Report Critical of Mass. Teacher Tests

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

In the wake of widespread failures on the new Massachusetts teacher exams, a panel co-founded by a Boston College testing specialist says the exams themselves deserve a failing grade.

Prof. Walter Haney (SOE) and colleagues on the Ad Hoc Committee to Test the Teacher Test have urged an immediate suspension of the exams, which they argue are poorly designed and unreliable.

"The Massachusetts Teacher Tests have been hastily and poorly developed, and should not be used until documentation is available on the reliability of the tests," said Haney, whose group held a Statehouse press conference on Feb. 11 to sharply criticize the exams.

Prof. Walter Haney (SOE), right, with Ad Hoc Committee to Test the Teacher Test colleagues Clarke Fowler and Anne Wheelock. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

The teacher certification exams require candidates to pass a literacy test in reading and writing, and then a test in a specific subject, such as elementary education or biology. Almost 60 percent of the aspiring teachers who took the exams failed when the testing was introduced last April, and nearly half flunked another round in July.

Boston College had one of the highest success rates on the exams of any college or university in the state, with nearly four out of every five BC candidates scoring a passing grade.

Haney - of the Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation and Educational Policy - joined Salem State College Professor Clarke Fowler and educational researcher Anne Wheelock in forming the ad hoc committee last July. Their report claims the tests are technically flawed and highly unreliable.

Their study found the exams to have a wide margin of error compared to established national tests. It also found a questionable correlation between scores on verbal skills: Some candidates who scored well on writing scored poorly on reading, and vice versa.

"Schools hiring new teachers can't count on the Massachusetts teacher tests for assurance they have literary skills," said Wheelock. "There may be candidates who would be good hires who are not even in the pool, based on the test results."

The committee's report is based on data supplied by private and public universities on 200 candidates who failed the tests in April and re-took them in July, and on 400 candidates who took the exams in either April or July. The study also includes narratives taken from 15 aspiring teachers who also had taken the Graduate Record Examination or other widely accepted national exams.

Test-takers who responded complained of poor conditions during the administration of the tests, including hard-to-interpret directions which sometimes muddled even the proctor, and transcriptions made difficult by low-quality audio tapes.

Candidates also said test content did not always address professional knowledge or topics they would be required to teach.

"They believed teachers should pass some sort of test," she said. "But they characterized these tests as uniquely unfair."

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