Americans have adopted a reform agenda for their schools that calls for excellence in teaching and learning (Goals 2000: Educate America Act of 1994, P.L. 103–227; Improving America’s Schools Act, 1994, P.L. 103–328; Council of Chief State School Officers, 1998). School officials across the nation are hard at work targeting instruction at high levels for all students. Gaps remain, however, between the nation’s educational aspirations and student achievement (Jencks and Phillips, 1998; Rothstein, 1998; U.S. Department of Education, 1996b, 1997a, 1997b, 1997c, 1998b, 1999a). To address these gaps, policy makers have recently focused on the qualifications of teachers and the preparation of teacher candidates (National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, 1996; U.S. Department of Education, 1999b).
These issues took center stage in the 2000 presidential election. George W. Bush became president with a promise to put education first and leave no child behind (2001). He unveiled a series of proposals to increase student achievement and improve teacher quality. President Bush echoed his predecessor’s call for improving the quality of teachers. In his 1996 State of the Union Address, President Clinton called for “dedicated, outstanding teachers, who know their subject matter, are effectively trained, and know how to teach to high standards.” His Secretary of Education, Richard Riley, highlighted aspects of a revised Elementary and Secondary Education Act during his annual state of American Education speech (1999). He called on states and school districts to address teacher quality and make improvements in the recruitment, preparation, and training of teachers. The 105th Congress also highlighted teacher preparation and initial teacher licensure as critical targets for improvement. They called for the use of
tests to license beginning teachers and the creation of incentives and sanctions to change teacher education. These two policy targets are among those addressed by a new federal law (P.L. 105–244).
These recent initiatives and the new administration provide an opportunity for the nation to clarify its thinking about the preparation of teacher candidates to meet current and upcoming demands for additional teachers. They raise questions about the appropriateness and soundness of current measures of teacher competence and about the roles of federal and state governments and higher education in assuring the quality of teacher preparation and teacher licensure.
In 1996, President Clinton, the nation’s governors, and American business professionals met at the National Education Summit to renew their commitment to achieving high academic standards for American students and schools (Achieve, 1997). States responded by developing and strengthening their content and performance standards for student learning and by adopting standards-based tests to help drive and assess reform. Threaded throughout these reforms was the important promise to educate all students at high levels.
Innovators and educators across the nation are now implementing and refining these reforms (U.S. Department of Education, 1999b; National Research Council, 1999c; Council of Chief State School Officers, 1998; Baker and Linn, 1997; Massell et al., 1997). They have begun to link their standards for student learning to more challenging standards for teachers and to the objectives of teacher education (Cohen and Spillane, 1993; Smith and O’Day, 1991; National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification, 2000b). Darling-Hammond et al. (1999:2) explain what these reforms require of teachers:
This new mission for education requires substantially more knowledge and radically different skills for teachers…. In order to create bridges between common, challenging curriculum goals and individual learners’ experiences and needs, teachers must understand cognition and the many different pathways to learning. They must understand child development and pedagogy as well as the structures of subject areas and a variety of alternatives for assessing learning… If all children are to be effectively taught, teachers must be prepared to address the substantial diversity in the experiences children bring with them to school— the wide range of languages, cultures, exceptionalities, learning styles, talents, and intelligences that in turn [require] an equally rich and varied repertoire of teaching strategies. In addition, teaching for universal learning demands a highly developed ability to discover what children know and can do, as well as how they think and how they learn, and to match learning and performance opportunities to the needs of individual children.
Five years ago the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (1996:5) developed an agenda for improved teaching. In What Matters Most: Teaching for America’s Future, the commission called for teachers with the knowledge and skills needed to help all students reach high and rigorous standards. The commission set a goal for the United States. By the year 2006, the nation must “provide all students in the country with what should be their educational birthright: access to competent, caring, and qualified teachers.”
To help reach this goal, the commission asked for sweeping changes in teacher education, licensure, and support, as well as reform of teacher recruitment and retention; reform of teacher preparation; mentoring and support systems for new teachers; and innovative teacher evaluation, reward, and development systems. These recommendations and those of earlier groups, including the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE, 1992), the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC, 1992), and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS, 1994), have accelerated efforts to reform teacher preparation and assessment.
These national efforts parallel work at the state level. States have been examining and bolstering their teacher standards and licensure systems (U.S. Department of Education, 1999b; National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification, 2000b). Many states have reexamined the basic skills, general knowledge, subject matter knowledge, and knowledge about pedagogy they want beginning teachers to master (Council of Chief State School Officers, 2000). Many have also adopted or are developing challenging new teacher standards. Over half of the states have joined together under the auspices of INTASC to develop model policies for reforming teacher preparation and licensure. Many states are in the process of aligning newly developed teaching standards with their licensure requirements, including coursework requirements, requirements for disciplinary majors or minors, and student teaching criteria. Some states also are aligning their licensure tests with these challenging new standards.
Forty-two states currently use tests in licensing beginning teachers to support varied decisions about teacher candidates. States use teacher licensure tests as a standard for entry into teacher training programs or student teaching, to certify successful completion of teacher training, or to control the initial licensure of teachers (National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification, 2000b). Every state selects its own tests and establishes its own passing scores.
There are several hundred teacher licensure tests currently in use. They vary from basic skills tests in reading, writing, and mathematics to tests of subject matter knowledge, general knowledge, and knowledge of teaching strate-
gies. Test formats vary from multiple-choice questions to open-ended questions to performance assessments. Like licensure tests in other professional fields, these tests are designed to identify candidates with the knowledge and skills that experts believe are minimally necessary.
These tests have significant consequences for teacher candidates and potentially for America’s students and schools. On some of the more widely used initial licensure tests, average failure rates are approximately 15 percent (Gitomer et al., 1999). Average failure rates are higher, however, for racial/ethnic minority applicants, in some states, and in some subject areas (Gitomer et al., 1999; U.S. Department of Education, 2000a).
Despite their importance and widespread use, little is known about the impact of these tests on states’ recent efforts to improve teaching and learning. Little information about the technical soundness of teacher licensure tests appears in the published literature. Little research exists on the extent to which licensure tests identify candidates with the knowledge and skills necessary to be minimally competent beginning teachers. Information is needed about the soundness and technical quality of the tests that states use to license their teachers.
In addition to professional and state efforts, the federal government is taking a more active role in teacher quality efforts than it did in the past. In 1998 Congress amended Title II of the Higher Education Act to provide funds for teacher quality initiatives proposed by states and partnerships of higher education institutions, high-need school districts, and other agencies. Under Title II new provisions call for reform of teacher preparation, reform of licensure requirements, enhanced teacher recruitment efforts, and alternatives to traditional teacher education. The law also lays out public reporting and accountability requirements for states and teacher education programs. It creates a mechanism that limits federal funding to teacher preparation programs from which states have withdrawn approval or financial support. (See Appendix A for the text of Title II, the Teacher Quality Enhancement Grants to States and Partnerships.)
Under the reporting and evaluation provisions of Title II, every state is required to create a system for identifying and helping low-performing teacher preparation programs. The law requires states to report annually their low-performing institutions and those at risk of being designated as such. The law requires states to document the passing rates of candidates at each teacher education institution and, based on these, to rank or place the state’s teacher education programs in quartiles. The law also requires states to issue report cards describing their test and other licensure requirements, reporting the statewide passing rates of their teacher candidates, and reporting the number of individuals teaching with waivers of state licensure requirements.
Title II requires teacher education programs to separately provide institutional reports on the quality of their teacher preparation efforts, including passing rates on state teacher licensure tests, comparisons of institutional results with state average passing rates, an indication of whether the institution has been designated as low performing, and information on teacher education requirements. All of this information is to be included in institutional publications, including promotional materials, school catalogs, and information sent to prospective employers. Low-performing institutions from which states have withdrawn approval or support are prohibited from enrolling students who receive financial aid under Title IV of the Higher Education Act. They are also ineligible to receive professional development funds under the law.
These requirements face opposition from states and higher education institutions (Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium, 1999; American Association of State Colleges and Universities, 1999, 2000a; American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, 2000; Teacher Education Accreditation Council, 2000). Critics question whether the requirements of the law provide a sound basis for determining the quality of teacher education programs (Blair, 1999). They also question whether passing rates on initial teacher licensure tests should weigh so heavily in reports of program quality. They argue that teacher licensure tests provide only a limited view of program quality and that passing rates on licensure tests are not comparable across states and institutions (American Association of State Colleges and Universities, 2000a; American Council on Education, 1999).
COMMITTEE’S CHARGE AND STUDY METHODS
Because of these important efforts and the difficulty of this work, the U.S. Department of Education requested that the National Academy of Sciences investigate the technical, educational, and legal issues surrounding the use of current tests in licensing beginning teachers and to consider alternative measures of beginning competence. The Committee on Assessment and Teacher Quality was convened in 1999 under the aegis of the Board on Testing and Assessment. In response to its charge, the committee sought to answer three questions:
Do current initial teacher licensure tests measure beginning teacher competence appropriately and in a technically sound way?
Should teacher licensure tests be used to hold states and institutions of higher education accountable for the quality of teacher preparation and licensure?
How can innovative measures of beginning teacher competence help improve teacher quality?
This report presents the committee’s findings, conclusions, and recommendations.
National Research Council Study Process
The members of the Committee on Assessment and Teacher Quality represent a broad range of expertise, experience, and perspectives. The committee was composed and procedures were instituted to achieve balance, independence, and protection against bias. Members represent the fields of teaching, teacher education, measurement, licensure, economics, and law.
The committee worked over the course of 20 months to define its scope, review the relevant scientific literature, study testing and licensure program practices, and commission test reviews and papers. The committee issued an interim report in 2000. It then deliberated and worked toward consensus on the conclusions and recommendations presented here. The committee’s work was conducted with the oversight of the Board on Testing and Assessment and the National Academy of Sciences.
Nature of the Evidence
In conducting its work, the committee collected information and data related to policies, practice, and research on initial teacher licensure. It examined the published research literature on teacher quality, teacher testing, and professional licensure; reviewed state and federal policies on licensure testing and teacher licensure; and examined current licensure tests, their uses, and states’ policies on setting passing scores on those tests. The committee also sought data on the quality of current tests, the relationships between test results and teacher competence, and the consequences of current tests and licensure systems. The committee looked at examples of innovative teacher licensure programs in the United States and at licensure in other professions. It gathered information on teacher licensure in Germany, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France, and the United Kingdom to fuel its thinking about alternative systems. It reviewed licensure programs in nursing, physical therapy, accounting, social work, engineering, architecture, land surveying, law, and medicine.
The committee sponsored a number of activities, including a workshop on teacher licensure in selected states. It solicited testimony from state policy makers about INTASC and NBPTS efforts, and from staff of the leading test development agencies. The committee interviewed teacher candidates; commissioned papers on evaluation criteria for teacher licensure tests; consulted with and commissioned analyses from experts in measurement, licensure, economics, and law; and commissioned bibliographical reviews on test validity issues in initial teacher licensure and on teacher supply. It also sought technical documentation from test developers and commissioned an evaluation of selected tests by the Oscar and Luella Buros Center for Testing.
Discussion of the state of the evidentiary base on teacher licensure testing provides an important prelude to the chapters that follow. As suggested in the
beginning of this chapter, policy and practice on teacher licensure testing in the United States are nascent and evolving. Education policy makers and practitioners are hard at work implementing broad education reforms and reform in teacher development, assessment, and support. Policy and practice are changing faster than their effects can be examined. Present programs have not been stable long enough to be examined for their intended and unintended effects. Hence, the data the committee consulted regarding current programs and policies are incomplete.
Furthermore, researchers hold differing views on the evidence that is relevant, necessary, and sufficient to judge the appropriateness and technical quality of teacher licensure tests. Some view currently collected data on the technical characteristics of licensure tests as sufficient (Jaeger, 1999; Stoker and Impara, 1995; Popham, 1992); others do not (Haertel, 1991; Haney et al., 1987; Pullin, 1999; Sireci and Green, 2000). Some consider it impossible to collect data on the relationships between initial teacher licensure tests and teacher competence; others consider it difficult but not impossible. Research is hampered by the difficulty of defining and constructing measures of teacher competence, the difficulty of defining and constructing measures of minimally competent beginning teaching, and the absence of information on teaching proficiency for many individuals who fail licensing tests.
The paucity of data and these methodological challenges made the committee’s examination of teacher licensure testing difficult. There were a number of questions the committee wanted to answer but could not, either because they were beyond the scope of this study, the evidentiary base was inconclusive, or the committee’s time and resources were insufficient. These included questions about:
whether current tests really separate out competent from incompetent beginning teachers;
whether present tests and passing scores are too easy or too hard;
whether current licensure requirements make sense across the different levels of schooling (K-5, 6–8, 9–12) and subject areas;
whether there is as much variation across states in the knowledge and skills needed to be minimally competent as differences in state passing scores suggest;
whether initial teacher licensure tests appropriately or inappropriately limit supply, both in the aggregate and for minority candidates; and
whether teacher licensure systems should be centralized to consolidate states’ development resources and allow candidates to more easily move across states.
The committee poses these as questions to the field.
This report and its findings, conclusions, and recommendations represent
the unanimous consensus of a 15-member committee of scholars. The report does not document all of the literature and testimony the committee reviewed, nor does it fully chronicle the committee’s deliberations. The committee viewed its mission as one of analyzing and distilling the primary and secondary literature and other direct evidence to produce a summary report useful to policy makers and other audiences.
OVERVIEW OF THE REPORT
Chapter 2 describes the knowledge, skills, abilities, and dispositions that competent teachers demonstrate. In Chapter 3 current systems for licensing teacher candidates and the licensure tests that states use are described. Included are case studies of initial teacher licensing in several states. Chapter 4 presents the committee’s framework for evaluating teacher licensure tests. Chapter 5 uses the framework to examine several widely used tests. Chapter 6 examines the extent to which tests can and cannot improve teacher competence and supply. Chapter 7 examines the newly enacted Title II, the Teacher Quality Enhancement Grants for States and Partnerships, and discusses the use of licensure test results for program accountability. Chapter 8 presents options for improving the assessment of teacher candidates. The report ends with the committee’s recommendations for policy makers, teacher testers, and teacher educators regarding the use of existing tests to assess teacher candidates and to evaluate teacher preparation.