Southern Ed. Fund Blasts Teacher Tests

Teacher & Employment Testing

A powerful new report from the Southern Education Fund demonstrates that the misuse of invalid standardized tests for awarding teacher licenses is dangerously narrowing the pipeline of qualified African American educators and putting some Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) at risk of closing.


Unintended Consequences: Perspectives on Teacher Testing and Historically Black Colleges and Universities concludes there is no demonstrated link between passing standardized tests and either readiness to teach or the learning outcomes of elementary or secondary school students. The report is based on interviews with leaders of HBCUs, a set of commissioned research papers, and a review of previous research on testing and teacher preparation.


The problems caused by state licensing exams are greatly intensified by two recent federal laws. The Higher Education Act of 1998 requires states to flag "low-performing" institutions, which most states do by relying on each college's test passing rate. Colleges that do not improve their pass rates may lose federal funding, and students may be denied federal grants and loans to attend those schools. The "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001 mandates states to ensure that new elementary school teachers pass a licensure exam.


Faced with the threat of closure from lack of funds if they do not lower their exam failure rates, some HBCUs now allow students to enroll in teacher preparation programs or to graduate from such programs only if they have already passed the teacher tests. This eliminates the risk of producing graduates who cannot pass the state's licensing exam, but it has greatly reduced the size of some teacher education programs.


The consequences fall most heavily on students who generally score lower on standardized tests, disproportionately African American, Latino, Native American Indian, low-income, limited English proficient and disabled students. Thus, the testing mandates reduce the numbers of teachers of color at a time when the proportion of non-white public school students is growing nationally. Both minority and majority students are thereby denied the opportunity to study with qualified teachers of color.


If teacher tests could actually predict who would be an effective classroom educator, it would make some sense to require the exams while providing extra assistance to enable students to pass them. However, decades of research have repeatedly shown that the tests have no capacity to predict successful teaching. Just two years ago, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences warned that licensing tests should never be used as the sole measure of prospective teachers or their college preparation programs (Examiner, Summer 2001).


Rather than use testing to reduce programs, the SEF calls for stronger efforts to enroll more students from "nontraditional" talent pools. The report describes the great success of the SEF's Pathways program which enabled almost 1000 such students, many of them low-scorers on standardized tests, to become teachers. Despite the success of the program, it remains underfunded.


SEF recommends that the link between funding eligibility and test results be severed, that African American educators be more involved in test development, and that research focused on teacher quality and testing be pursued.


o Available from SEF, 135 Auburn Ave, NE, Atlanta, GA 30303; (404) 523-0001;