The Low Bar of Licensure

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As we've reported, teacher preparation programs have alarmingly low admissions standards. From the school's standpoint, this makes sense: more students means more tuition. In principle, states can compensate for programs' unwillingness to be choosy by making licensure tests more rigorous. But in practice, when one looks at the passing scores required for licensure, it's clear that states aren't asking much of new teachers either.

Take, for example, the cut scores of the 25 states that use the Praxis Middle School English/Language Arts exam for initial licensure. Only six have set a cut-score at or above the 25th percentile of average performance -- with the highest of the cut scores only two points above the bottom quartile.

It's hard for us to understand why so many states require a licensure exam that they have knowingly calibrated to guarantee such high pass rates. But what's more troubling is that when states set cut scores this low, they can't be sure that teachers know the content they will teach well enough to be effective. If we're going to hold teachers accountable for student performance, shouldn't we ensure they have a strong enough foundation at the start to help their students succeed?

--Graham Drake