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Improving Teacher Quality: NCLB Raises the Bar

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former blogger
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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?

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Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former blogger

Comments (26) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Katie Reifel's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


I completely agree with you but disagree at the same time. I too believe that we should have higher standards for teachers. Teachers should be required to get degrees and pass some type of test or evaluation (I do not think the Praxis or high stakes tests are the answer) and have high GPAs, because a GPA show a lot more about how a person will perform then one test, taken on one day, of that person's life. But if we as teachers have to go through all this work to be considered "highly effective" then why in the world are we not paid more!?! The teaching profession is missing out on so many people that would be amazing teachers (people who could take the place of all the lousy teachers I have had) because we don't get paid a competitive amount of money. I really think that all the money that is getting dumped into NCLB should be redistributed to the states to raise teacher pay, this alone will attract better and more "highly effective" teachers.

Christy 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a student. I do have my Associate degree in Early Childhood Education. I want to be a Early Childhood teacher more than anything else. But: I am struggling to pass the Praxis I exam. I feel that I would make a great teacher. I would make a great teacher because I understand children and I have experience with children (I have been a nanny, a caregiver, and have done some student teaching). SO, WHY, do have to beat my head into the wall with this Praxis exam when i know I would be a passiante and strong teacher. I understand lesson plans, I have implemented them all well (math, reading, and writing as well as science). I also understand how children learn (Gardener,children learn by visual, kinistics, hearing and physical). I do also feel that young children learn by doing and the teacher should bring learning experinces to the classroom (my Montessori Philosophy ). Yes, to Lynsay I do care about my own educational development as well. But, I also understand that i am having to wait to get into a proffession simply because I do not take tests well. I have never been a good test taker. And, as many times as I have taken Praxis I have found that you must be a great test taker and understand the "underlineing principles"of the test. But, right now i feel it is keeping me from my goals. I don't want to bash the test or the reasoning behind it. However, I do want to say that just because I have not passed the Praxis does not mean that I would not be a HIghly Quilified teacher. Passion for teaching is the number one thing that makes a great teacher, and I have it! I just can't show it into a classroom.

Teressa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi, I just read what you wrote on the blog about moving to another state and after failing the praxis a few times they waived it. I was curious what state you are in? I have passed all of the praxis exams except the praxis math which I have failed 3 times and waiting for my 4th test results. I also want to teach in another state so I can relate to your story. I student teach in the spring and I am concerned if I can't pass the blasted thing..

Kelley's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

There is a fine line. I'm sure that I will get much anti-sentiment; however, I think that there IS something to be said for some type of standardized testing. There is an Art and a Science to teaching. The Art of teaching comes from having the personality and passion for the job - the Science comes from knowledge.
If we as teachers wish to be regarded as professionals - such as Doctors, Lawyers, CPS - then we must adhere to the same rigors they do. Professions that requires certification status generally requires testing. Even electricians need to pass tests. Why should we be exempt when we are responsible for the most important resource our country has - our children.

As long as the test is fair, and authentic, then I have no problem. As a teacher and a parent I want to have confidence that my peers (and my kid's teachers) not only have the personality and passion for teaching - but they have the knowledge base to support that. I'm sorry, but I don't want my children's time wasted in an ineffective classroom and I don't want to have to carry the weight of a peer that - although he/she may have all the enthusiasm in the world - is not rock-solid in the Science of Education.

Without a passion for learning you cannot instill a love of learning in your kids. However, without a sound and solid pedagogical background your students will not leave your classroom with the required skills. You MUST have both.

christine gould's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My comment is short and to the point. Having many professional friends in the present and past profession of teaching I have the opportunity to network frequently. My findings are thus in relation to the praxis test for special education teachers taking the test; the test contains 190 questions which your given 120 minutes to take and pass. This may or may not be the same amount per state. The point is are we looking for what our knowledge level is or are we looking for the best test takers to teach our children. If you were given a test as noted above covering all content areas and I mean all, how would you fair?
I pose this question to you. Should anyone who works in our banking systems be required to take a test covering all facets of the banking industry? How about any other service provider professions?

David Elliott's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I took the National Teacher Examination as required by both my State Department of Education and the University of Alabama inored to graduate and get my teaching certificate back in 1982. Shortly after I took the National Teacher Examination it was challenged in court and thrown out. I passed the test, recieved by certificate, went on to get my Master's Degree and have taught severe/profound multihandicapped students in a self contained setting for the past 27 years. Now I am being told I have to take the Praxis or face termination. My 27 years of teaching experience, two education degrees, having passed the National Teachers Examination, and my job performance now mean nothing to my employer (Jefferson County Board of Education in Birmingham, Alabama). The Praxis (Elementary 0014) I am being made to take tests skills in areas that are not even related to my actual job. Not one test question can be tied to what is worked on in my classroom. My children are in a self-contained setting because developmentally core academics have no meaning to them. Somebody help!
Obama? Opra? Glenn Beck? God?

james's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

To any one who is reading, I keep missing the mark for the Praxis II for special education. Can someone offer advice to keep my job for next year. I live in OHIO.

Shirley's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have been teaching for almost 40 years. Not to be left behind, I have continued at the graduate level, completing my masters's and additional certificate programs. I have mentored teachers, and been a professional development provider in our district.
I took a practice Praxis (in special ed) in anticipation of relocating to another state. I couldn't get through it. Not even close.
So my question is...Is there a real relationship between a score on the Praxis and success as a teacher in the classroom? At what point did we decide that a test (testing service) has the power to decide whether someone should or should not be in a classroom? That they have more say than the professors who see the interaction between student teacher and student?
What is really frightening to me is that students who can't "pass" the Praxis are being removed from teacher preparation programs even if they have excellent grades. Just because of a test.
Or am I missing something?

Jeff's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Your question regarding a relationship between a score on a Praxis and success as a teacher in the classroom brings up many emotions. In my opinion, it's sad that we as a nation look only at test scores to evaluate students and teachers. With your experience, continuing education, and work with mentoring other teachers, one would think you would be a perfect candidate for any job you may want. Unfortunately, it seems as if a test is halting your goals. I don't think you are missing anything at all. I think that relying on one test to qualify or disqualify a candidate is absurd.

Jeff's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I understand your opinion about good teachers needing BOTH the Art and Science skills. However, I think the main problem/question is, does the test prove that a teacher has the Science skills? Does the test prove who is going to be a good teacher or a bad one? Does the test prove who can teach and who cannot? I think teachers are already regarded as professionals such as Doctors, Lawyers, and CPS. Just not paid the same.

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