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Testing for Teachers: Moving Towards Rigorous Assessment

This week the American Federation of Teachers, our national union, proposed a new tool in teacher evaluation: a sort of "bar exam" for teaching that would be required for anyone entering the profession. The rigorous exam would be based on a combination of content-knowledge and understanding of emotional and social factors in learning. As an added component of certification, teachers would be required to spend a year in "clinical practice" as a student teacher--a sort of teaching apprenticeship that I've long felt was lacking in training for our profession. In tandem with the new exam and the longer period of student teaching, education programs themselves would become more rigorous, requiring higher grade point averages for successful admission and graduation.

While some teachers will understandably balk at the idea of being evaluated by standardized tests, I'm surprised to find myself rather enamored of this set of ideas. For starters, by standardizing the requirements for certification across all states, teachers will be more easily able to obtain national board certification--reciprocity can be streamlined across all states (right now there's no rhyme or reason to which states have reciprocity with each other, and which don't.) This will make it easier for experienced teachers to move to different states without having to jump through hoops for recertification, which is a problem under the current system.

Secondly, while I don't agree with movies like Waiting for Superman, which assert that bad teachers are the problem in education, I do think raising the standards of the profession is a good idea. Currently, too many education programs simply lack rigor--students skate through perfunctorily, without learning anything useful about teaching or about their content areas. Forcing these programs to elevate their standards towards a difficult exam will enable education course-work to be more focused; teacher training can be standardized, and driven by specific metrics of proficiency. Additionally, I doubt I am alone in thinking that the most valuable component of my teacher training was my brief experience team-teaching with an experienced educator. By making this sort of internship longer and mandatory nationwide, I believe we can greatly improve teacher preparation.

Lastly, though I wish this were not the case, I think (hope?) that having passed a rigorous standardized assessment will afford the teaching profession the type of respect garnered by law, accounting, or technical professions. It will make the ways in which teachers are determined to be "qualified" far less ambiguous, and with any luck, make it less socially acceptable to suggest that teachers' incompetence is the reason behind a litany of socio-economic and systemic failures that are beyond all of our control. This, for me, is perhaps the most compelling (if also the most emotional) reason why I would support this kind of examination--to put down at least some of the existing questions about the legitimacy of training, certification, or efficacy in this profession. If teaching could be afforded a modicum of respect as a result of a "bar exam" of sorts, I'd take the test in a heartbeat, and I'm sure other teachers would as well.

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