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Testing Teacher Candidates: The Role of Licensure Tests in Improving Teacher Quality
As noted in Chapter 6, as yet there is little information on the relationship between results on initial licensure tests and other indicators of candidates’ competence. However, there is some evidence on the relationship between the content of licensure tests and states’ teaching standards. The test adoption process followed by states using Educational Testing Service (ETS) tests and the test construction procedures used by National Evaluation Systems (NES) suggest that licensure tests have some correspondence to states’ standards. The test adoption process undertaken by states administering ETS tests calls for comparisons of states’ needs and tested content. States administering ETS tests are asked to make a judgment that the tests they select correspond to their teaching and learning goals. In states that contract with NES for test development, tests are developed according to the states’ specifications. Alignment between initial licensure tests and state teaching and learning standards is an important prerequisite to coherent developmental systems for teacher preparation, assessment, and support.
It is also possible that licensure tests can have negative effects on teacher education. Several logical arguments can be made. If licensure tests oversimplify teaching knowledge or emphasize types of knowledge or practice that are not universally associated with effective teaching or do so in a manner that discourages teachers from learning to be diagnostic in relation to different students’ needs, they might have negative effects. However, as to negative effects, there is a paucity of data. Some data are available on possible testing effects in Massachusetts. Flippo and Riccards (2000) report changes by some Massachusetts colleges and universities in response to the recent disappointing performance of Massachusetts candidates on the state’s new licensure exam (Haney et al., 1999) and to recent federal attention to initial teacher licensure testing. These institutions report aligning course content to test specifications, adding workshops on test preparation, and imposing testing requirements for admission to teacher education programs. These changes would not necessarily be cause for concern except that in Massachusetts there may be a perceived misalignment between the content of the licensing test and the knowledge and skills identified as important for teaching (Haney et al., 1999; Melnick and Pullin, 2000). As noted earlier, the first administration of Massachusetts’ new test gave notable weight in scoring to candidates’ responses to a test item asking for transcription of one of the Federalist papers from audiotape, a task not highly related to the central tasks of teaching. It is possible that poorly designed tests could serve to water down teacher education curricula in institutions where officials are more desirous of having graduates pass the test than of preparing well-qualified teachers (Flippo and Riccards, 2000).
The committee does not have enough evidence to judge whether, on balance, current tests and the regulations that surround them are likely to improve teacher preparation or divert teacher education from untested content in problematic ways. It will also be important to monitor the impact of new licensure tests and