While nearly every state in the nation requires aspiring teachers to pass at least one licensure test, the information from these tests (beyond whether individuals pass and are eligible for a license) often sits locked away in databases that no one accesses. These licensure tests serve as guardrails, verifying that aspiring teachers have a foundation in the knowledge they'll be expected to teach, and the data also serves as a window into the preparation that aspiring teachers receive.
Recognizing the rich information that comes from these tests, some states are bringing this data into the light, creating opportunities to use the pass rate data to better understand their teacher pipeline, support stronger teacher preparation, and build a more diverse teacher workforce. For states concerned about teacher shortages, this data can offer invaluable insight to help identify the institutions where aspiring teachers are more likely to struggle and where to direct resources or accountability efforts to better support those aspiring teachers.
Here we highlight several states that have taken recent steps to make greater use of their teacher licensure test pass rate data.
The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) convened six educator preparation programs for a community of practice in April of 2019. All preparation programs in the state were invited, and these six programs were interested and able to bring together a team of program leaders and faculty to participate. CDE, in partnership with the testing company ETS, demonstrated how the programs can use the Praxis Data Manager to explore their program's results on state-approved Praxis content licensure tests. Specifically, the group explored data related to first-attempt and best attempt pass rates, how many times candidates took the test, pass rates for program completers, and pass rates for categories within a test (e.g., looking at the categories such as algebra, functions, and geometry, within a mathematics content exam). All of the programs appreciated the facilitated time and space to explore their exam data and connect that to what they already knew, or believed they knew, about their teacher candidates' content knowledge. In fact, the programs decided to have a second convening later in 2019 to continue these conversations.
Participants took what they learned from the exploration of the data back to their colleagues to plan program refinements. Some of the changes included adjusting course requirements to spend more time on content (e.g., requiring more social studies or mathematics courses in the first two years of an undergraduate program), or providing additional support for candidates prior to taking the exam the first time, and for candidates who failed on their first attempt.
In follow-up analysis, CDE noted that in the following academic year, the six programs, collectively, had 32 testing areas that showed improvement in their candidates' passing scores on Praxis exams. Three EPPs saw improvement in three content exams, two had improvement in seven exams, and one showed improvement in nine of their exams.
Additionally, in 2021 CDE built an interactive tool to explore candidate performance by institution on state content license exams, inviting analysis of first-attempt and best-attempt pass rates for all candidates and separated by race/ethnicity and by gender.
The District of Columbia's state education agency recently passed regulations stating that the District will now annually collect and report pass rate information. This will include Praxis or equivalent licensure exam pass rates for both recent graduates of preparation programs and enrolled candidates.
Illinois has developed teacher preparation program profiles to support and encourage prep program improvement. In the Scorecard section under "Knowledge and Skills for Teaching," these profiles include pass rates for all candidates within the program across all content tests (based on candidates' best attempt, rather than their first attempt). During its review of preparation programs, the state recognized the need for more robust data and began asking more specific and standardized questions, necessitating a way to organize and distill that information. Illinois has access to performance data by subarea (e.g., individual subjects within the content test), which can be tied to specific courses and professors, making it actionable (though this level of detail is not public). Importantly, the state continues to improve the system, gathering input from programs and refining the system as they build and use it.
North Carolina first released its robust data dashboard system in 2020, but recently made changes to strengthen the utility of the institution-level licensure test data the state publishes. This newer iteration of the dashboard added information about how many times test takers take the exams, and the ability to differentiate between first- and best-attempt pass rates. Every time aspiring teachers have to retake a licensure test, it costs them time, money, and frustration; first-attempt pass rates provide insight into which institutions help aspiring teachers achieve success on their first try. The dashboard also allows users to distinguish between test takers who have taught in North Carolina public schools and those who have not, as well as to look at pass rates by test takers' race/ethnicity and gender. Users can also look at pass rates across all licensure tests or focus on a single test or subtest. This data helps the state better identify the tests and institutions where aspiring teachers are most successful, and where aspiring teachers are encountering the greatest challenges.
Tennessee's State Board of Education decided to publish first-time pass rates for teacher licensure tests at the institution level (aggregated across all licensure tests). The Board explained their thinking, reporting that "retaking licensure assessments is costly in terms of both time and money, and some candidates who do not pass on their first attempt may decide not to try again." The report includes all content assessments but not pedagogical or performance assessments or admissions tests (e.g., SAT, ACT, or Praxis Core). The Board's report separates out candidates enrolled in traditional programs and those in "job-embedded" (or alternate route) programs. The state also continues to publish Educator Preparation Report Cards with pass rates based on candidates' first two attempts.
Texas has built detailed Educator Preparation Data Dashboards that communicate a wealth of information about educator preparation program outcomes to provide information to the public. These dashboards include information on licensure test pass rates, as well as other crucial insights into the teacher pipeline, such as tracking candidates from application to their teacher preparation program through retention in the classroom. Texas developed these dashboards by working closely with teacher prep programs and other stakeholders. The state started with well-defined indicators and data points and then iterated on the dashboard, providing updates at first quarterly, and now annually. Some features, such as being able to compare among programs in the pass rate data, have been built out based on input from programs.
Going beyond publishing data, Texas also offers commendations to programs that have high pass rates. This includes recognizing programs that have 95% or more of their candidates in identified shortages areas pass their content test on the first attempt, along with programs with an overall first attempt pass rate of 95% or higher.
Utah puts the onus on teacher prep programs to support candidates who struggle to pass licensure tests. Newly passed SB 127 (lines 374-376) requires that programs must prepare candidates to pass the required literacy assessment, "including providing ongoing preparation for up to three total attempts of the required literacy preparation assessment." While the state has not yet determined how it will monitor adherence to this legislation, this represents an important recognition that preparation programs should bear responsibility for ensuring that their candidates can meet the expectations of the profession.
Is your state taking steps to use licensure test pass rate data to build a stronger, more diverse teacher workforce? We'd love to share your good work! Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to share the details.
You can also see NCTQ's most recent national look at whether states are publishing pass rate data, in our 2019 analysis, Maintaining strong elementary content requirements.
Want to read about how states are helping aspiring teachers with the cost of licensure tests? Read our recent spotlight on how states are making licensure tests free to aspiring teachers, newly updated with the addition of Oregon!