Highly Qualified Minority Teachers: Do High-Stakes Teacher Tests Weed out Those We Need Most?
Brown, Julie Esparza, International Journal of Educational Policy, Research and Practice
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?
4. Organizational Leadership: What qualities in leaders produce policies for equity?
At the conclusion of this paper I will provide a compelling example of a bilingual/bicultural teacher that successfully followed an alternative assessment option available in Oregon to linguistic minority teacher candidates whose current students are not only succeeding academically but are outperforming their peers.
Oregon's Teacher Workforce
In 1991, the Oregon Legislature, recognizing the disparity between its diverse student population and predominantly European-American teacher workforce, drafted the Minority Teacher Act (Minority Teacher Act, 1991). It reads:
The State of Oregon is committed to ethnic-racial equity and, therefore, it is the goal of the state that by the year 2001, the number of minority teachers, including administrators, employed by school districts and education service districts shall be approximately proportionate to the number of minority children enrolled in the public schools of this state. (Oregon University System, 2003, p. 1)
This Act was designed to provide a blueprint for providing a teacher workforce that would mirror the diversity of the public school student body. Sadly, this goal has not been realized as can be seen in the following figures (see Figure 1) from data reported in a 2003 report by the Oregon University System. As can be seen, between 2001 and 2003 the discrepancy between Oregon's minority students and minority teachers grew from 15.2% to 17.0% (Oregon University System, 2003). Not only are we not making progress in fulfilling the Minority Teacher Act's mandate, but the gap is widening.
Since the Minority Teacher Act did not achieve its goals by 2001, the intent of this directive remains even more relevant today as the numbers of culturally and/or linguistically diverse students continue to grow in our state. What, then, are the forces that have kept the teacher workforce so homogenized? One possible reason is the reliance of high stakes standardized teacher test scores to demonstrate competencies for teacher licensure. The following section will illuminate some of the reasons why these tests are problematic for diverse test-takers.
Review of the Literature on Standardized Assessment and Bias
The literature related to standardized assessment and diverse individuals reflects the continuing controversy regarding the existence of test bias. The first issue to examine is the basic assumption regarding standardized tests. All standardized instruments are based on the assumption that the normative framework (psychometric, criterion, or rubrics-based) on which the test scores are based exhibits a high degree of experiential homogeneity, cultural/linguistic similarity and equity in learning opportunities among test takers (Figueroa & Hernandez, 2000). This assumption is problematic when the test-taker is culturally and/or linguistically diverse. In order to determine if test scores are a valid estimate of abilities for individuals whose culture, socioeconomic status, and/or language are different from the majority language and culture, the reliability and validity of the test must be established. Reliability is defined here as the "extent to which individual differences in test scores are attributable to 'true' differences in the characteristic under consideration and the extent to which they are attributable to chance errors (as cited in Crehan, Hess, & D'Agostino, 2000, p. 84). Validity is also a fundamental consideration in assessment and is defined as the "degree to which evidence and theory support the interpretation of test scores entailed by proposed uses of tests" (American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association and the National Council on Measurement in Education, 1999, p. 9). When we consider these issues, it is clear we cannot assume that standardized assessments will provide fair and equitable results for diverse test-takers. As Figueroa and Hernandez (2000) reflect, "tests work best in a perfect democracy of monolingual and monocultural citizens" (p. 9).
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
Organizations such as the American Psychological Association caution educators concerning the interpretation of test scores for nontraditional and minority populations. The Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, and the National Council on Measurement in Education, 1999) maintain that norms developed for English-speaking populations should not be used because such tests may fail to measure what they intend to measure in a bilingual individual. No standardized instruments, for use with children or adults for any educational purpose, have controlled for linguistic and cultural differences in diverse populations. Nevertheless, we continue to rely on standardized instruments to make high-stake decisions for diverse individuals. Next, we will examine the literature on how language and cultural differences cause bias in standardized test scores.
The Nature of Bias
Bias has been defined as "the presence of some characteristic of an item that results in differential performance for individuals of the same ability but from different ethnic, sex, cultural, or religious groups" (Hambleton & Rogers, 1995). Bias in testing can stem from one of four primary sources including: (1) the cultural content embedded in any given test; (2) the linguistic demands inherent in any given test; (3) lack of representation within norm samples for individuals from diverse backgrounds in any given test; and (4) a belief that language reduced tests alone are sufficient to overcome bias and communication barriers (Ortiz & Ochoa, 2005; Valdez & Figueroa, 1994).
The bias inherent in standardized instruments cannot continue to be ignored. Policymakers and test consumers must understand that comparisons are invalid when individuals from diverse backgrounds whose educational experiences, language, backgrounds, and other life experiences (acculturation) have simply not afforded them the same opportunities as people from the majority culture. Unfortunately, it is all too common that invalid assumptions and inferences are made on the basis of scores from standardized instruments that continue to adversely impact or discriminate against non-white and non-middle-class test takers.
We need diverse teachers in our nation given our rapid demographic changes and society's need for future generations of educated workforces. To ensure this, however, requires us to close the achievement gap and ensure that all students have an equal access to high quality instruction.
Principles and Practices of Learning: Why Do Learners Need Minority Teachers?
For more than 100 years, there have been two diametrically opposed models of teaching: the mechanical, factory model, and the more critical interactive model (Shor, 1987). In 1985, a report supporting the interaction model, Teacher Development in Schools (cited in Shor, 1987, p. 18) suggested that "the teacher's learning process required far more than information skills or mechanical grasp of subject matter." In spite of this, the mechanical, factory models seems to be the endorsed by the field as evidenced by the focus on standardized, high-stakes assessments. High-stakes tests for teachers blindly adopt a "one size fits all" approach to the evaluation of teachers' competency, test the mechanics of teaching, and measure many random facts concerning curricular content areas. These tests ignore other fundamental knowledge today's teachers must have such as knowing the cultures and languages of the students they teach. Minority teachers often lack what Bourdieu (as cited in Driessen, 2001) terms "cultural capital." Cultural capital can be defined as the important learning that is acquired during "primary socialization within the family and upbringing by parents" (as cited in Driessen, 2001, p. 515), and I will broaden the concept to include learning from the community as well. If the parents belong to the dominant culture, the child will be a good fit in our educational system given that "the dominant culture lies at the core of the--hidden--educational curriculum" (p. 515). In other words, students possess class-based knowledge. If the knowledge students come to school possessing is of the dominant class, they will have the social and linguistic competence required and valued by the school curriculum and will excel.
The same holds for standardized tests. All standardized tests are built upon this knowledge base as well. Therefore, the cultural capital measured in standardized teacher tests may …
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Publication information: Article title: Highly Qualified Minority Teachers: Do High-Stakes Teacher Tests Weed out Those We Need Most?. Contributors: Brown, Julie Esparza - Author. Journal title: International Journal of Educational Policy, Research and Practice. Volume: 6. Issue: 1 Publication date: Spring 2005. Page number: 105+. © 2005 Caddo Gap Press. COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group.
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