Initial teacher licensure tests are designed to identify candidates with some of the knowledge and skills needed for minimally competent beginning practice. The tests currently used measure basic skills, general knowledge, content knowledge, and knowledge of teaching strategies. The tests are designed to separate teacher candidates who are minimally competent in the areas assessed from those who are not. Initial teacher licensure tests do not provide information to distinguish moderately qualified from highly qualified teacher candidates nor are they designed to test all of the competencies relevant to beginning practice.

States decide whether to use tests and what tests to use to license beginning teachers. Each of the 42 states that requires tests uses a different combination of them, uses them at different points in the candidate’s education, and sets its own passing scores on them. Several hundred different initial licensure tests are in current use. Two test developers, Educational Testing Service (ETS) and National Evaluation Systems (NES), develop the vast majority of these tests.

States set passing scores on licensure tests based on judgments about the levels of knowledge and skill needed for minimally competent beginning teaching in their state. Although many states rely on commonly used standard-setting procedures, there is little documentation about these procedures and how states actually use this information in arriving at a final decision about passing scores. In attempts to raise teacher standards, some states have recently raised their passing scores on particular tests. Some report having set passing scores that are higher than those of other states.

The committee draws the following conclusions from these findings:

  • Because a teacher’s work is complex, even a set of well-designed tests cannot measure all of the prerequisites of competent beginning teaching. Current paper-and-pencil tests provide only some of the information needed to evaluate the competencies of teacher candidates.

  • States have gradually adopted tests for teacher licensure, and test developers have made various tests available over time. Therefore, it is not surprising that states have adopted a variety of tests to license beginning teachers.

  • States differ in how high they set passing scores. The committee does not know the extent to which this variation in passing scores reflects differences among states in standard-setting methods; state teaching and learning standards; the characteristics of applicant pools; or different concerns about measurement error, teacher quality, or teacher supply.

  • Appropriate, technically sound tests are difficult and costly to develop. Collaborations among states participating in the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium and other states, professional associations, and test developers bring the intellectual and financial resources of several organizations to this difficult work.

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