Pop quiz time. Who wrote the following
“America’s testing fixation stifles creativity and critical thinking…”
Now, who wrote this:
“Instead of the current hodgepodge approach to teacher certification and licensing, we propose that all prospective teachers in the United States take a rigorous bar exam that gauges mastery of subject-matter knowledge and demonstrates competency in how to teach it.”
Believe it or not, both statements are from Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. She included them in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece on her support for more rigorous teacher certification processes.
Call me skeptical, but I have a hard time reconciling complaining about “America’s testing fixation” with a call for testing new teachers at a bar exam level. I have an even harder time imagining that the head of a teachers union is truly advocating this kind of teacher testing regimen, despite her use of the word “rigorous” to describe her idea.
Is she really supporting a teacher certification process that might result in 50 percent fail rates for prospective teachers? That kind of fail rate isn’t that unusual for the bar exam. According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners, pass rates for state bar exams nationally are around 60 percent, with some states having pass rates as low as 42 percent (California) last year. Even the well-educated late John F. Kennedy, Jr. had to take the New York bar three times before passing.
So, if Ms. Weingarten is advocating that kind of rigorous testing, hear, hear! I agree. Let’s raise standards for teacher certification. Let’s absolutely ensure teachers know their content area before stepping into a classroom to teach it. Let’s make sure they know good pedagogical technique, as well.
But it’s hard to believe that someone who whines about our “testing fixation” is serious about making teacher testing harder. Although she doesn’t specify, the “testing fixation” Ms. Weingarten refers to most likely concerns the state student tests mandated by No Child Left Behind that determine whether a school is making “annual yearly progress.” AFT has not been enthusiastically supportive of this kind of testing, to say the least. Maybe their lack of support for these tests has to do with the fact that NCLB’s testing provisions are designed to draw attention to schools and teachers who might need help—who might not be up to those “rigorous” standards Ms. Weingarten believes in. NCLB’s provisions are designed to ensure some kind of accountability—to make sure that schools are accountable to their taxpayers and students.
If AFT has been resistant to that kind of accountability, why would anyone believe they want to introduce even more rigorous testing? I have a hard time believing it. And, if I were really suspicious, I might wonder if a call for a bar exam-like standard for teacher testing would result in tests that are not rigorous but do provide cover for calling for higher and higher pay scales for teachers, since they’d be sitting for professional exams just like lawyers do! Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for good compensation…for good teachers. I just have a hard time believing that someone who thinks NCLB testing is bad would want an even tougher standard applied to prospective teachers.