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Date: March 7, 2000
Contacts: Vanee Vines, Media Relations Associate
Kathi McMullin, Media Relations Assistant
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <>


Teaching-Licensure Exams: A Limited Tool to Identify Capable Teachers

WASHINGTON -- Teaching-licensure tests can provide important information about prospective teachers' basic skills and qualifications, but the examinations typically are not designed to determine who will be effective in the classroom, says a new report from the National Research Council of the National Academies.

The tests provide measures of subject-matter knowledge, basic literacy and mathematics skills, and knowledge of teaching methods -- all of which many states consider to be minimal qualifications for beginning practitioners, said the committee that wrote the report. Yet the committee found little research that shows whether licensure-test results can actually identify people who would be competent classroom teachers. Moreover, many characteristics of the most competent teachers -- such as considerable pedagogical skill, compassion, and resourcefulness -- are difficult to measure and are not assessed by the most commonly used licensure tests.

States also vary in what they test for, how and when they test for it, and the minimum score required to pass the exams, the committee pointed out. As a result, federal regulations calling for state reports on passing rates could produce incomplete or misleading information about the quality of teacher-education programs across the country.

"Well-designed licensure tests provide information that states consider necessary, but the information is not sufficient to know whether a teacher will be successful in the classroom," said committee chair David Z. Robinson, former executive vice president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, New York City. "And when it comes to reporting passing rates to the federal government, the system is too fragmented to allow for meaningful state-by-state comparisons."

Currently, 41 states require prospective teachers to pass tests to obtain a license. With many federal and state policy-makers focused on efforts to improve K-12 instruction, the issue of how teaching candidates fare on the exams has attracted increased attention. A 1998 federal law requires states and individual higher-education institutions that receive federal dollars to publicly disclose passing rates.

The report announces the committee's interim findings to update the U.S. Department of Education on the progress of a 20-month study of teacher-licensing tests and alternative methods that could be used to measure the quality of both prospective and current teachers. A final report will be released at the end of this year.

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science advice under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.

Read the full text of Tests and Teaching Quality: Interim Report for free on the Web, as well as more than 1,800 other publications from the National Academies. Printed copies are available for purchase from the National Academy Press Web site or at the mailing address in the letterhead; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information at the letterhead address (contacts listed above).

Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
Board on Testing and Assessment

Committee on Assessment and Teacher Quality

David Z. Robinson (chair)
Vice President
Carnegie Corporation of New York (retired)
New York City

Andy Baumgartner
1999 National Teacher of the Year;
Consultant, William Robinson Center; and
Kindergarten Teacher
A. Brian Merry Elementary School
Augusta, Ga.

John T. Bruer
James S. McDonnell Foundation
St. Louis

Carl A. Grant
Hoefs-Bascom Professor of Teacher Education
Department of Curriculum and Instruction
University of Wisconsin

Milton D. Hakel
Ohio Board of Regents Eminent Scholar and Professor
Department of Psychology
Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green, Ohio

Linda Darling-Hammond
Charles E. Ducommun Professor
School of Education
Stanford University
Stanford, Calif.

Abigail L. Hughes
Associate Commissioner
Division of Evaluation and Research
Connecticut State Department of Education

Mary M. Kennedy
College of Education
Michigan State University
East Lansing

Stephen P. Klein
Senior Research Scientist
RAND Corp.
Santa Monica, Calif.

Kate Manski
Department of English
University of Illinois

C. Ford Morishita
Science Instructor
Clackamas High School
Milwaukie, Ore.

Pamela A. Moss
Associate Professor
School of Education
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor

Barbara Sterrett Plake
Director, Buros Center for Testing, and
W.C. Meierhenry Distinguished University Professor
Department of Educational Psychology
University of Nebraska

David L. Rose
Attorney at Law
Rose and Rose
Washington, D.C.

Portia Holmes Shields
Albany State University
Albany, Ga.

James W. Stigler
Department of Psychology
University of California
Los Angeles

Kenneth I. Wolpin
Professor of Economics
Department of Economics
University of Pennsylvania


Robert Rothman
Study Director