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Tom | December 11, 2012

A Redundant, Illogical Waste of Money


Photo (3)By Tom White

The American Federation of Teachers (the other teachers’ union) recently came out with a proposal to have the National Board develop a pre-service evaluation for teachers. They believe that by testing prospective teachers before they enter the classroom, we can elevate the level of our nation’s teachers and thus improve student learning. For obvious reasons, the National Board (and by proxy, Pearson, Inc.) would be more than happy to develop – and sell – another pre-service evaluation. And they would probably do a pretty good job of it. For their part, the AFT wants this new test to “raise the bar,” giving induction into education the same status and complexity as induction into law. I disagree.

First of all, a pre-service assessment would be as redundant as the sign on my classroom door. (See figure A, above) Virtually every college in the country already has teaching candidates take the Praxis I test before they enter the teaching program, which focuses on basic reading and math skills. After they complete the teaching program, candidates take the Praxis II, which focuses on content and pedagogical knowledge. And as if that’s not enough, Pearson is currently rolling out their own pre-service evaluation, known as the Teacher Performance Assessment, which involves a combination of teacher videos and written narrative. I wouldn’t say another pre-service evaluation is the last thing we need, but it certainly isn’t the first thing we need.

Let’s now turn to the logic of this proposal, which goes something like this: Our legal system is efficient and effective, due in part to the Bar Exam, which insures that no one enters the legal profession without the requisite knowledge, skills and dispositions. Hmm. If twenty seasons of Law and Order have taught us anything, it’s that the criminal justice system is perhaps the only institution in America more dysfunctional than the education system. Besides that, when you talk to lawyers (or read their blogs) they seem to have the same disconnection that we have between theory and practice. Lawyers learn content in law school; they learn how to practice law by being lawyers, much like educators. Having a really hard test between school and practice doesn’t necessarily create better lawyers; it just puts them deeper into debt. Likewise, a really hard test won’t necessarily create a smarter and more effective teaching corps.

I’ll tell you what would, though: two to five years of rigorous, scaffolded support for new teachers, with a gradual release of responsibility, including and followed by high-quality, job-imbedded, site-specific professional development for the rest of their careers. No teacher, in my opinion, should be given the full responsibility of a classroom fresh out of college. It’s insane, but it’s the way we do things; mostly because effective teacher induction would cost way too much money. Speaking of money, this proposal would cost lots of it. I’m not sure where the AFT thinks this money will come from, but I can tell you where it’ll go.  The graviest train in education right now is assessment. Pearson and ETS are making a fortune, testing everyone on everything, while school districts are cutting back on professional development and teachers are paid less to teach more students.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the National Board. The National Board is great at what they do. But that doesn’t mean they should have to do more than what they already do. Frankly, they probably already have their hands full. When I talk to teachers – young and old – about what they think would help them do their jobs better, none of them wish we had another test for new teachers. The clear and consistent answer is more time; more time to plan, more time to collaborate, and more to time to learn on their own. 


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I think another test for teacher candidates is just stupid. It's not going to elevate the profession because great teaching, like great learning, isn't about scoring well on a test.

If they want to do something simple and free to elevate the teaching profession, Colleges of Education should be a little more selective in who exits student teaching with a certificate. But they don't want to do this, because they've taken a lot of money to create certificated teachers. And anyone who creates and sells and profits from testing isn't going to advocate for that, either.

Weak candidates shouldn't be certified. New teachers should be fully supported and continue to be trained their first few years of teaching.

We don't do a good job of this.


"Reclaming" implies that teachers once controlled our profession. When exactly was that? I've been doing this since 1984 and I've never felt like teachers were in the driver's seat.

On the other hand, I've gotten to the age where I see the value in each of the different stakeholders, including the test makers. Let’s be honest, most full-time teachers have barely enough energy at the end of the day to plan their lessons for the next day. We don’t need to control this profession. What we need is for everyone involved to act competently. That’s asking enough.

My point was this: the best way to use our limited funds is to support the people already teaching, particularly the newest teachers. I honestly don’t think that a new test – especially something modeled after the bar exam – is the best use of our resources.

Travis A. Wittwer

Tom, good points. Mark and Maren, good points as well. Do I hear people asking to improve the profession of teaching? I think the need to strengthen the profession exists. The HOW to go about this is the next step. Redundant or resourcesful will be decided by the final design. I just hope the design to strengthen the profession happens.

Hi Tom,

I think we need to reclaim this profession. By "we," I mean teachers, and the AFT is quite a large group of teachers. In general, the AFT seems to represent teachers well. If we or the organizations who
represent us do not define our own profession, then others--other groups which do not represent teachers--will define it for us. I support the AFT's call to raise the bar.

A first step towards redefining and reclaiming teaching? Raising the bar to entrance to the profession. All the currently existing tests you mention (WEST-E, WEST-B, Praxis) do not seem to be doing an adequate job of doing this, and perhaps should be replaced by some sort of "bar exam." Perhaps the edTPA, Teacher Performance Assessment, or something like it, could be this exam--it does seem to have the practice and portfolio components which make it a solid assessment.

I do agree with you that additional testing would be a problem. Let's not add more--let's replace something. I also share your concerns about the involvement and motivation of large testing corporations. Please note, however, that it is not quite correct to refer to it as
Pearson's "own" TPA. Yes, Pearson is a contractor on this, but the edTPA was developed by Linda Darling-Hammond and others at Stanford University in partnership with the American Association for Colleges of Teacher Education.

If you would have asked me about this a few months ago, I am not sure what I would have said, but two recent experiences have caused me to be a strong proponent of this whole "raising the bar" idea.
(1) I listened to Pasi Sahlberg, from the Finnish education ministry, speak about education in Finland, and how empowering teachers was so important to Finland's success. High standards for teacher induction are a key component of Finland's education system.
(2) I read (and discussed with other teachers) the NEA's Three-Point Plan for Education Reform. The first of the three points? Raising the bar for entry. EdTPA is even mentioned as a way to do this. Take a look:

So after hearing this same message from several different individuals and organizations in a relatively short period of time, I have definitely been considering this, and I think I am in full support!

Hmm. I wish I could tell what your feelings were on this issue. :)

While I'm not fundamentally opposed to a different/higher-standard entry assessment, I have the same concerns you do about the money, the nature of the assessment, and so on. I do like your idea about the transition. From what you describe, I envision the first few years being team-teaching with an experienced colleague--in the same room as one another--and while that, too, is pie in the sky in terms of funding, I think the payoff for the profession and for the individual teacher (and thus, the students) would be exponentially greater than a different test. After all, what makes students learn to a higher degree, more testing or better preparation?

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