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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Improving Teacher Quality: NCLB Raises the Bar

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger

The requirements for highly qualified teachers that are part of the No Child Left Behind Act, as well as more stringent prerequisites surrounding teacher accreditation, have underscored discussions about teacher quality over the last several years. The Educational Testing Service has released a report about marked improvement in teacher quality over the past decade. The report, "Teacher Quality in a Changing Policy Landscape: Improvements in the Teacher Pool" sought to examine, in its own words, whether "changes in the academic quality of the teaching force are associated with this unprecedented policy focus."

The ETS reexamined previous research by comparing the academic qualifications of teacher candidates who took its Praxis assessments for teacher licensure from 2002 through 2005 with the qualifications of a cohort from eight years earlier. According to the ETS, the research "demonstrates strongly that when stakeholders target and focus on a common objective, positive change can occur."

Here are a few of the report's findings:

  • The academic profile (Praxis II passing rates, SAT scores, and grade point averages) of the entire candidate pool, including those meeting state Praxis requirements, has improved.
  • Today's candidates have higher college GPAs. The percentage of candidates reporting higher than a 3.5 GPA increased from 27 percent to 40 percent, while the percentage of candidates reporting lower than a 3.0 GPA decreased from 32 percent to 20 percent.
  • Improvements are consistent across genders, racial and ethnic groups, and licensure areas.
  • During the last few years, more Praxis candidates were individuals with prior teaching experience, particularly those from university-based teacher-preparation programs.

The report cites several factors that have yielded the greatest impact:

  • Teacher-education programs are more accountable for reporting teacher candidates' test scores.
  • There is a greater focus on ensuring that all teachers are qualified. The NCLB mandate for highly qualified teachers requires educators to be licensed and to show competence in their subject area. This requirement, in turn, led to development of content tests to ensure the subject proficiency of middle school teachers.
  • States have increased the requirements for entry into teacher-education programs. Some, for example, have set a minimum GPA.
  • The quality requirements for accreditation have become harder. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council, for example, now require candidates to provide evidence of subject-area knowledge and pedagogical skill.
  • There has been a rapid expansion of alternate pathways into teaching.

Chief ETS researcher Drew Gitomer also points out a few not-so-positive discoveries. "One of the sobering findings of the report is that the teacher candidate pool is no more diverse than it was a decade ago," he says. "Females continue to make up three-quarters of the candidate pool, which is overwhelmingly white. The lack of language diversity continues."

The ETS is very upfront about the issues surrounding the use of teacher-licensure tests and entry tests as a measure of teacher quality, but it also points out that doing so does make sense, because using this kind of test can show that, as it says, "an individual has acquired a level of knowledge that is acceptable for licensing a beginning teacher, and that teachers without this knowledge are unlikely to become effective teachers."

This is a fascinating report for those of us intrigued by NCLB policy changes and teacher-quality issues. As someone who entered the profession with a generic certification for grades 1-8, I would now need additional certification to teach content in middle schools. I see this as a positive policy difference from some time ago.

A lot has changed over the years since I started teaching: The Praxis replaced the National Teacher Examination, NCLB was born with labor pains for everyone, and research continues to single out teacher quality as a key factor in student success. We've all worked hard to improve the quality of our profession, and it's nice to see this effort reflected positively. There still remains a huge teacher shortage, but research such as this study might make us all feel a little better because our profession continues to demonstrate positive growth in some areas.

Personally, I encourage prospective teachers to join the ranks, even with all the challenges we face. As I work with school administrators across the country, I continue to assist them in ensuring that the teachers they hire have the full realm of support they need to remain in the profession.

Do you agree with these results? What factors strike you the most? If you read the full report, what other issues stood out for you? Do you believe that any policy pains surrounding teacher quality that may have resulted from NCLB are worth it?

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger
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Bailey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Highly qualified educators...Must make AYP...More certifications...More years experience...Higher test scores...ENOUGH!
Granted, educators must be highly qualified to teach our children. They are our future leaders! We should possess a "passion" for our career. We should exude great leadership skills. We, as educators, wear so many different hats everyday. But when exactly is too much?
Due to the fact that I am considered a "highly qualified educator", according to the Bush Administrations NCLB, I am being relocated to a new school for next year. I am furious about this. My current school has been my home for the past 6 years. I prefer NOT to be higly qualified if this is what was intended. I am currently working on my masters degree and had rather quit now than to continue to be "punished" for doing my job well.
Obviously, I am very upset about this matter. If you have any "words of encouragement" or just straight facts, I am more than willing to listen!

Kimberley's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Over the past five or six years, I have mentored several teachers who were required to take the Praxis II written assessment and the Praxis III teacher evaluation. Does passing the written test really make you a better teacher? Does passing the Praxis III evaluation really make you a better teacher?

I have never been a good test-taker. I barely passed the NTE back in 1991. Does that mean I am not an effective teacher? I believe that my years of experience, and my willingness to continue to keep up with current trends in education contribute to my effectiveness as a classroom teacher.

I agree that there needs to be some form of evaluation to determine whether or not people are capable of teaching, but quite frankly, some of the teachers that I mentored through the stress of their Praxis III evaluation (who passed), I would not say are effective teachers. they just worked extremely hard to jump through another hoop!

Conie Spolar's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that in order for more men to enter the teaching profression, salaries need to be competitive. In fact, many years ago, my husband completed the requirements for a Single Subject credential in Mathematics, but he didn't have the units required. He considered taking the Praxis, or returning to school for additional subject matter classes, but he decided to return to working as a Union construction worker because teaching wouldn't support his family. My daughter-in-law just completed her nursing credential with a B.S. degree which took her 4 years to earn. After working 6 months, she now earns as much as I do with a Master's Degree and 9 years of experience. In order to become a "highly qualified teacher," I had to put in the additional time working on my credential, pass the MSAT, and finish a 2 year BTSA program. My principal strongly advised earning my Master's Degree. After completing my Master's degree, as well as the time it took to move over on the column for step increases, I earn after 9 years what she earns after just 4 years and 6 months. When she receives a raise in 2 months, my daughter-in-law will be earning more than I do, and although she doesn't get the summer off, she works a 12 hour day just 3 days a week. There are many days that I work for 12 hours! I think that I entered the wrong profession! I love teaching, but considering the stress of NCLB and testing, and the time and effort required for the pay received, I would not encourage anyone that I cared about to enter the teaching profession. In fact, I would do everything that I could to encourage them consider nursing instead. It's fulfilling, valued by society, and much more financially rewarding for the time required!

lorrl sushteep's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

while i do not doubt ETS's claims as to the veracity of their research I read comment after comment of how people who had been qualified and trusted with children's education for decades are suddenly no longer "qualified". There are two sides to every issue and I am afraid we are about to see the pendulum swing the other way in terms of federal policy regarding education. i just hope those industries that have profited the most from NCLB legislation will finally start placing the social and emotional development of our society as a whole in their ledger sheets and reconfigure whatever metrics they use for "assessment" and stop wondering about how much more money they can make instead wonder how many people can we fundamentally help, how many can we give hope to?

Dawne's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I completely agree with you on men not being drawn to the profession due to the minimal financial incentive it brings. That makes me wonder why women don't seem to think about that as much when they choose to go into the profession...hmmmmm. Men may see it as an area to overcome when trying to settle down with a wife and have a family. A teacher's salary is barely enough to support the teacher alone. I have always thought that we are grossly underpaid and I feel that being a special educator, I should get paid even more. Afterall, I am a "specialist". Doctors who have specialized fields get to charge more for their services. Does anyone see my logic? I know, I know. I am dreaming.

velvet's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I currently work in a school system that also believes that if you don't have a 3.9 GPA you might not know how to teach. I honestly feel that we need to work on the students. I have noticed that students have a lack of discipline. They don't fear consequences nor do they fear adult authority. I think the lawmakers have it wrong, its not the teachers that ned extra rules and training it is the students. They need a foundation now more tahn before thats why we are having so much violence in the schools not because the teachers aren't highly qualified but because the students have no discipline.They are allowed to run around and act like tarents, we are along students to be adults at early ages, The newspaper and other articles are writing about teen pregnancy, school shootings, school violence, teacher turnover and the lack of kids being educated. Does anyone in congress have any commonsense? Is there anyone in cngress that is younger than 50? Is anyone in congress volunteering hours to go in a classroom at least three times a week and find out whats going on? No you know why because they don't care all of their kids are in private school or learning from home. Wake up people we are dying as I type. We are losing this battle for education. What and when are we going to do about it? No Child Left Behind is a joke....

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really do not think that teachers should show their qualifications in their performance on standardized tests. I am currently a teacher who transfered from one state to another. In doing so, I was required to take two praxis exams within a 5 year grace period. Unfortunately, the praxis exams was not required by the first state I taught. They had their own standardized tests required to be passed. Worried about my certification, I wanted to get a head start and took the two praxis exams required. I passed one test, but failed the other. I attempted to take the test a second time and failed it again by 10 points. After having spent $250 on tests, I received a letter a few weeks later explaining that the Praxis exam requirement was waived and I was given a renewable certification. Since my teaching career, I have had much success with my students' learning. They have meet the state standards and beyond. Should my failure in passing the praxis exam make me an inept teacher, considering my success?

marqueA2's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

ETS Funny that... a company that makes money hand over fist because of the requirements of the NCLB Act finds that their product 'improves' the situation, based on the requirements of that same Act? Go figure.

Sherry Sheren's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Although I passed all of my required testing upon graduation, my scores were not as high as others in my class. I had a higher GPA than many, but I am an anxiety ridden test taker. I was terrified that when I went out looking for a job that my scores would keep me from doing what I have wanted to do my entire life..teach. Why is someone more qualified than me because they scored twenty more points on a test? Obsereve my classroom weekly or daily and decide if you think I am qualified. This reflects my qualifications much better than a test score.

Katie Reifel's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Sherry, I completely agree with you! I fortunately am a pretty good test taker, but a very good friend of mine is not. She was a straight A student in college (through honest hard work) and graduated at the top of her class, but when it came time to pass Arizona's version of the PRAXIS she failed 4 times before she passed it. I passed this test with flying colors the first time, but does that mean I am a better teacher then her, absolutely not! I think there should be some sort of observation requirement in stead of tests to pass the Teacher Exams or at least part of the requirement be an observation. I feel terrible for my students every time I watch them "freak out" because of the high stakes tests they are required to take. There has to be a better way:(

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