Should Teacher Standards Be Reexamined?

I remember being a junior in high school and, having just taken the PSAE — Illinois’ two-day standardized test used to assess whether or not students are meeting state standards. I flopped on the ground just inside the door at my house. My mom laughed at me as I whined, “Will I have to take standardized tests in college?”

“Probably,” she said, honestly. She was right. As a candidate for teacher certification, I had to pass three long, standardized tests in addition to my grueling college coursework in order to receive my certification. The first was a basic skills test, which I needed to pass in order to be admitted to the teacher education program. That test assessed my basic knowledge of math, reading and language arts. The second test assessed my content area knowledge, checking to be sure I learned enough about English language and literature in college to teach it effectively. The third was a multiple choice and writing test combined, and asked questions about ethics in situations with students. Each question had multiple correct answers, and the challenge was to select the best one with little to no background information about the student or the situation.

Fortunately, I passed all three tests and am now happily teaching English in a Chicago-area high school. Not all teacher candidates are so fortunate, though. When these higher teacher standards were implemented, pass rates plummeted. While, on the surface, this might seem like a good thing — like we are weeding out people who shouldn’t be teaching in the first place — if you look a little deeper, it is clear that the tests are disproportionately affecting people of color. A group of Chicago-area college deans are concerned about this and are trying to reexamine the standards in order to address the concern that an inordinate amount of people of color are being held back from being teachers. A recent opinion piece in the Chicago Tribune tried to persuade readers that we should not lower standards for teacher candidates, regardless of this information:

High standards are important not just for those who aspire to be teachers, but for the thousands of Illinois schoolchildren who will sit in the classrooms of those teachers. Will students have the life-changing opportunity to learn from an excellent teacher? Or will they lose precious months because the person leading the class is in the wrong profession?

Setting higher cut scores — weeding out applicants who shouldn’t be teachers before they graduate with teaching degrees — is a smart way to ensure that Illinois classrooms have only the best teachers.

While I do agree that having high standards for teachers is important both to students and to the profession itself, I disagree that the standards should not be reexamined. There are a multitude of issues with standardized tests, and those issues don’t just disappear once a student has graduated from high school. According to this piece from the New York Times, studies show that standardized tests are not, in fact, knowledge-neutral as they claim to be. This puts people who were raised with a different cultural knowledge than is assumed in the tests at a serious disadvantage.

Furthermore, people who were brought up speaking Standard English — the language we encounter in formal education — have an advantage in taking standardized tests over people brought up speaking a culturally specific version of the language, or hybrid of English and another language, or another language all together. This all adds up to put people of color at a significant disadvantage when taking standardized tests.

It’s no secret, either, that having diverse teachers helps students immensely. According to the Center for Exceptional Children:

Diverse students tend to have higher academic, personal, and social performance when taught by teachers from their own ethnic group.

Diverse teachers have demonstrated that when diverse students are taught with culturally responsive techniques and with content-specific approaches usually reserved for students with gifts and talents, their academic performance improves significantly.

Diverse teachers have higher performance expectations for students from their own ethnic group.

These are just a few of the reasons why diversity in education is so important. The bottom line is that teacher standards are keeping people of color out of the profession, and they need to be reexamined. While standards should not be lowered, we should be using other methods besides standardized tests to assess the ability of teacher candidates.


Related Stories:

Are Standardized Tests Valuable? 72% of Teachers Say No

Learning Literature, Learning Life – An Argument for Fiction

Graduating from Standardized Tests

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks


Prentise W.
pre,tpse w5 years ago

The trouble with this kind of testing is that passing such tests do not qualify one to know how to teach; they might be relevant, but I wonder if they are any more relevant to real teaching than standardized tests are to real learning. I did great on all the standardized and in-class tests in school, but it and school never taught me much about life and how to live it. Doing well in classes and on tests confirmed that I was seen as smart by those who design and administer them, and because I was always seen as smart, I did value my own intelligence. But it is such a limited view of intelligence, ignoring all the other kinds, such as social and emotional.

I remember books about seven kinds of intelligence, several different types of learning styles, and various ways of how people's brains work. I think it would be the same for teachers as for students and everyone else.

Shar F.
Sharon F5 years ago

Hey, dammit. Lay off the testing of students and teachers. Why no Qs/concerns about the bloated, incompetent US military? Warmongering ongoing in places where we have no business. It is all about egos and profiteering. Teachers (and those who understand the situation) need to PUSH BACK. Enough nonsense! [Is all the testing part of the neo-con War On Women??]

Vicky Madaule
Vicky Madaule5 years ago

How about giving those capable teachers specific training to help them pass those standardized tests and they in turn can give their specfic knowledge about their cultural background to those who perhaps don't have first hand knowledge of it. It doesn't have to be either or; it should be both as both are needed.

Will Rogers
Will Rogers5 years ago

Affecting people of colour? What colour? Does that mean everyone who's not white? All non whites? Are you saying that people who are not white aren't clever enough to be teachers? Does this author have a superiority complex or what?! Remember when articles like this were aimed solely at women? 50 years ago if you had changed the words "people of colour" for the word "women" no one (men) would have batted an eyelid. We always call the people we are oppressing Stupid, it gives us an excuse to continue, and more importantly not to change. The tests should be harder if this author can succeed in being a teacher! And not dumbed down. Hell! You've had presidents that can barely read in charge of education (GW) and now you have a man of colour as Pres', a properly educated clever man who went to one of the top universities in the world, on his own merit, and who arguably had to be twice as clever as his competitors just to be given an equal footing. 
That's why this author has licence to call non whites dumb. Racism is insidious and systemic, and school systems in the US as in England are institutionally racist, as well as classist. 

Lin Moy
Lin M5 years ago

I think teachers should be retested every 5 yrs. to make sure they are up to date on things. In USA we are far behind others and we have to at least try to catch up.

Norma V.
Norma Villarreal5 years ago

There should be ways to making certain educators are in the proper field, but standardized tests may not be the answer....

Angie V.
Angie V5 years ago

Interesting article..agreed.

J.L. A.
j A5 years ago

good analyses related to common problems with standardized test construction--especially when not validated on diverse populations and subpopulations..........

Diana S.
Diana S5 years ago

The last thirty years or so, with all the emphasis on "diversity" and no attention to standardizing EDUCATION itself, is one of the primary reasons ALL students do not learn nor use STANDARDIZED English in most of their lives outside their home.

At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, most immigrants (my forebears among them) learned proper, standard English from their children, who were taught ONLY in that language in public school. There was also a huge self-imposed initiative among those immigrants to accept and embrace "the American way of life." This is not to say they deserted their own cultural ways, they just kept them at home, and put substantial effort into fitting into the ways of their adopted country.

There is only ONE way to become a successful scientist - learn and practice the scientific method. Once you do that, you can change your experimental protocols from a position of KNOWLEDGE. There is only ONE way to teach proper English - by learning and using the rules of grammar, spelling, syntax, etc. There is only ONE way to learn to play the violin - learn the proper way to hold the instrument and bow, and proper fingering, and then practice regularly and often.

Political correctness is the last refuge of the courage-impaired (thank you, Rob Fagin, for your wise insight). "Cultural Diversity" is nothing more than a cop-out for those who don't want to put in the sometimes extra work it takes to be a fully useful and functioning member o

Abbe A.
Azaima A5 years ago