Assessing Professional Knowledge:

Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy


The state should use a licensing test to verify that all new teachers meet its professional standards.

Meets goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2015). Assessing Professional Knowledge: Massachusetts results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from:

Analysis of Massachusetts's policies

Massachusetts no longer lists its Preservice Performance Assessment (PPA) as a requirement. 

This year, Massachusetts is piloting its Candidate Performance Assessment (CAP). The CAP will replace the PPA as a requirement for program completion from all teacher preparation programs beginning in the 2016-2017 school year, following this year's pilot. In its pilot phase, CAP is currently a five-step cycle that includes self-assessment, goal setting, plan implementation, formative assessment and a summative evaluation. It is aligned with the state's Educator Evaluation Framework and incorporates evidence of growth in student learning, feedback from students and announced and unannounced observations. Similar to the PPA, CAP assesses teacher candidates in a practicum setting. It aims for more standardization than does PPA, primarily through its use of a rubric with descriptors for various levels of performance and alignment with the state's teacher evaluation system.


Recommendations for Massachusetts

Ensure that performance assessments provide a meaningful measure of new teachers' knowledge and skills.
While Massachusetts is commended for considering a performance-based assessment, the state should carefully monitor and collect data about the validity of such measures. Additional research is needed to determine how performance assessments compare with other teacher tests, as well as whether the test's scores are predictive of student achievement.

State response to our analysis

Massachusetts recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis and was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced it.

Research rationale

A good pedagogy test puts teeth in states' professional standards.
In order to ensure that the state is licensing only teachers who meet its expectations, all standards must be testable. State standards that cannot be assessed in a practical and cost-effective manner have no value. Examples of knowledge that can be tested include the basic elements of good instruction, how to communicate effectively with children, how to use class time efficiently, effective questioning techniques, establishing smooth classroom routines, the importance of feedback, engaging parents, the best methods for teaching reading as well as other subjects, appropriate use of technology, knowledge of testing and the fundamentals of addressing individual learning challenges.

States use too many tests to measure new teachers' professional knowledge that utterly fail to do so, either because the passing score is set so low that anyone—even those who have not had professional preparation—can pass or because one can discern the "right" answer on an item simply by the way it is written.

Performance assessments are an important step in the right direction.
Increasing numbers of states are adopting performance assessments to evaluate teacher candidates' pedagogy before an initial license is granted.  A performance assessment can be of much more value than a traditional multiple choice test.  However, states need to make sure that such tests are technically sound, especially given the significant resources that it takes to administer and score performance assessments.  The past track record on similar assessments is mixed at best. The two states that required the Praxis III performance-based assessment reported pass rates of about 99 percent.  a test that nearly every teacher passes is of questionable value. Additional research is needed to determine how the next generation of performance assessments, including the edTPA, compares to other teacher tests as well as whether the test's scores are predictive of student achievement.

 Assessing Professional Knowledge: Supporting Research
For evidence of the importance of pedagogy tests in improving student achievement, see C. Clotfelter, H.Ladd and J.Vigdor, "How and Why Do Teacher Credentials Matter for Student Achievement?"  Working Paper 2, Calder Institute (2007).

For further information regarding the use of performance assessments and the Teacher Performance Assessment Consortium (TPAC) in California and other states see L. Darling-Hammond, "Evaluating Teacher Effectiveness: How Teacher Performance Assessments Can Measure and Improve TeachingCenter for American Progress, (October 2010).

For a perspectives on the issues with teaching dispositions, see W. Damon, "Personality Test: The dispositional dispute in teacher preparation today, and what to do about it" in Arresting Insights in Education, Volume 2, No. 3, September 8, 2005;  J. Gershman, "'Disposition' Emerges as Issue at Brooklyn College," New York Sun, May 31,2005.

For evidence on the low passing scores required by states on pedagogy tests, see the U.S. Department of Education's The Secretary's Seventh Annual Report on Teacher Quality: A Highly Qualified Teacher in Every Classroom. (2010). Also see K. Walsh, "A Candidate-Centered Model for Teacher Preparation and Licensure," A Qualified Teacher in Every Classroom?: Appraising Old Answers and New Ideas, eds. F. Hess, A. Rotherham, and K. Walsh (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2004), pp. 223-253.