Replace Michigan’s prep test for aspiring teachers

Ron French’s recent article about the Michigan exam for aspiring teachers (Bridge, January 20, 2015) has stimulated a discussion about the best ways to attract, identify and prepare prospective teachers. This discussion is critical as we work together to overcome the factors that are causing so many young people to dismiss teaching as a future career. These include never-ending teacher bashing, micromanaging at the local, state and national levels, and inadequate compensation.

However, I want to begin by clarifying three issues raised in Mr. French’s article.

First, all of us involved in preparing the next generation of teachers agree that we must attract young people who are able and willing to step up to the challenges of teaching children at all levels. We acknowledge that some sort of test is needed. We simply don't agree that Michigan’s Professional Readiness Exam achieves this goal.

Second, we believe that the Praxis Examination of Core Academic Skills, which is used in several states, would have been preferable to what the Michigan Department of Education developed. Finally, an official with the department is quoted as saying that some of the universities are unhappy with the current test. Actually, this feeling is virtually unanimous.

So, while I agree that some sort of test is needed to assess the academic preparation of aspiring teachers, I believe that much more is required. One important step is the development of portfolios organized around what Deborah Ball, dean of the University of Michigan’s School of Education, refers to as “high-level practices” in teaching and assessment. Moreover, aspiring teachers need clinical experiences in schools long before beginning student teaching. Here at Oakland University, this process begins two years before student teaching. Many of our students are enrolled in teaching methods and foundations classes taught in real K-12 schools by university faculty members who collaborate closely with their K-12 colleagues to provide authentic experiences for the teacher candidates.

A related issue involves retaining teachers early in their careers at a time when a significant percentage of them leave teaching during their first five years. Reasons frequently given for this early exodus include lack of autonomy, erratic support and the limited opportunities to make a difference. To counter this trend, approximately 30 Southeast Michigan school districts in the Galileo Teacher Leadership Consortium have committed themselves to creating systems in which teachers can grow as leaders both within and beyond their classrooms. Oakland University’s Galileo Institute works with the Consortium to support teacher leadership through a variety of projects and services. Recently, the Institute became a supporting organization for the National Teach to Lead initiative organized by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the United States Department of Education.

Equally important is the need to engage high school students in discussions about teaching and provide them with opportunities to experience teaching through volunteer and internship activities. At Oakland University, we are working closely with teacher cadet programs in several districts and exploring joining Educators Rising, a national movement designed to support such programs.

While I began with a criticism of the Professional Readiness Exam, my underlying concern is the need to adopt comprehensive practices and policies to attract young people to teaching, provide them with the best teacher education possible and then support them when they enter K-12 classrooms. Achieving those goals will require much more than a single test.

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Thu, 02/12/2015 - 10:00am
Perhaps the system really needs to be reinvented. If our new teachers today are required to be proficient in too many areas, maybe multiple instructional units should be utilized in early grades so the student has more contact with a knowledgeable teacher. I believe once we accept that students need to be promoted on performance rather than age, we will be on track to regain our leadership in educating our children. The arbitrary passing students to the next grade before they show capability is a disservice to the student, the community and the tax payers. Passing in school to fail in life should not be an option based on political correctness. Once parents are informed and accept that a true education is based on knowledge and not age, it will be a much better society for all.
Thu, 02/12/2015 - 10:13am
teacher preparation programs need a total revamp. low test scores reveal not enough knowledge or skills to be a successful teacher. increasing demands of teachers, require the new teacher be able to perform "out of the gate" or "from the bell". increasing the time in school, is too expensive. a teacher prep program should include three years of theory and practice and one year of student teaching. the program should strive to build a teacher that is confident and competent . ijs
Thu, 02/12/2015 - 11:53am
Perhaps we need to treat education students more like skilled trades and less like academics. Expose students to practical exercises in their first two years rather than running them through a litany of coursework and them throwing them into a student teaching assignment as seniors. Have students take the skills test as sophomores so they can either change fields or seek help to improve. Letting education students run four years and then weeding them out on a skills test may be good for the bottom line at the U, but it's a shameful practice.
Earl Newman
Thu, 02/12/2015 - 5:32pm
Anyone who thinks that whatever shortcomings our public schools might have are based on the fact that teachers don't know enough is someone who doesn't understand the situation. Almost all teachers have college degrees with majors and minors in one or more academic areas. They know quite a bit. In their several academic programs and in life each of them has already passed innumerable tests that are better indicators of knowledge and intellect than any of the tests of basic knowledge formulated by the testing companies. What are we to think when we see the education establishment, the government, and the media so ready to impose still another layer of formal exams on aspiring teachers? This rush to t3st tells us these things about our system: 1. It tells us how much of a grip the testing industry has had on the public school establishment. 2. It tells us how little school administrators and teacher educators actually know about the dynamics of the teaching/learning process and the condition of our schools. 3. It exposes an enormous waste of resources. Think of the hours of work talented people put into devising, administering, studying for, and interpreting these tests. Fortunes are being made and wasted in this industry, with no promise of improvement. It is fundamentally mindless.
Michael Kiella
Thu, 02/12/2015 - 7:55pm
Here are my concerns in this discussion: a.) people with a K-12 education are allowed to be experts on Human Development, Learning, and Teaching Methods; and b.) the extent to which one-time certifying examinations correlate (or do not correlate) to the knowledge teachers-in-training receive during their major-minor sequence in college; and c.) the extent to which expensive "new curricula" confound simple learning objectives...for both teachers and their students; and d.) the expense of teacher programs (e.g. 5-year bachelor degrees, with uncompensated mandatory requirements for each of the next five years for continuing licensing education) measured against embarrassing low-salaries. I would prefer that communities recognize that "principal" is an adjective to educator....principal educator. This way the system could benefit from continuing teacher-education by return to (a County Normal?) method of intense teacher observation and continuous improvement...tests be damned. I suggest that you ask your children how many times the principal educator in their building is present (for observation and continuous improvement) in their classroom....and then ask yourself: "how will expensive high-stakes teacher-testing improve the situation?" The current low-regard in which teachers are held is deplorable...shouldn't we take special effort to develop, nurture, and care for this valuable community all the ways a community can and should....helping beginning teachers become master teachers to the benefit of our children? Qualifying scores on inane testing instruments are not the answer...
Sun, 02/15/2015 - 8:27am
Testing only has value if it is measuring the level of knowledge and skills necessary to achieve the desired outcome of the application of those skills. If the ‘teacher’ testing is not measuring of the knowledge and skills directly affecting the success of student in their learning achievement then it has no value. If the testing is only to provide a number that the media can report or that is used to justify one political position or another then it is at best a distraction and worse a barrier to the success of the K-12 students.
Mon, 11/28/2016 - 11:21pm
There are always exceptions, both good and unfortunate. The teacher preparation programs at some universities actually train teachers over the course of five or more years through "experience in the classroom, PD, school wide book clubs, etc. Watching, implementing, reflecting, and changing" under the mentorship of effective teachers and experienced professors. In such programs, one can earn a bachelors degree with a minor in content areas while also gaining preparation and experience for the classroom. It is the role of college to prepare professionals for their career. No one will hire a lawyer without adequate training, so why put the minds and futures in the hands of under qualified teachers? All college degrees or even a master's in education are not created equally, and people who become teachers online or through school/district based PD are less effective. Experience and personality are also significant factors, but without adequate training, becoming an effective teacher is at the cost of the students. Teaching is challenging. Not everyone can be a teacher. It's similar to the way some people have what it takes to be a doctor; it takes specialized background knowledge, adequate training through study, observation, practice and mentorship over the course of several years, followed by exams and internship before becoming a professional teacher, and then more experience and reflection to truly become an effective teacher. Michigan State University is a prime example leading the nation for more than a decade in teacher preparation. Look it up. MSU is an exception, and while such a degree does not lead to more pay, it pays off for the students. Teachers, (like doctors, lawyers, and other professions) all require specialized training.