Raising the Bar for Entering the Teaching Profession

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Research consistently shows that low-income students and students of color are assigned to lower quality teachers than their peers. Yet teachers are, by far, the most important in-school factor determining whether students succeed and schools improve. One necessary step toward delivering better teachers to students who most need high-quality teachers is for states to raise the bar for admission into, and completion of, teacher preparation programs.

The state of Illinois has been a leader in the movement to raise standards for entry into the teaching profession. In 2010, Illinois increased the minimum “cut” score required of teacher candidates to pass the state’s basic-skills exam. The state also limited the number of times applicants could attempt to pass the test. Several groups, including many preparation programs, were unhappy with these changes because the higher cut score resulted in a smaller pool of eligible teacher candidates, particularly candidates of color. Then last month, as part of an effort to better align the state test with K-12 Common Core State Standards, the Illinois State Board of Education revisited the cut score issue. Responding to pressure from opposing groups, board members considered rolling back the 2010 changes, but ultimately chose to uphold the higher test standards.

However, the board also agreed to allow preparation programs to admit candidates who’ve passed some, but not all, sections of the state exam, so long as those candidates re-take and pass all portions before completing their preparation program. In addition, Illinois will now allow teacher candidates with ACT scores of 22 or higher to bypass the state test. Hopefully, these measures will help boost the exam passage rate while still maintaining the higher standard that our students deserve.

Illinois is not the only place working to increase the rigor of teacher preparation. Around the country, teacher preparation programs are beginning to implement thorough assessments of candidates’ teaching ability with the goal of determining whether candidates should be recommended for certification. TNTP’s Performance Assessment System (PAS) is one such assessment.

A recent review of PAS by the Harvard Center for Education Policy Research found a modest, positive relationship between teachers’ PAS scores and actual student achievement growth in most core subjects. The CEPR report also makes several recommendations for how the PAS could be improved to enhance its capacity to predict a teacher’s impact on students.

Students, particularly those who are struggling, need strong teachers who have the knowledge and skills to prepare them for college and careers. States and teacher preparation programs looking to increase the efficacy of their teachers should seek guidance from successful models and consult research like CEPR’s when making crucial design and implementation decisions.

— Melissa Tooley