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Harder Teacher Tests in Michigan Spur Debate

Just 22 percent of candidates passed a beefed-up version of Michigan's basic-skills tests, up from more than 80 percent under the previous iteration, reports online news site mLive

The plummeting passing rates are due to to the state's overhaul of all of its certification tests. Lower scores were seen across content-area exams, according to a letter sent by the state education department to education deans. The basic-skills test passing rates were particularly affected because candidates have to pass sections in reading, math, and writing. 

The generally high rates of passage on licensing exams are a function of several factors. First, many teacher-preparation programs make them a condition of getting a degree, which is why federally reported statistics are so high. Still, data show that average scaled scores are generally much higher than where states set their cutoff points.

The theory of raising cutoff points is generally to ensure candidates have the requisite content knowledge, though as critics point out, most of these exams don't purport to measure how well a candidate actually instructs students or manages a classroom.

One of the politically challenging pieces of the "raising the bar" discussion is that minority candidates have traditionally posted lower scores on these harder tests, which raises the specter of shutting out even more such teachers from a field with a mismatch between the increasing diversity of the K-12 population and its mostly white, female teaching force.  The optics of all of this have been politically delicate for policymakers to sort out.

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