When Weak Teachers Are Allowed into the Profession, Struggling Students Pay the Highest Price

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The recent discovery that organized cheating on the Praxis licensure exams for teachers continued in three states for more than a decade has generated substantial media attention. No matter the outcome of the federal inquiry, the biggest losers in this situation are the students who were taught by falsely certified teachers. Even more troubling is the fact that millions of students are taught by teachers who passed a teacher licensing exam legitimately, but are still ill-equipped to teach well.

In How Teacher Licensing Tests Fall Short, published by The Education Trust over 12 years ago, we found that Praxis test questions primarily cover content that should have been mastered in high school. The rigor of the tests has not improved much since then. Compounding the problem, most states set a very low bar for passing the Praxis: The National Council on Teacher Quality reports that 95 percent of states that require an elementary-level content licensure test set the passing score at only the 16th percentile or lower of test takers’ scores.

There are many aspects of teacher preparation and licensure that need to change, but one essential step is raising the bar for what prospective teachers must know before they’re allowed to lead a classroom. Recently the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) added its voice to those calling for a more rigorous entrance exam for teachers, one that would require those hoping to enter the profession to demonstrate deep knowledge of the content they would be responsible for helping students learn. The need for higher entry standards into teaching is more crucial now than ever, as most states are substantially raising the bar for what they expect students to learn in school. State leaders should ask themselves, “How can we set such low expectations for teachers, when we’ve set such high ones for students?”

— Melissa Tooley