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For the Record . . .

REMEMBER the bold headlines in April 1998, when 59% of first-round takers of the Massachusetts licensing tests for prospective teachers flunked at least one portion of the exams? Those failing teacher candidates became the poster people for "flawed" schools of education nationwide. And the press had a field day.

There was much less ink devoted to the follow-up story in February 1999. That's when the Ad Hoc Committee to Test the Teacher Test announced its findings, derived from an independent analysis of the exams. The members of the Ad Hoc Committee - Walter Haney, Clarke Fowler, and Anne Wheelock - looked at the performance of more than 200 prospective teachers who took the Massachusetts Teacher Tests of reading and writing in both April and July of 1998. What the Ad Hoc Committee found were huge score swings from test to retest and questionable validity, since candidates' scores in the two areas did not appear to be related (despite the fact that the skills of reading and writing seem to overlap appreciably).

The announcement of those findings brought Massachusetts Commissioner of Education David Driscoll out swinging. He accused critics of the Massachusetts Teacher Tests of adopting "the wrong focus" by attacking the tests rather than the test-takers' poor scores. "The story is the lack of skills among many of those candidates," he was quoted as saying in Education Week. "This is about people not being able to meet a standard."

Clearly, Driscoll is a man who flunked Educational Measurement 101. When a test lacks reliability and validity, people shouldn't decide to cross a street based on scores from it - much less decide who's worthy to receive a Massachusetts teacher's license.

Meanwhile, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) announced in late March that its study of the literacy levels of America's teachers showed them performing on a par with other college graduates and professionals. That report garnered virtually no ink at all, even though "the data present teachers as a labor market bargain, comparing favorably with other professionals in their literacy skills, yet earning less," according to Richard Coley, an education policy analyst with the ETS Policy Information Center and co-author of How Teachers Compare. For details on the findings, see Gerald Bracey's Research column in this month's Kappan. The report can be ordered for $10.50 (prepaid) from ETS, Mailstop 04-R, Rosedale Rd., Princeton, NJ 08541-0001.

With regard to teachers' literacy, researchers from the University of Chicago also made an important discovery: what teachers read has a lot to do with what and how they teach. The Chicago researchers looked at the reading habits of 666 teachers from 52 schools across the U.S. About half of those teachers identified themselves as regular readers of at least one professional journal. But most of the journals they read dealt with the subjects they teach or offered practical, classroom-related information. Largely missing from the teachers' reading lists were academic journals or general education publications (such as the Kappan) that might introduce them to a broader viewpoint. The survey showed, however, that teachers who are regular readers of academic or general education journals also tend to belong to a professional organization, to know more about reforms taking place in their teaching areas, and to have changed their own teaching practices in line with those reforms.

On that happy note, I close this volume. Use your summer's reprieve to get caught up on back issues of the Kappan, to read some interesting and entertaining books (see the suggestions of Roger Soder and his friends in this month's issue), and to recharge your intellectual batteries. See you in September. - PBG
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Title Annotation:controversy over test scores of prospective teachers and the subsequent questioning of the testing techniques
Author:Gough, Pauline B.
Publication:Phi Delta Kappan
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U1MA
Date:Jun 1, 1999
Words:601
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