Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Teacher Licensure Exams and Black Teacher Candidates: Toward New Theory and Promising Practice

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Teacher Licensure Exams and Black Teacher Candidates: Toward New Theory and Promising Practice

Article excerpt

"Basic skills" teacher licensure exams such as Praxis are the first gatekeepers to the teaching profession. Fewer than half of the aspiring Black teachers who take these exams pass on their first attempt. While critiques of these exams are warranted, critiques alone will do little to help certify more Black teachers. This solution-oriented article makes both a theoretical and practical contribution to this area. First, it provides a selected overview of two theoretical areas that have relevance to understanding teacher licensure testing. These theoretical areas are self-efficacy and sociocultural theory. The article then draws from the author 's 6 years of preparing Black preservice teachers for licensure exams to illustrate how these theories can shape practice at both programmatic and classroom levels.

Keywords: teacher licensure, teacher education, self-efficacy, sociocultural theory, Praxis, Black and African American teachers

Any discussion of increasing the numbers of Black teachers in United States' schools must include a discussion of when and how prospective teachers are tested. At present time, "basic skills" standardized teacher licensure examinations, which are designed and administered by testing agencies such as Educational Testing Service (ETS; and Pearson ( are gatekeepers to most teacher education programs in the United States. These exams entail a battery of timed tests in reading, mathematics, and writing. Currently, 29 states use ETS' Pre-Professional Skills Test (i.e., Praxis I) as a basic skills admissions test for teacher education programs. Twelve other states use a similar test created by a different testing company. Summarily, in 41 states, students must pass a licensure examination before they are admitted into a program. Some universities whose state department of education does not have these requirements still elect to have these exams as program admissions requirements.

Due to the position of these exams, education is an undergraduate major fundamentally different from others because students must test into it. While it is normal for state certifying bodies in many professions (e.g., law, medicine) to administer professional assessments before granting licensure, the organization of teacher licensure is different from other professions. Traditionally, teacher education and licensure take place at the undergraduate level and not the post-baccalaureate level as in law and medicine. Consequently, prospective teachers must pass basic skills licensure exams before they can be formally admitted into a program, usually during their first or second year at an institution.

Research by ETS (Nettles et al, 201 1) found that the first time passing rates of Black test takers between 2005 and 2009 on the Praxis basic skills exam were as follows: reading (40.7%), writing (44.2%), and mathematics (36.8%). Nettles and colleagues (2011) found that the passing rate for White first-time test takers was approximately double that for Black test takers: reading (81.5%), writing (79.5%), and mathematics (78.2%). Even when controlling for other variables such as household income, grade point average, and parent's education level, a 7-point math score difference still exists between Black and White test takers. While the passing rates and standards for White students should not be held as the desired standard for Black students, this gap is alarming and is a critical piece to understanding why only 7% of teachers in the United States are Black (National Center for Education Information, 201 1). If one cannot be admitted into a teacher education program, one cannot become a teacher. This battery of tests is the first significant gatekeeper that students who wish to become teachers experience in postsecondary education.

Critiques abound for such standardized tests in general and their contemporary placement as gatekeepers in teacher education programs (Bennett, McWhorter, & Kuykendall, 2006; Flippo, 2003; Memory, Coleman, & Watkins, 2003; Mikitovics & Crehan, 2002). …

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