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Study: State Teacher Tests Vary

March 7, 2000

State tests for would-be teachers can effectively measure their basic knowledge, but they tell little about whether a person will be any good at teaching, according to a new study released Tuesday.

The National Research Council, a non-profit, independent council that advises the government, was asked by the Education Department to investigate how the various states evaluate would-be teachers.

The council found the tests varied so greatly that any state-to-state comparison would be meaningless. It also recommended further study of why minorities get lower test results.

Seventeen educators and testing experts conducted the two-year, $1.08 million study.

``This study reinforces what we have found,″ said Terry Knecht Dozier, senior advisor on teaching to Education Secretary Richard Riley. ``You cannot make interstate comparisons.″

But Dozier noted that requiring states to report on how prospective teachers fare on licensing exams ``is very critical public information.″

A 1998 federal law requires teacher colleges that receive federal financial aid to report how their graduates perform on state licensing exams. Those that perform poorly could lose that aid. The schools were to begin issuing their report cards in April, but last month the Education Department postponed the program by a year, saying it needed more time to create a uniform reporting system.

Forty-one states require would-be teachers to pass at least one licensing test, the study found. But the states vary widely in what and how they tested, and what they considered good enough to pass.

Some states focused more on basic skills, others on knowledge of a subject area, and others on knowledge of teaching practices.

Amy Wilkins of the Education Trust, a Washington-based group that advocates improved student achievement and closing achievement gaps, said the results raised questions about the value of the tests.

She blamed the disparity in minority test results on the teaching schools turning them out. ``The question is whether the education that the prospective minority teacher is getting is good enough,″ Wilkins said.

Tuesday’s report was an interim finding. A report near the end of the year will suggest how states might judge teachers’ performance in the classroom, Dozier said.

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On the Net: The study can be found at http://www.national-academies.org

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