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Lowering standards for teachers hurts education



Published: Wed, January 23, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



After nearly half of prospective teachers in Pennsylvania failed qualifying tests in math, science and Spanish -- as well as scoring poorly on other tests -- the Pennsylvania Department of Education is talking about lowering the acceptable cut-off score. Math and science education is a particular problem in the United States. Those who would teach these subjects must excel in their fields, not scrape by.

If Pennsylvania's teacher-preparation institutions are not properly educating future teachers or if teacher-training programs are accepting unqualified students, then the appropriate response is strengthening the requirements, not making it easier for the less-than-qualified to teach.

Most states, Pennsylvania and Ohio among them, require the Praxis II tests, which the Ohio Department of Education describes as "designed to ensure that candidates for licensure have acquired the minimal knowledge necessary for entry-level positions."

In other words, passing the Praxis exam represents minimal skills and knowledge of subject matter -- not an advanced or Ph.D. level -- just what's needed to be a competent teacher of math or chemistry or Spanish or physics.

Comparable scores: One of the main values of standardized tests is their usefulness in establishing benchmarks. If teacher candidates in 30 states take a test, say, in mathematics, the scores they attain are comparable. And the "cut" score, which is established by each state as its minimum requirement is also comparable.

Thus, if thousands of those who graduate from a state's teacher-training programs cannot meet that state's cut score, there's obviously a problem.

We would expect teaching colleges, where the failure rate is high, to point to the test itself as the problem or to the required score for passage. But if other teacher candidates are passing the tests, then we have to believe that the problem lies in the preparation or the ability of the candidates.

Yet Frank J. Meehan, director of Pennsylvania's Bureau of Teacher Certification and Preparation, said that because the state has a shortage of math teachers, it may lower the standard.

That isn't a reasonable solution. The answer, instead, must be improved teacher training, stiffer requirements for those who would be teachers and increasing the resources allocated to the teaching profession.

If Pennsylvanians -- or Ohioans or Americans, in general -- want to see better educated children, then those responsible for education must increase what is expected of teachers, teacher candidates and colleges of education and pay teachers accordingly.




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