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Harder Tests for Teacher Licensing

In an attempt to improve schools, 31 states have increased the difficulty of the tests that college graduates have to pass in order to get a teaching license ("Tough Tests for Teachers, With Question of Bias," The New York Times, Jun. 18).  This has resulted in disparate results for minority candidates.

I'm going to let the courts decide the legalities and instead focus on what I consider to be a more fundamental question: Do the tests have predictive value? It's true that higher standards are needed to make teaching a profession like medicine, law and accounting.  But I submit that none of the tests currently in use allows valid inferences to be drawn about who will be effective in the classroom.

I say that because subject matter expertise, while indispensable, is not enough.  If that were not the case, then professors would be a sure bet.  But without pedagogical expertise, they would quickly founder.  I realize that the edTPA requires a video of the candidate in front of the classroom.  This is certainly a step in the right direction.  But it is only a thin slice of one's wherewithal. It remains to be seen how reliable the video is.

I also remind reformers that there are 3.2 million teachers in this country. What works in tiny and homogeneous Finland, for example, to recruit and retain the best and brightest college graduates to teaching will not necessarily work here.  The U.S. is too large and diverse.  Let's continue to strive to improve schools.  But let's also be realistic about what can be achieved here.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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