can choose from among several options for this purpose. The Praxis II series (formerly the National Teacher Examinations) includes 140 such exams. The nine states that use tests designed for their states by NES also provide a range of subject-area tests. For example, New York offers 21 tests, and Michigan offers 78 tests. Florida has developed its own subject-matter knowledge tests. Pedagogical Knowledge. Twenty-five states also use tests to assess teachers' pedagogical knowledge. Of these, 20 states use a component of Praxis II called the Principles of Learning and Teaching Tests. These tests are offered for prospective teachers in three grade levels: grades K-6, 5-9, and 7-12. The tests cover organizing content knowledge for student learning, creating an environment for student learning, teaching for student learning, and teacher professionalism. They are intended to draw on prospective teachers' knowledge of educational psychology, classroom management, instructional design and delivery techniques, and evaluation and assessment. NES has also developed pedagogical knowledge tests for a few states, including Oklahoma, Colorado, New York, and Texas. Florida has developed its own test of pedagogical knowledge, called the Florida Professional Education Test, and California has developed a professional

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TESTS AND Teaching Quality: Interim Report knowledge test for reading instruction, called the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment. Pedagogical Content Knowledge. There is another kind of teacher knowledge that includes dimensions of both subject-matter and pedagogical knowledge, termed pedagogical content knowledge. According to Shulman (1986:9), pedagogical content knowledge goes beyond the knowledge of subject matter to include the “dimension of subject-matter knowledge for teaching.” This type of knowledge includes ways of formulating or representing subject matter to make it understandable to students, as well as an understanding of what makes learning a topic easy or difficult, for example, the misconceptions about the solar system that might impede a student's learning about astronomy. The Praxis II series includes tests of pedagogical content knowledge in biology, foreign language, mathematics, physical education, physical science, social studies, and Spanish. However, few states require prospective teachers to take tests of pedagogical content knowledge. Teaching Performance. In a handful of states, assessments of candidates' teaching performance is becoming part of the licensure system, so that beginning teachers must demonstrate competence in the classroom to qualify for a provisional teaching license. This interim report focuses on tests for initial licensure; the assessments of teaching performance will be considered in the final report. WAIVERS TO LICENSING RULES While the licensure rules and test requirements generally determine who is eligible to teach in public schools, two-thirds of the states allow waivers of the rules to allow districts to hire teachers on an emergency basis if they cannot find enough licensed teachers in particular fields. Some states allow the hiring of teachers with no license; other states issue emergency or temporary licenses to individuals who have met some requirements (such as a bachelor's degree, passage of a basic skills test, or a license from another state), but who have not fulfilled all the licensure requirements. In all but three states that require basic-skills tests, the test requirements may be waived or delayed for emergency licenses; subject-matter test requirements may be waived in all but one state (New Jersey) that require them. In some cases, these waiver policies may mean that districts can hire teachers who have failed licensure tests (Education Week, 2000). The number of teachers employed with emergency permits or credentials varies widely across states, and state rules differ as to which licensure requirements may be waived for teachers using emergency credentials. The number of teachers with emergency licenses is substantial in some states, particularly in some districts or fields within states. For example, in Texas, 42,470 teachers

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TESTS AND Teaching Quality: Interim Report (17.6 percent of the state's teaching force) received waivers from licensure requirements in 1996-1997; 22.6 percent (4,012 of 17,759) of mathematics teachers in Texas that year were teaching with waivers. In some states, however, the number of teachers with waivers is relatively small: in Washington State, 418 of the state's 62,607 teachers (0.7 percent) held waivers in 1998 (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). The proportion of teachers with waivers tends to be higher in high-poverty districts than in low-poverty districts. For example, in Maryland in 1999, 2 percent of teachers in low-poverty districts (425 of 20,813) had waivers, compared with 8.5 percent (2,351 of 27,676) in high-poverty districts (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). TEST USE AND PASSING SCORES In addition to using different types of tests, states also use tests in different ways. For example, some states require basic skills tests for admittance into teacher education programs, while other states require candidates to take such tests after completing such programs. Each state also establishes its own passing scores for the tests it requires. These scores vary widely even when states use the same test. As an example, consider the minimum scores different states require on the Praxis subject-matter tests (see Figure 1 ). The range of passing scores on Praxis II Mathematics: Content Knowledge goes from 124 to 147 (of possible scores of 100-200). In 1997-1998, the lowest passing score set by states (124) placed candidates slightly above the 20th percentile in the national distribution of all takers, while the highest passing score set (147) was at about the 75th percentile. It is virtually impossible to make meaningful comparisons of passing scores across states when states use their own tests. The variations in the content and format of the tests, the average difficulty of their questions, the different times (in candidates' teacher education programs) at which they are administered, and the way the results are reported and used to make pass/fail decisions pose substantial obstacles to making valid comparisons of scores and passing rates across states (National Research Council, 1998). COMPARISONS OF PASSING RATES Title II of the Higher Education Act of 1998 requires reports by states and institutions of higher education of passing rates on licensure tests. A preliminary report, released in December 1999, uses data provided by the states to show the testing requirements for each state and the passing rate for each institution within the state (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). In the future, the Secretary of Education is required to produce a national “report card” that includes the passing rates in each state and each institution within the state, along with information on

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TESTS AND Teaching Quality: Interim Report FIGURE 1 State minimum passing scores on the ETS Praxis Content area tests, by score percentile: 1997-1998. SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education (1999: Graph 2). the state's efforts to improve teacher quality. The report is also expected to include the national mean and median scores on licensure tests used in more than one state. The forthcoming reports are expected to rely on a common set of definitions, currently being developed by the National Center for Education Statistics, that will help ensure that the states and institutions mean the same thing when they indicate who belongs in the pool of test takers and the pool of those who passed. However, the variability in tests, passing scores, and student populations across states makes meaningful comparisons of passing rates extremely difficult.

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TESTS AND Teaching Quality: Interim Report What does it mean if State A, which requires graduates to pass Praxis I to earn a license, has a passing rate of 80 percent, while State B, which uses a different test, has a passing rate of 55 percent? The law also requires institutions to include data on passing rates in school catalogues and materials provided to high school counselors. The legislation further allows states to consider many factors in determining when an institution is “low performing.” Thus, the law recognizes that passing rates may vary among institutions of higher education as a result of differences in their policies and the characteristics of their students, as well as in the quality of the instruction they provide. Unfortunately, the public may not have enough specific information about each institution to make valid comparisons in passing rates among them. For example, institutions that restrict entry to teacher education programs are likely to have higher passing rates than those that are less restrictive and whose mission is focused on providing opportunity for all students. Institutions also have different policies for testing: some administer tests upon entry to teacher education programs; others administer them at the conclusion of the program and provide multiple opportunities for candidates to pass the tests. Such policies are likely to affect passing rates even though they may have little or nothing to do with the quality of the institution 's educational programs.