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Preparation programs should screen candidates for academic proficiency.
Evidence is strong that countries whose students consistently outperform U.S. students set a much higher bar for teacher preparation programs than what is typically found in the United States. Research is also clear about the positive effects on student achievement of teachers with stronger academic backgrounds.
Yet too many states do not evaluate candidates' academic proficiency as a condition of admission to teacher preparation, instead requiring basic skills tests for licensure. Basic skills tests were not intended to be licensing tests but rather were meant to be used at the point of admission into a teacher preparation program. These tests generally assess middle school-level skills, and states should use them as a minimal screening mechanism to ensure that teacher preparation programs do not admit anyone who is not prepared to do college-level work. Admitting prospective teachers who have not passed these tests may result in programs devoting limited time to basic skill remediation rather than preparation for the classroom.
Screening candidates at program entry protects the public's investment.
Teacher preparation programs that do not screen candidates, particularly programs at public institutions that are heavily subsidized by the state, invest considerable taxpayer dollars in the preparation of individuals who may not be able to successfully complete the program and pass the licensing tests required to become a teacher. Candidates needing additional support should complete remediation prior to program entry, avoiding the possibility of an unsuccessful investment of significant public tax dollars.
Tests normed to the general college-bound population would improve selectivity.
In addition to the fact that current basic skills tests generally measure only middle school-level skills, another concern is that they are normed only to the prospective teacher population. Tests normed to the general college-bound population would shine a clearer light on the academic proficiency of those admitted to teacher preparation programs.
For information on basic skills and certification test pass rates across the states, see Secretary's Seventh Annual Report on Teacher Quality 2010 at:
For evidence that basic skills tests for teachers assess no more than middle school level skills, see "Not Good Enough: A Content Analysis of Teacher Licensing Examinations." Thinking K-16, The Education Trust (Spring 1999).
For evidence of the predictive power of college selectivity and SAT scores see C, Clotfelter, H. Ladd, and J. Vigdor, "Can You Recognize an Effective Teacher When You Recruit One?" National Bureau of Economic Research (2008). The authors also found college selectivity to have a positive impact on student achievement in North Carolina in "How and Why Do Teacher Credentials Matter for Student Achievement?" Calder Institute (2007).
For a discussion of teacher preparation program admissions policies in other countries, see OECD study Teacher Matter: Attracting, Developing and Retaining Effective Teachers, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2005). Also see Barber, M. and Mourshed, M., "How the World's Performing School System's Come out on Top." McKinsey & Company (2007).
For research supporting greater selectivity for teacher preparation programs see, Donald Boyd et al., "The Narrowing Gap in New York City Teacher Qualifications and Implications for Student Achievement in High Poverty Schools," National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 14021, June 2008; Drew Gitomer, "Teacher Quality in a Changing Policy Landscape: Improvements in the Teacher Pool," Educational Testing Service, 2007; D. Goldhaber et al., NBPTS certification: Who applies and what factors are associated with success? Center for Reinventing Public Education working paper, 2004; A.J. Wayne and P. Youngs, "Teacher characteristics and student achievement gains: A review." Review of Educational Research, 2003; Grover Whitehurst, "Scientifically based research on teacher quality: Research on teacher preparation and professional development," Paper presented at the White House Conference on Preparing Teachers, 2002; J. Kain and K. Singleton, "Equality of Education Revisited" New England Economic Review, May-June 1996; R. Ferguson and H. Ladd "How and Why Money Matters: An Analysis of Alabama Schools," In H. Ladd (ed). Holding Schools Accountable. Brookings Institution, 1996; R. Greenwald et al. "The Effect of School Resources on Student Achievement" Review of Educational Research, 1996; R. Ehrenberg and D. Brewer, "Do School and Teacher Characteristics Matter? Evidence From High School and Beyond" Economics of Education Review, 1994; Ron Ferguson, "Paying for public education: New evidence on how and why money matters," Harvard Journal on Legislation, 1991; R. Strauss and E. Sawyer, "Some New Evidence on Teacher and Student Competencies" Economics of Education Review, 1986; M. McLaughlin and D. Marsh, "Staff development and school change," Teachers College Record, 1978; D. Winkler, "Educational Achievement and School Peer Composition," Journal of Human Resources, 1975; A. Summers and B. Wolfe, "Do schools make a difference?" American Economic Review, 1977; Eric Hanushek, "Teacher characteristics and gains in student achievement: Estimation using micro-data," American Economic Review, 1971.