Testing Teacher Candidates: The Role of Licensure Tests in Improving Teacher Quality

The National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council is at it again, taking money from the (Clinton) Department of Education to advance the education profession's conventional wisdom while claiming to be engaged in serious analysis. Someone at the Department evidently took it into his/her head in 1999 to ask the Academy to examine the tests that many states use as part of the selection, screening and licensure of new teachers. (This was evidently triggered at least partly by Congress's insistence that states begin to report passing rates on these tests for each of their teacher preparation programs.) The Academy empanelled a fifteen member "Committee on Assessment and Teacher Quality," chaired by David Z. Robinson of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. At least half the committee was drawn straight from the teacher-education-and-licensure establishment, and it apparently took the group no time at all to embrace the assumptions and prescriptions of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF, whose leader, Stanford education professor Linda Darling-Hammond, was a member) and its fellow traveling organizations, the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC). Indeed, this report's key chapter on "defining teacher quality" is based entirely on those groups' ideology, as are most of the committee's recommendations. One can, nevertheless, learn a few useful things from these 300 pages, such as the fact that just 21 states test their new teachers for subject-matter knowledge. Mostly, though, this fat, boring report echoes the Academy's usual doubts about testing (especially the use of tests for anything with real-world consequences) and its desire for more-and more and MORE-research to be done. We have no objection to more research in this area, in fact have called for it ourselves. And we have plenty of complaints about the current regimen of teacher testing in most states. But we're a tad weary of solemn convocations of the usual suspects getting federal dollars to carp and cavil and grimace about testing while trying to make the world safe for NCTAF and its dubious ideas about how to improve teacher quality in America. Nevertheless, if you need to see for yourself, surf to http://www.nap.edu/catalog/10090.html, call (800) 624-6242 or write to the National Academy Press, 2101 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20418.

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