Getting Serious about Closing Gaps

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A recent brief from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) finds few states are taking steps to improve the chances that individuals entering the teaching profession will be effective. For example: while 41 states require teacher preparation programs to screen candidates at either program entrance or exit, the most commonly used basic skills tests only assess skills up to the middle-school level. Making bad matters worse, 95 percent of the states for which NCTQ could obtain test data set the passing score on elementary teachers’ licensure tests at the 16th percentile of all test takers or lower. 

Based on data from its 2011 State Teacher Quality Yearbook, NCTQ finds that only six states hold teacher preparation programs accountable for the effectiveness of the teachers they put into our nation’s classrooms by assessing data on how well their recent graduates help students learn. Given that nearly 20 percent of public school teachers have three or fewer years of teaching experience, knowing which programs’ graduates are best able to move the needle on student achievement is incredibly important to helping schools make the best decisions about who to hire. This is of particular importance in high-poverty schools and schools with large achievement gaps, as research has found that low-income students and low-performing students are more likely to be assigned first-year teachers than are their peers.

The Education Trust supports NCTQ’s recommendation to improve the effectiveness of teachers entering the classroom by raising the bar for the skills and knowledge teacher candidates must demonstrate to be admitted into the profession. NCTQ’s recommendation to hold teacher preparation programs accountable for the quality of teachers they produce also is critical. If states are serious about improving the effectiveness of all teachers in our classrooms and closing the achievement gaps that exist, they must swiftly move to embrace these policies. 

Melissa Tooley