A Bar Exam for Teachers?

bar examThe latest piece of news on the teacher preparation front is talks of a bar exam for new teachers. As a part of the movement to professionalize teaching, the American Federation of Teachers (a teachers’ union organization) has proposed the use of a new teacher entry exam. Here is why:

With the exception of a handful of states with more rigorous custom-designed exams, most examinations required for initial licensure have been widely considered to be insufficiently rigorous, limited in scope and unconnected to practice—usually covering basic skills and subject-matter knowledge—and measuring different knowledge and skills depending on grade level and content area (pp. 12).

Frankly, I think this is necessary. Once again, we are living the consequences of allowing states to decide their own teaching licensure requirements. We have some states that require the Praxis I and II in addition to a state-developed exam, some states that require neither Praxis and just a state exam, some that require one Praxis and a state exam, others that only require one Praxis. Essentially, teachers in Nevada are assessed three times prior to gaining licensure, whereas teachers in Texas and Missouri are assessed only once.

Now, the number of times you are assessed bears little relation to how effective a teacher you will be. I could test you 8 times, but if the tests all tested the same thing or did not test certain things, I would have no indication of your future performance as a teacher.

So the issue for me is not about testing teachers more. Teachers are tested enough. I would like to see us test teachers better. In other words, I want an assessment that has a good level of predictive validity. I want an assessment that measures content knowledge AND pedagogical knowledge. I want all teachers to have at least 800 hours of teaching experience before they can get a license. I also would like to see teachers participate in a mentoring program during their first year. In other words, I’d like to see teachers given the depth and breadth of training we require of our medical doctors, college professors, and attorneys.

I think a universal entrance exam is a good first step. But for this to work, we’d have to first ensure it is useful in assessing what we think teachers should know and do at multiple grade levels for diverse students (damn near impossible in a single assessment). We’d then have to do away with the dozens of tests we already have. Lastly, and perhaps most of all, we would have to PREPARE our teachers to take this test.

This means actually requiring teachers to learn how to teach, not to just know their content. This alone would do away with alternative licensure programs that bypass student teaching hours and formal learning in favor of getting a warm body in a classroom as quickly as possible. Instead, we would have to require teachers to get a Master’s degree in teaching, in addition to a Bachelor’s degree in their content area (if they are a secondary teacher). Our teacher candidates would have to take rigorous courses covering issues of child development, assessment, statistics, educational psychology, and education policy. Like in law schools, we perhaps need to design teacher preparation courses to be so tough, many people fail. Maybe we should raise the bar on admission requirements instead of taking whoever can pay for a teacher preparation program. Perhaps only those who score in the top 20th percentile on this new exam should be hired as teachers. Maybe we should pay teachers accordingly for the time and effort they put into training for their career and improving their practice. This might possibly yield teacher candidates who actually want to teach, who believe all students can achieve, who are committed to their own professional growth as a teacher, and who see value in educating the next generation.

Maybe, just maybe, we should invest in our teachers if we are to demand so much of them.


This entry was posted in Policy.