The Professional Standards Commission in Education did the right thing last week when it eliminated the Proofs and Models section of the PRAXIS math test for teacher licensing.
A few short years ago, the rage to improve public education was to test teachers. While most agreed with the idea of testing, there was a concern by many in education that appropriate tests be used to determine competency of teachers.
I don't believe this was done. There were and are people out there who just love to criticize public education and public school teachers. They argued that anyone with the content knowledge could teach and that the system should allow non-traditional candidates into the classroom. In other words, if you needed a math or science teacher, recruit from private industry. There was a sense that these individuals had more content knowledge than classroom teachers.
Well, like many states, Nevada adopted a form of alternative licensure to allow non-traditional teachers into the classroom. Interestingly, the same people who supported alternative licensure were also supporting putting the toughest tests in place for teacher competency testing.
What we now know is that business people with a background in mathematics, very typically a degree in math, were not able to pass these tests either. In fact, not being able to pass the PRAXIS subtest was keeping non-traditional candidates from entering the profession. Since there is a teacher shortage in mathematics, this is a real problem.
Adding to this mess, Educational Testing Service (ETS), the publisher of the PRAXIS series, indicated over a year ago that their tests were not a good measure of what teachers need to know and be able to do in their classrooms. They are in the process of developing a new test.
I wonder how they apologize to people who lost their teacher's license, their jobs because of their old test. How many lives were ruined by this inappropriate testing of teachers?
Only five states in the country are using the Proofs and Models section of the PRAXIS test. Nevada was one of them. In fact, Nevada has the highest cut score for passing in the nation. With the action taken last week by the commission, there are now only four states that are using that test. The commission should be commended for doing the right thing and eliminating the Proofs and Models portion of the PRAXIS test.
The commission also gave non-traditional candidates three years to pass the Content and Pedagogy sections of the PRAXIS. That action gives alternative route teachers the same opportunities and time lines to pass the tests as traditional candidates.
Educators are in general agreement with the public on the importance of testing. However, if the wrong test is used, then testing is nothing more than a political soundbite of a politician trying to sound tough and wanting to support something called high standards.
On other action, the commission refused to add requirements to become an educational computer specialist. These are teachers who have learned computers, hardware and software, on their own and now share that knowledge with other teachers in the school. They are also responsible for the upkeep of the computers. If requirements were added, teachers currently doing the job would have to go back to take additional classes or lose their positions.
Again, the Commission on Professional Standards in Education did the right thing.
Bill Hanlon, a Las Vegas educator, is a former member of the Nevada Board of Education. His e-mail address is email@example.com.