Tougher Teacher Testing in New York Sees Drop in Passing


A drop in the passing rate for teacher certification tests was seen in New York State last year as a tougher exam was introduced, and the results show that the new exam is long-needed in order to raise the level of teaching and performance at teacher preparation schools in the state.

In 2013-2014, 11,843 teachers gained certification in the state.  That number is a 20% drop from the previous two years.

Candidates may not teach in public schools until they earn their certification.  Teacher preparation schools who have a high failure rate could lose their accreditation.

The drop coincides with the state’s adoption of the Common Core standards, a more rigorous set of standards adopted by most states, including New York.  New testing that match with the standards have seen a drop in scores, as well as a rise in criticism from parents, teachers and government officials.

However, New York state officials believe the new tests will create a new supply of teachers that are in line with the Common Core standards.

“New York is producing too many teachers, and for me that is the biggest takeaway,” said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality. “If we really want to solve much of what ails the teaching profession, we need to be more selective.”

Previously, teaching candidates in the state took three exams that covered areas like educational theory and specific content areas.  They had a very high passing rate.

Now candidates must pass four exams, including a new exam called the Teacher Performance Assessment, or edTPA.  The exam asks for a full portfolio of work, including a video of the candidate teaching, to be graded by faculty members at teacher preparation programs as well as by teachers across the country.  The passing rate for this exam last year was 81%.

Many complained that they were not prepared for the exam, causing the state to offer the option of using a passing score on one of the old exams for a failed edTPA, good through mid-2015.

However, candidates also struggled on the other two new exams, which require close reading and argumentative writing.  The passing rate for one was just 68%.  Students have the option of retaking a failed exam, but must pay the full fee each time.

The fourth new test was not released until the start of this school year.

The new tests also have negative outcomes for teacher education programs, who must maintain an 80% passing rate on each exam.  If scores continually fall below that mark, the program could potentially lose their accreditation.

However, new state data shows that less than 1/3 of teachers who receive their certification in the state are actually teaching in New York schools.

“If programs cannot make dramatic improvements,” New York’s education commissioner, John B. King Jr., said, “it would be far better to have fewer teacher preparation programs that are of the highest quality preparing the teachers our students need than to have a multitude of struggling programs producing candidates who are not well prepared and cannot find jobs.”

In an effort to focus on the changes needed, 65 teacher education faculty from SUNY schools across Central New York are meeting in Cortland to discuss the new teacher certification exams.  Faculty are expected to review student success rates on the new exams across the state.

“All the campuses have been analyzing how their education majors are performing on these new tests and have been adjusting their curriculum accordingly,” said Andrea Lachance, dean of SUNY Cortland’s School of Education. “But this event will allow us to learn from each other and share both our successes and challenges in preparing our students for an ever-changing educational landscape.”

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