The empty rhetoric of increasing the rigor of Missouri teachers : News

The empty rhetoric of increasing the rigor of Missouri teachers : News

Every teacher education program in Missouri has the goal of preparing
the most qualified educators for the classroom. We take pride in
producing candidates who are able to leverage their content knowledge
into powerful and relevant classroom experiences for schoolchildren.

the amount and kind of content knowledge needed to be an effective
educator has always been a contentious issue. On June 16, the Missouri
State Board of Education decided to maintain the cut scores for the
assessments in the 55 content areas where teachers are licensed, giving
the illusion that the state was steadfast in its commitment to increase
the “rigor” of teacher candidates entering the profession.

high fail rates, it becomes easy to arrive at one or both of these
conclusions: The assessments are more rigorous, so of course, the pass
rates will drop; or teacher education programs must not be doing their
job in preparing teachers.

Both conclusions are the result of lazy logic.

Pearson, the testing corporation that designed the assessments, has
provided little evidence regarding the validity or reliability of any of
the 55 assessments, despite charging students up to $149 for the first

No information is publicly available about the
construction of the committees asked to validate each assessment, their
decision-making processes, how Pearson made decisions about the validity
of the test items for each assessment, the alignment of particular
content frameworks with effective teaching practices, or about the pilot
process for each assessment (sample size, student demographics,
regional representation across Missouri, results, changes to the
assessment based on these results). Without the validity and reliability
information, the assessments cannot be trusted, making any claims to
“rigor” sound like empty rhetoric.

the rushed implementation of the Pearson assessments provides more
context for the high failure rates. Praxis was the assessment used in
the past to measure content knowledge. In math, 30 percent of teacher
candidates last year were kept away from the classroom because of
inadequate content knowledge. Yet, the Pearson assessment administered
this year indicates that 85 percent of candidates are inadequately

This change is not an increase in rigor, since the
quality of preparation could not have changed that dramatically between
2014 and 2015. The mathematics professors across the state of Missouri
did not become 55 percent more incompetent in the span of one year.

this fail rate indicates is the sudden change in how the state defines
content knowledge. The frameworks for the Praxis and Pearson content
assessments articulate different visions of what content is necessary
for teachers. For example, the Pearson mathematics assessment asks those
taking the tests to understand Euclidean geometry in two and three
dimensions, while the Praxis exam makes no mention of Euclidean
geometry. Therefore, the argument that “content is simply content” falls

It is critical for the public to understand that teacher
education programs were given three months over the summer – when most
content-area faculty are away from campus – to adapt curriculum and
course requirements to these changes in the framework.

With ample
time to rewrite our teacher candidates’ courses of study, teacher
preparation programs will eventually adjust to the definitions of
content knowledge dictated by the Pearson assessments. However, for the
next several years, students enrolled in Missouri’s educator preparation
programs will be caught in this transition — having coursework aligned
to Praxis competencies, while being asked to illustrate mastery on
Pearson exams. Thus, these poor pass rates are not indictments of
teacher preparation, but a result of poor state policy.

Third, the
gap between white and black teacher candidates must cause immediate
pause about the licensing of teachers based on an exam with no public
information about its bias review process.

A New York judge ruled
Pearson’s content assessment in that state discriminated against

The gap between white and minority candidates was 19 percent
at worst. The current Pearson assessments required to become an
elementary teacher in Missouri have gaps of 20 percent in English
language arts, 37 percent in math, 29 percent in science, and 26 percent
in social studies.

Researchers have documented numerous ways in
which assessments can be racially biased through the language of test
questions. This is why Pearson has a bias review committee, and why the
pilot period for each assessment should have reflected a representative
sample of minority test-takers to ensure against possible
discrimination. However, Pearson and the Missouri Department of
Elementary and Secondary Education have provided no information for any
assessment regarding either of these two processes.

because these content area test scores are tied to teacher preparation
accountability, programs with majority minority populations will
potentially close because of a biased assessment. Given the decades of
research that confirm the significant impact minority teachers have on
the achievement of minority students, ignoring this performance gap can
systemically set back the progress of children in Missouri.

statewide advisory boards consisting of K-12 and higher education
professionals recognized these fundamental problems with the assessments
and made recommendations to adjust scores until more information
becomes available, yet both were ignored by DESE and by the State Board
of Education.

Sadly, this entire episode proves how the empty
rhetoric of rigor gets in the way of what is best for K-12 classrooms.
Teacher education programs in Missouri will produce knowledgeable
content experts, but this expertise must be measured by assessments that
are valid, aligned to coursework, and serve the diverse needs of
students in Missouri.


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