We all want good teachers.
Teacher educators support higher standards for admission into teacher education programs and value rigorous and valid assessment of education students. However, much controversy has arisen surrounding interpretation of the initial results of the new tests for future teachers.
Faulty conclusions are based on low pass rates by prospective teacher candidates on a series of new standardized tests called Missouri Content Assessments.
When a test produces a very high fail rate, a good educator doesn’t say, “My students are all stupid,” but rather, “I did not adequately help my students understand this content” or “This instrument is not a valid measure of the content/skills I intended to measure.”
The first groups administered the Missouri Content Assessments took a test that is not a valid measure of what they learned in their education programs because the curriculum in those programs was aligned to the testing series formerly used for licensure.
This is like teaching your teen to drive an automatic, and then expecting him to drive a stick shift during his driver’s test. Your teen understands how to drive and may actually be skillful, but he won’t be able to show off those skills using unfamiliar equipment.
Blaming the test takers for a high fail rate is as incorrect as assuming that the high pass rate on the previous licensure test indicated the test was “too easy.” Does a high pass rate automatically mean a test is too easy? Consider:
▪ University of Missouri reports that in its physical therapy program, the ultimate licensure examination pass rate is 100 percent, according to the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (2010, 2011, 2012).
▪ Washington University in St. Louis boasts a 96 percent pass rate for internal medicine board exams (2012-2014).
▪ In Missouri, 88.34 percent of candidates with a bachelor’s degree in nursing passed the NCLEX Exam.
▪ For 2014, the first-time pass rate for the Missouri Bar exam was 87.5 percent.
Using the logic of some state education leaders, it’s very easy to become a physical therapist, a doctor, a nurse or a lawyer in Missouri.
An alternate explanation for a high pass rate is that students must meet entrance criteria for any professional program in Missouri, including teacher education. Upon successful completion, they are well educated and thus well prepared for the exam.
Finally, there is no evidence yet to demonstrate these tests are technically sound in any way. The State Board of Education also acknowledges biases against minority students, who represent the highest fail rates.
For these reasons, critics should step down. Teacher education is working hard to meet unreasonable timelines for implementing a system that is fraught with problems. We all want the same thing: quality education for all the children of Missouri.
Nicole Nickens lives in Lee’s Summit. She is a professor and department chair of elementary and early childhood education at the University of Central Missouri and an executive board member of the Missouri Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.