- Brian WhistonState Superintendent of Education
Help Michigan Produce Better Teachers: Replace the Professional Readiness Exam
The Pearson Professional Readiness Exam is a basic skills exam that all teachers in Michigan must pass in order to complete their certification. Implemented in 2013, the test has seen very poor pass rates across Michigan teacher program institutions. This petition asks the Michigan Department of Education to replace the PRE with a better test or to remove it altogether from the certification process. Why?
The PRE Contributes to Teacher Shortages in Michigan. Over the past three years, the state of Michigan has seen a dramatic drop in the number of students in our undergraduate and graduate teacher education programs: institutions in Michigan saw a 22 percent decline in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Education. This precipitous drop in enrollment comes at an inopportune time, as Michigan faces educator shortages in many fields, including early childhood, world languages, and special education. The impending retirement of many Michigan teachers only compounds this problem. We believe that the Professional Readiness Exam is contributing to this decline by preventing many qualified and potentially effective teachers from entering our field. Many teacher candidates, in fact, are caught in limbo in our education programs, unable to pass the PRE that is required for student teaching, but successful in meeting all other certification requirements. These teachers need to be in our Michigan classrooms.
The PRE Decreases the Diversity of Michigan Teachers. As the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch and others have shown, basic skills tests such as the PRE and the Praxis Core significantly reduce diversity in teacher preparation programs by allowing fewer African Americans and Hispanics to enter colleges of education. Statewide, whites are far more likely to pass the PRE than are Hispanics or African Americans. Consequently, Michigan's K-12 students of color are less likely to have a teacher who shares their race or ethnicity. MCEE believes it is crucial for African-American and Hispanic students to interact with successful adults from similar cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Our belief is supported by a growing body of research showing that students of color perform better under teachers who share their heritage. But instead of encouraging diversity, the PRE acts as a gatekeeper, robbing our K-12 schools of potentially excellent classroom African-American and Hispanic teachers.
The PRE is Fleecing Michigan Education Students. The PRE is costing many Michigan students well over the initial fee of $50.00, the fee cap put in place by the Michigan legislature. Many students are retaking the test two, three, and four times. The Writing subtest, the most frequently failed component of the PRE, has a retake rate of 41 percent: that is, of every 100 students who take it, 41 must pay to take the test again. This is a particularly devastating cycle, given that pass rates decline rapidly with each test attempt (data provided by Michigan Department of Education). By the fifth attempt, data show that only 6 percent pass the Writing subtest, even after spending $250.00 on test fees. Pearson, of course, is more than willing to accept their payment, accruing further profit by charging $29.00 per practice test and by tightly regulating the development of test preparation resources.
The PRE is Not a Good Test. The PRE is not a good way to assess potential teachers, particularly in the field of writing. The writing subtest contains two sections: first, 42 multiple choice questions on grammar, mechanics, usage, and paragraph development; second, two constructed response essay questions. Of these two sections, students score much lower on the multiple choice grammar questions. In fact, a large percentage of test takers (25 percent) actually receive passing scores on the essay portion but low scores on the multiple choice grammar section, resulting in failure of the writing subtest as a whole. This is an important inconsistency. Given that “grammar and conventions” is indeed one of the rubric scoring components for the two constructed responses, this trend shows that students are capable of correct grammar and usage in their own writing, but not in the de-contextualized format of the multiple choice sections. Decades of research have proven that grammar is best learned and exercised in the context of student writing. This approach to grammar instruction is advocated by the National Council of Teachers of English and the Conference on English Education. The inconsistent results on the PRE writing subtest show what research has long proven: that teaching and assessing grammar knowledge outside of the context of real-world writing is a faulty, empirically unsound approach.
The PRE Undermines the Tradition of Teacher Education in Michigan. Michigan has historically been a national leader in education and teacher education; however, the PRE threatens to undermine this legacy. It is worth remembering that our graduates do not teach exclusively in Michigan. Our teacher programs have a far greater reach, preparing students for teaching in national and even international schools. But if low pass rates continue, the PRE will push potential Michigan education students to other states that use the Praxis Core (e.g., Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky), a test with a much higher pass rate and much stronger reputation as an accurate assessment of basic skills.
Recommendations: Replace the PRE with the SAT or Praxis Core
We advocate the PRE be replaced with a less biased and more reliable basic skills test. We support allowing the SAT to serve as an entrance exam equivalent, a measure that would save money (the SAT is provided free of cost as part of the MME curriculum) and align our basic skills test more closely with the Common Core State Standards.
We also favor the use of the Praxis Core exam, a more reliable and widely used basic skills test, as a replacement or alternative for the PRE. In our estimation, both the SAT and Praxis Core would satisfy the legislative intent of the “basic skills examination” required by Michigan law 380.1531(17)(a). Until 2013, the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification Basic Skills test was in place to serve this purpose.
Though the Basic Skills test yielded much higher pass rates than the current PRE, no research has shown that teachers who were certified by this earlier test are less effective in the classroom. Conversely, there is no evidence to suggest that a more exclusive basic skills entrance test produces better teachers or better students in the long run. As advocates for our students and for our profession, we would therefore ask for you to please consider alternatives to the PRE.
- State Superintendent of Education
Help Michigan Produce Better Teachers: Replace the PRE (Professional Readiness Exam)
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