Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

High-Stakes, Minimum-Competency Exams: How Competent Are They for Evaluating Teacher Competence?

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

High-Stakes, Minimum-Competency Exams: How Competent Are They for Evaluating Teacher Competence?

Article excerpt

Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), the poor quality of education received by students in America's public schools has attracted widespread attention. Lack of school student achievement is often blamed on incompetent teachers, with teacher education programs ultimately being held responsible for failing to prepare teacher candidates to meet the diverse needs of students in today's education system. As a result of these perceived shortcomings in higher education, an unprecedented demand has been placed on universities to reform teacher education, thereby improving the quality of schools and, ultimately, raising the achievement levels of school students. To back up these demands for improved teacher education, a variety of pencil-and-paper tests has been devised. Ostensibly, these tests measure the competence of teacher candidates by assessing their knowledge of best teaching practices and their knowledge of the skills necessary for being an effective teacher Unfortunately, they are unable to evaluate the extent to which teacher candidates actually exhibit best practices in applied contexts (Darling-Hammond, 2000). They are also unable to assess the candidate's teaching dispositions. Nevertheless, both of these attributes are thought to be important aspects of teaching effectiveness, because effective teachers must not only know what to do; they must also be willing and able to do it.

Inherent in the rationale for requiring teachers to pass high-stakes minimum-competency tests is the assumption that these tests will serve as a valid indication of effective teacher preparation. In this regard, universities can be held accountable for the quality of teachers they produce. The rationale also implies that improved teacher preparation as measured by the tests will ultimately result in school students who demonstrate increased academic achievement. In a thorough review of the professional literature in this area, however, studies examining the relation between teacher scores on state-mandated tests and school student achievement could not be found. In addition, some authors speculate (e.g., Podgursky, 2005) that raising the bar for teacher licensure in ways like this will not have the desired long-term effects on school student achievement and may actually serve to lower the quality and effectiveness of teachers.

Although little is known regarding the relation between state tests and school student achievement, a seminal study was conducted that evaluated the effectiveness of teacher preparation programs in relation to school student achievement. In this study, researchers (Darling-Hammond, Holtzman, Gatlin, & Heilig, 2005) found that teacher education programs do make a positive difference. Among other variables, the study examined the achievement of school students who were taught by teachers prepared in various ways. The study found that school students of teachers who had completed university-based, teacher preparation programs achieve at a higher level than school students of teachers who had been certified without preparation. If high-stakes tests are to be used for certifying teachers with little or no teacher education, similar studies are needed that attest to their validity. Of particular importance is determining that teacher scores on these state-mandated tests do, in fact, predict higher school student achievement as well as other measures of teaching effectiveness.

Concerns regarding school student achievement are not new to teacher educators; even before the increased demands imposed on education by the passage of NCLB, the Holmes Group was formed in response to similar concerns over student achievement and the quality of teacher education in general. This group, which began meeting more than 20 years ago, included a consortium of teacher educators drafted from 100 of the nation's top universities. The first report of the group was issued in 1986. This report (Holmes Group, 1986) introduced the concept of professional development schools (PDSs). …

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