Useful Signal or Unnecessary Obstacle? The Role of Basic Skills Tests in Teacher Preparation

From Section:
Teacher Education Programs
Published:
Nov. 20, 2011

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, 62(5), p. 431-445. November/December, 2011.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The present study examines performance of students who took a basic skills test (Praxis I) between 1999 and 2005 and one of the four large-volume licensure tests (Praxis II) between 2002 and 2005.

The Praxis II tests included in this analysis were the following:
• elementary education content knowledge (ELEM);
• English language, literature, and comprehension (ENG);
• mathematics (MATH); and
• social studies (SS).

The latter three tests are used for a license to teach the respective subject matter in self-contained classrooms, typically middle and high school.
The ELEM test is used for a license to teach in self-contained multisubject elementary classrooms.

For each Praxis II test, we ask the following research questions:
1) What is the relationship between success on Praxis I and success on Praxis II?
2) What is the relationship between success on Praxis I and success on Praxis II for students with different academic histories as measured by major and GPA?
3) What is the relationship between success on Praxis I and success on Praxis II for race and gender groups with different academic histories as measured by major and GPA?


Method
The sample for this study includes prospective teaching candidates who attempted all three components (reading, writing, and mathematics) of the Praxis Pre-Professional Skills Test (Praxis I) between 1999 and 2005 and one of the four large-volume Praxis II5 content knowledge subject tests related to their licensure area between 2002 and 2005.
The authors compared people who had varying levels of success with a battery of basic skills tests.

 

Discussion

The findings of this study reveal that individuals who needed to take the tests multiple times were deemed to have borderline mastery of the requisite skills compared with individuals who passed all tests at the median passing score of all states that use these tests.
Furthermore, it was found that individuals who pass basic skills tests at borderline levels are far less likely to pass licensure tests than are candidates who meet the median state-level basic skills test requirements.

Thus, the authors claim that students who have difficulty writing would very likely have difficulty in writing-intensive curricula like English and social studies, which would then be reflected on their licensure exams.

The study also sheds light on understanding what is commonly referred to as the achievement gap.
Typically, these gaps are defined by mean score differences between groups, particularly between White and African American test takers.
The findings reveal that particularly for the elementary test, there is virtually no achievement gap for students who have mastered basic skills in reading, writing, and mathematics at a level described by the median state passing score.
For social studies and English, the achievement gap is also minimal for successful basic skills test takers who also have relatively strong GPAs.

The authors argue that the large gaps that are observed in comparing overall passing rates are due to a larger proportion of African Americans not having developed the basic skills needed to succeed in college and, consequently, on licensure tests.
For African Americans with poor basic skills performance and poor college grades, the likelihood of passing the licensure tests decreases more precipitously than for White students.

By examining a pool of individuals who took both basic skills and licensure tests, the authors contrast the likelihood of passing licensure tests given how well individuals performed on the basic skills test.
The authors claim that students who do not do well on basic skills tests are very likely to have insufficient understanding of content to pass a licensure test.
However, students who have attained these skills and who do well in college are very likely to satisfy licensure requirements.

The authors conclude that if teachers do not have well-developed basic skills and if they do not have a good mastery of their content, then their students are denied the opportunity for a full education.
By allowing marginal students to teach, we run the risk of oppressing a new generation of students.
Therefore, teacher education programs should be fully aware of the challenges teacher candidates are likely to face without continued development of basic academic skills.


Updated: Dec. 15, 2019
Keywords:
Pedagogical content knowledge | Preservice teachers | Program effectiveness | Teacher certification | Teacher education programs | Thinking skills