The opportunity to learn from teacher licensure pass rate data — and why it matters

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Building a stronger, more diverse teacher workforce is a national priority. As our students and schools slowly recover from the waning pandemic, it's clear that returning to business as usual is not enough. Students need teachers who reflect this nation's rich diversity, who can create exciting and engaging lessons, and who can help students develop background knowledge across the range of topics that will support their reading comprehension and future learning.

Strengthening our teacher workforce begins with better, more transparent data. In many states, more than half of test takers fail licensure tests the first time they take them, with aspiring teachers of color failing at even greater rates. Many teachers who reach the classroom admit that they don't feel confident in their content knowledge. This suggests a widespread problem. But we cannot fix a problem that we cannot see or fully understand.

Licensure tests offer a compass for better understanding this problem. With more information about where test takers are passing their tests or not, we can identify the institutions where aspiring teachers are achieving greater success in passing their licensure tests. From there, we can explore these models to learn how the institutions are supporting their candidates.

Over the past two years, NCTQ has worked with state education agencies and their testing companies to gather licensure test data, the primary means of assessing candidates' content knowledge. Forty-three states require elementary teacher candidates to pass a test of their content knowledge.191 Some of the remaining eight states (Arizona, California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Oregon, and Wisconsin) offer candidates an alternative to passing a licensure test, including having a degree or major in the content area or completing a content-based portfolio. A few (Iowa and North Carolina192) have no measure in place to assess content knowledge before teachers enter the classroom.

This first release of data will publish pass rates on elementary content licensure tests. Reading licensure test data will be released next year.

The challenge and the beauty of this data is that the information is multi-faceted. For states' decision to license teachers, the binary pass/fail is all that matters. But in the search for exemplar institutions and for those institutions where test takers perennially struggle, it is important to dig more deeply into the data.

For this reason, NCTQ's forthcoming release of data will offer customized dashboards for each state, recognizing that each state has its own unique context. These dashboards will help illustrate where aspiring teachers, especially aspiring teachers of color, are being lost from the path into the classroom:

  • Best-attempt pass rates for each institution - illustrating the proportion of test takers who are ultimately able to meet the state's bar.

  • First-attempt pass rates for each institution - illustrating the proportion of test takers who meet the state's bar on the first attempt, avoiding delays in being able to secure a teaching job and testing fees.

  • First- and best-attempt pass rates for test takers of color at each institution - pointing toward institutions where test takers of color are achieving greater success.

  • Walk-away rates - illustrating the proportion of all test takers and test takers of color who fail on their first attempt and do not retake the test.

  • Institutional pass rates, sorted by admissions selectivity - identifying less selective institutions that defy the narrative that high pass rates can only be achieved by more selective institutions.

  • Institutional pass rates, sorted by proportion of students who receive Pell grants - identifying institutions with students from more diverse socioeconomic backgrounds that are seeing greater success on licensure tests.

  • Proportion of test takers at an institution who attempt the test three or more times - identifying institutions where few test takers have to take the test repeatedlyand those where more test takers may benefit from earlier interventions.

Licensure test data is an imperfect tool, and the data currently available have some limitations. For example, in most states, anyone may take a licensure test and indicate any institution, meaning that some test takers are attributed to an institution without actually being enrolled in a preparation program there. While states can work to remedy these limitations over time, even now this data offers the opportunity to glean unprecedented insights into the system of preparation that aspiring teachers receive.

While no single measure of program performance tells the full story, considering these data through a range of lenses opens an important window into ways to strengthen teacher preparation for all aspiring teachers. These data present a watershed moment for delivering better prepared, more diverse teachers to the classroom.

Stay tuned for NCTQ's landmark release of elementary content licensure test pass rate data, coming July 2021.

Learn more about this project and explore frequently asked questions at