Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Demystifying the Process: ETS and HBCUs Work Together to Improve the Praxis Passage Rates of Black Students

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Demystifying the Process: ETS and HBCUs Work Together to Improve the Praxis Passage Rates of Black Students

Article excerpt

PRINCETON, NJ.

Twenty-four faculty members representing more than 20 historically Black colleges and universities gathered recently on the campus of Educational Testing Service to hear officials demystify test-making procedures and explain the organization's efforts to eliminate cultural bias in tests.

The organization initiated the "ETS-HBCU Assessment Development Invitational Conference" out of concern that too many HBCU students were failing the Praxis I exam, the initial test for teacher candidates. As a result, too few HBCU students enter the teaching profession. Many colleges and universities require that students, typically in their sophomore year, pass Praxis I, which measures basic academic skills, for admission into education programs.

During the conference, participants questioned whether any one test can be an adequate measure of a student's academic knowledge. They also asked if education programs could better prepare students for specific kinds of questions. Some participants raised concerns about whether the tests included culturally relevant questions.

In response, Dr. Michael Zieky, senior assessment director in the assessment development unit of ETS, said all of the organization's tests must pass a fairness review, and that ETS standards require "substantive contributions" by people representing diversity in demographics, region, institutions and points of view.

Dr. Roni Ellington, an assistant professor of mathematics education at Morgan State University, has been researching student performance on the Praxis exams, particularly on the math portions. She says the use of a single test "is a limited assessment of what students know, particularly in a profession like teaching.

"The research shows that African-American students are taking it four and five times. To me that signals something," she says. "What I got from the conference is that it signals that we are not doing a good job of preparing them, and I would argue that there are many other factors at play."

Added Ellington: "Even in the research community we do quantitative and qualitative methodologies. We look at multiple streams of evidence. We try to come up with more complete views and assessments of what people know. So the question is: Why is that not the trend when we talk about licensing? …

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