Possible Tradeoffs in Raising Basic Skills Cutoff Scores for Teacher Licensure: A Study with Implications for Participation of African Americans in Teaching

Article excerpt

In the 1980s, respected academics such as John Hope Franklin (1987) and widely distributed educational publications--for example, the Phi Delta Kappan (Graham, 1987)--published articles citing a decline in the number of African Americans entering teaching as a career and calling for increased recruitment efforts. During the same period, several teacher educators reported studies suggesting that one reason for this decline was the introduction of test requirements for admission to teacher education or for licensure (Garcia, 1986; Gillis, 1990-1991; Smith, Miller, & Joy, 1988). Soon, important educational organizations and agencies, including the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (Dilworth, 1990) and the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (Dorman, 1990), published reports concurring with the view that test requirements were preventing many African Americans and other people of color from becoming teachers or were discouraging them from that career path. These writers presented convincing reasons that this decline should be reversed, and soon the respected Review of Educational Research published an article (King, 1993a) that in part was a summary of research evidence for the importance of having African American teachers in the nation's schools. The circumstances seemed to support a reconsideration of these test requirements by teacher education institutions and state licensing agencies.


As the 1980s ended and the 1990s began and passed, developments occurred, however, which seemed to focus attention away from test requirements as a possible obstacle that should be removed from the path of capable African Americans and other minorities wishing to become teachers.

Although important litigation against teacher tests had occurred in the 1980s and some legal experts saw bases for continuing to challenge the tests in court (Ware, 1989), other experts cited the failure of such challenges and focused on ways to design admission and licensure tests so that their use would be upheld in the courts (Cohen, 1989; D'Costa, 1993; Kuehn, Stallings, & Holland, 1990). Court cases during the 1980s on teacher testing had raised questions regarding certain testing practices, but the primary result had not been to reduce the use of admission and licensure tests but to move states and school districts away from requirements involving tests of professional knowledge to tests of basic skills (Haney, Madaus, & Kreitzer, 1987). Soon, specialists in the law relevant to these test requirements concluded that the prospects for using litigation to expand the entry of African Americans and other minorities into teaching were bleak (Hood & Parker, 1991). In the face of numerous legal challenges, the survival of the basic skills test used for teacher licensure in California may have been one reason that discussions of the law of teacher tests had become rare in educational journals by the end of the 1990s (Kelemen & Koski, 1998). Most of the articles on this topic that did appear in these publications (e.g., Klein, 1998; Sireci & Green, 2000) focused on ways to make licensure tests legally and psychometrically defensible.

Another development that may have inadvertently reduced attention on test requirements as an alleged obstacle to the participation of African Americans in teaching was a flurry of research in the 1990s exploring the reasons why African Americans and other people of color do or do not enter the teaching profession (Gordon, 1994; King, 1993b; Mack, Smith, & Jackson, 1996; Siddens, Kearney, & Yarbrough, 1997; Su, 1996; Wong, 1994). This research revealed that among the reasons many African American and other minority students reject teaching as a career are the low teacher salaries in comparison to those of other professions requiring a similar amount of education, the perceived low prestige of teaching, and a work environment seen as unappealing. …