Highly Qualified Minority Teachers: Do High-Stakes Teacher Tests Weed out Those We Need Most?

Article excerpt

As we enter the 21st century, our nation's public education system is under stress. Draconian budget cuts, and the impending retirement of an estimated three million teachers by the end of this decade (United States Department of Education, 2000) have teamed up with traditional problems of chronic teacher shortages. These shortages are found both in urban and rural schools and pose new challenges to those who will educate our next generation of students. Adding stress to this already taxed educational system is the largest generation of immigrant children our nation has seen (Obiakor & Utley, 1996; Locke, 2002). All of this increases the risk of leaving behind those who have the least voice in our school system--children of immigrants and non-native English speakers. It is of paramount importance that all of our students, both mainstream and diverse, have a cohort of qualified teachers able to address their unique needs.

In pursuing this course, we must consider how the requirement of "highly qualified teachers" in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) (No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, 2001) affects our efforts to educate a new generation of teachers. This Act will leave neither students nor teachers untested. Teacher licensure candidates will need to demonstrate their competencies for licensure in the same way that public school students must demonstrate their achievement through a single source of data--a standardized test. But the results of standardized teacher tests may not be valid for all groups of teacher licensure candidates.

It is my contention that the excessive focus on high stakes teacher tests to demonstrate licensure competencies will adversely impact our ability to provide the teachers who are best suited to address the needs of our diverse student population--minority and bilingual teachers. Minority and bilingual teacher licensure candidates, as all teacher licensure candidates, must pass a standardized teacher test in order to meet the federal definition of highly qualified to be eligible for licensure. These tests, however, may unwittingly function as closed gates to prevent non-traditional prospective teachers from successfully entering the teaching field. Further, it is my argument that the use of these tests will have the same sort of segregationist effect on our teacher population as explicitly discriminatory policies did prior to the civil rights movement.

In most states demonstration of licensure competencies is achieved by a passing score on a standardized teacher test. The use of teacher tests or professional exams dates back 35 years but their use for high-stakes decisions increased in 1998 when Congress passed the Higher Education Act (Wakefield, 2003). This Act mandated that states submit annual reports on teacher preparation and licensing. "States found the easiest way to fulfill Title II demands was to generate quantitative data to address a qualitative issue" (Wakefield, 2003, p. 380). Since then, high-stake assessments in the education arena have become political fodder. High-stakes tests, however, are not without controversy, particularly in regard to their use with diverse populations (Fowler, 2001; Hood & Parker, 1991; Latham, Gitomer, & Ziomek, 1999).

Controversy over this topic also reigns in my state of Oregon even though we currently have an alternative assessment option for linguistic minority licensure candidates. The purpose of this paper is to examine the use of standardized teacher tests as demonstration of licensure competencies for diverse candidates in Oregon and nationally. The following four areas and their accompanying questions will guide the development of this paper.

1. Principles and Practices of Learning: Why would a diverse teacher workforce help close the achievement gap?

2. Politics and Policy: What are the barriers that exist to meeting the need for diverse educators?

3. Research: What type of research will be needed to validate alternative assessments as viable options? …