Interpretations of new teacher education assessment results are misleading and may be ultimately harmful to the field of education.
First, the claim was that scores were “too high.” According to some Missouri State Board of Education members the high pass rate on the Praxis, formerly used for licensure, 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 licensure examination [ultimate] pass rate is 100 percent as published by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (Years 2010, 2011, 2012).
• Washington University in St. Louis boasts a 96 percent pass rate for Internal Medicine Board Exams between 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 Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the State Board, 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.
Now the scores are “too low.” The State Board and DESE hired Pearson, one of the biggest names in testing, to develop a series of standardized assessments for education students; among them the new licensure tests called the Missouri Content Assessment to replace the Praxis series. A year after implementation, the State Board and DESE are drawing very faulty conclusions based on early results, saying the low pass rates indicate that our teacher candidates are not qualified to become educators.
When a test produces a very high fail rate, a good educator doesn’t say, “The fail rate is high because my students are idiots,” but instead says, “I must have failed to adequately help my students understand this content,” or “This instrument is not a valid measure of the content/skills I intended to measure.”
Our teacher candidates are not idiots. The first groups who took the Missouri Content Assessment 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 Praxis.
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.
Finally, there is no evidence yet to demonstrate these tests are technically sound in any way. The State Board also acknowledges biases against minority students.
State leaders have focused on scores from a single test. Relying on a single measure is not good assessment practice. If you go to the doctor and he takes your temperature and then declares that your temperature alone indicates you are in very good health, you should get a second opinion. Many measures provide a full picture about the state of your health. Likewise, there are many measures of good teaching, and the licensure test alone is not predictive of the effectiveness of any teacher.
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. Our future teachers are committed to providing school children with a quality education and are being unfairly punished for new, unproven assessments.
Nicole Nickens is a professor of educational psychology and department chair of Elementary & Early Childhood Education at University of Central Missouri and an executive board member of Missouri Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.