Tarheel testing: from bad to worse?

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In the latest chapter of a continuing saga, on September 29 North Carolina Governor Mike Easley vetoed a bill that would've knocked the wind out of one of the Tarheel State's key teacher quality provisions. (We've covered earlier chapters in the story here and here.) Currently, out-of-state teachers are expected to pass the Praxis II according to the same cut scores as are imposed on new N.C. teachers. The vetoed bill would have declared any teacher coming to North Carolina "highly qualified" as long as they had already been granted HQT status in any other state. Given that a few states have yet to implement a subject matter testing regimen at all, the move attempted by the House was clearly sending the state in the wrong direction.

Easley's opposition is apparently concerned that good teachers from other states will shrink away from trying to meet the state's "ruthlessly high" scores, and that the state's policies are keeping talented folks from helping shrink the state's teacher shortage.

The great irony of this situation is that North Carolina's current testing regimen isn't nearly as rigorous as it should be. In an unusual policy, North Carolina doesn't set minimum cut scores for the required tests in most licensure areas. Instead, the state requires that teachers get a minimum total score on both the relevant content and pedagogy exams. This has led to some wildly varying expectations for different teachers. For example, secondary math teachers have to score near the median on both tests in order to make the cut. This is a fairly high expectation, relatively speaking--given how many states set their cut scores below the 25th percentile mark. But North Carolina does too: secondary social studies teachers can score below the 25th percentile on both tests and still make it. Another issue here is the loophole opened up by the "total score on two tests" policy: a teacher could do really well on the pedagogy test and be terrible on content knowledge, and still pass.

North Carolina's current testing policies may be inconsistent, but they're not Draconian. To stop the House from overturning Easley's veto, a compromise of some kind is allegedly in the works. Hopefully it won't involve lowering the state's cut scores too much: they're already compromised.