THE BLOG

New Challenges to Pearson Teacher Certification Exams

05/19/2015 01:18 pm ET | Updated May 19, 2016

The New York State Board of Regents, the governing body for schools in the state, met Monday May 18 to discuss proposed changes in teacher evaluations and teacher certification requirements. United University Professions (UUP) and New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), which represent teacher educators in the State University system, protested at the hearings demanding an investigation of "Pearson's teacher certification exams" used in New York State. They charged that the exams lacked adequate field-testing and proof of either reliability (consistent results) or validity (evidence they test skills they claim to test).

For the teacher certification exams, Jamie Dangler, a UUP Vice-President reported that the Regents essentially accepted that the tests are flawed. They approved a series of "safety nets" that will allow students who fail tests to secure certification through alternative routes. On teacher evaluations, the Regents appear to be divided and will not vote on the issues until the middle of June, so debate will continue.

Earlier, NYSUT's representative assembly recommended that its college and university members boycott Pearson textbooks. NYSUT President Karen Magee also demanded that the Regents initiate a public review all Pearson tests administered on all grade levels.

In addition, to the NYSUT and UUP led protests, the Save Our Schools coalition organized a protest in Albany in conjunction with the Regents meeting against a plan championed by Governor Andrew Cuomo to base teacher evaluations on the high-stakes standardized testing of children, including children in their schools but not in their classes, and on spot checks by "outside" evaluators.

The Pearson teacher certification tests are also being challenged in the courts. Plaintiffs charge that at least one of the tests, the Academic Literacy Skills Test, or ALST is racially discriminatory because Blacks and Latino candidates pass at significantly lower levels than Whites. During the 2013-14 school year, 75% of White candidates for teacher certification passed compared to 56% of Latino candidates and 48% of Black candidates.

Judge Kimba M. Wood of the Federal District Court in Manhattan demanded that New York State provide documentation on the development of the tests. According to a report in the New York Times, "Judge Wood ruled that officials had not shown that the material on the test 'accurately measured the minimum knowledge about the liberal arts and sciences that teachers need to be competent.'"

Schools of Education that have large numbers of students who do not pass the ALST will be subject to review and possible de-accreditation, which would put pressure on them not to admit minority candidates who have potential as teachers but questionable prior academic performance. The federal Department of Education is pushing similar mandates on a national level.

Possibly in response to the lawsuit, candidates for teacher certification who fail the ALST will be able to circumvent the test by submitting an "attestation" of academic skill and equivalent performance in a teacher education program signed by the dean or chief academic officer of the program.

According to UUP and NYSUT, all four New York State teacher certification exams, the ALST, the EAS (Educating All Students), the CST (Content Specialty Test), and the edTPA (Teacher Performance Assessment), "present unfair obstacles to student teachers." All four exams were created and/or administered and assessed by Pearson and student teachers must pay almost $1,000 to take the exams, and that is if they pass the tests the first time. Students are charged additional fees for practice tests

The list of objections include "no formal process to report potentially inaccurate items," numerous questions with more than one potentially correct answer that force students to guess the answer Pearson wants, questions based on areas outside the test-takers area of certification, and inadequate feedback when students do not pass exams, inadequate time, and just generally poorly constructed questions.

In addition to these problems, there are major questions about how Pearson grades tests. In online testimony by an edTPA evaluator that is being distributed by Pearson's SCALE testing partner to demonstrate the legitimacy of the tests, the evaluator described being an "official edTPA scorer" as "one of the most rewarding professional experiences I have had since I started working in the area of teacher preparation." However, while the scorer's online resume and biography list her as a university field placement coordinator and faculty member, a school board member, and as very active in community affairs, there is no evidence she ever was a classroom teacher or has teaching certification in the area where she is evaluating student teachers. I emailed the edTPA scorer to find out if she ever taught in public schools but she did not respond.

According to the Pearson site advertising for edTPA evaluators, evaluators can have either "University or PK-12 classroom teaching experience" so actual classroom teaching experience is not required. In addition, the "experience" can be anywhere in the United States and need not be in public schools. Someone who works with teacher education students who work with rural children who attend religious schools is deemed qualified to evaluate student teachers working in inner city public urban minority schools and vice versa. Evaluators do receive between 19 and 23 hours of self-paced online training for which they are paid between $190 and $240, or about $10 an hour, which is about what a Starbucks barista is paid. They also receive $75 for each sixty-page student teacher portfolio they evaluate, or a little more than a dollar a page or about $15 per hour, the salary now being demanded by representatives of fast food workers.

Members of the New York State Board of Regents need to watch John Oliver's HBO Last Week Tonight show on Standardized Testing where he nailed Pearson for profiting at the expense of children and public education in the United States. If you have not seen it yet, clink the link and watch it. I laughed a lot but can't really say I enjoyed the show; it was too disturbing. It won't be funny until companies like Pearson are brought down, especially given how they keep failing our children and schools by failing their own tests.