The state should use a licensing test to verify that all new teachers meet its professional standards.
South Carolina requires all new teachers to pass a popular pedagogy test from the Praxis series in order to attain licensure.
South Carolina is also a member of the Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA) consortium.
Verify that commercially available tests of pedagogy actually align with state standards.
South Carolina should ensure that its selected test of professional knowledge measures the knowledge and skills the state expects new teachers to have.
Ensure that performance assessments provide a meaningful measure of new teachers' knowledge and skills.
While South Carolina is commended for considering the use of a performance-based assessment, the state should proceed with caution until additional data are available on the Teacher Performance Assessment. Additional research is needed to determine how the edTPA compares to other teacher tests as well as whether the test's scores are predictive of student achievement. The track record on similar assessments is mixed at best. The two states that currently require the Praxis III performance-based assessment report pass rates of about 99 percent. Given that it takes significant resources to administer a performance-based assessment, a test that nearly every teacher passes is of questionable value.
South Carolina recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state added that in 2011 it moved from requiring one pedagogy test for early childhood and elementary education to requiring two tests, each specifically focused on the pedagogical skills needed at the relevant level.
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.
Many states are considering—and a few now require—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 Teaching" Center 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.