Drama and behind-the-scenes chicanery over state reading tests

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A not-so-new study from the national accrediting body for education schools, NCATE, has finally been released, providing even more evidence that states should revisit their choice of tests for verifying teachers' knowledge in reading instruction. This study exposes a glaring gap between what states think they are testing and what is actually being tested--which, it turns out, isn't very much at all.

Much like another recent effort from a former Massachusetts certification official, this study finds that the multi-subject licensure tests for elementary teachers used in the large majority of states make a mockery of the knowledge that teachers need to be effective reading instructors. Five widely used multi-subject commercial tests from the Educational Testing Service (ETS) were analyzed, but only one of these tests, Reading Across the Curriculum, passed muster. This test is only used in one state, Tennessee--but even there it doesn't really count, since the state hasn't set a pass score, apparently only requiring teachers to take the test, not pass it!

Only three tests, all developed for individual states by ETS's competitor, NES, are in fact any good. They can be found in Massachusetts, California and Virginia.

The drama behind the study is every bit as telling as what's actually in it. With money from a federal grant, NCATE originally contracted with American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE) to produce the report, but when NCATE leadership read the report's critical findings, they then sat on it for nine months. Word has it that NCATE was fearful of criticizing reading tests of the very states it tries to woo, not to mention the testing company ETS, with which it is closely allied. Under pressure from the feds, NCATE finally agreed to post the study, but not on its own website. Determined souls will have to do a bit of hunting (lucky TQB readers can just click here) to find it on a website for a project run by NCATE, known as the Reading First Teacher Education Network (RFTEN) which is ironically due to go out of business in two weeks. Hurry!

In yet another twist, one no doubt precipitated by NCATE's foot-dragging, the study's chief author, Diana Rigden, has since left the AACTE and gone to work for NCATE's competitor, the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC).