Educators debate proposed exam

Ohio educators responded with tempered support to the American Federation of Teachers’ call for a more stringent exam, which has been likened to the bar exam for lawyers, for those entering the teaching profession .

Jeffrey J. Mims Jr., an Ohio Board of Education member, said the success of that initiative would depend on the type of exam required and whether classroom experience was a component.

“If it’s just a paper and pencil test, I would strongly disapprove,” said Mims, a former teacher. “It would not mean they have the ability to teach. It would have to be equally weighted with the ability to get along with others, to lead, to follow, to be creative, to be collaborative.”

The stricter standards reportedly would address the “sink or swim” dynamic that AFT President Randi Weingarten said transpires with new teachers, and which she called unfair to teachers and students.

The AFT, one of the largest teachers’ unions, said this exam would be paired with stricter entrance requirements for potential teachers, such as a minimum grade-point average.

The proposal, which was released this week as part of a broader report on the teaching profession, was praised in a prepared statement by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

“Too many new teachers enter our schools feeling unprepared,” Duncan said. “We shouldn’t tolerate that in a profession so important to our country’s future.”

The nonprofit National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future reported last year that nearly 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years. According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report in January, the median number of years that all wage and salary workers had been with their current employer was 4.6.

Charlotte Harris, dean of the College of Education and Human Services at Wright State University, said she doesn’t necessarily agree with the assertion that teachers are being thrown into classrooms unprepared — at least not in Ohio.

“We promote co-teaching, and (new teachers) are not in the classroom alone,” she said. “And for teachers to be licensed in the state of Ohio, they have to pass an exam for content knowledge and an exam for professional knowledge.”

Two years ago, Ohio implemented a four-year residency program for teachers that is based on a model that medical schools follow. The new process, still in its infancy, is more comprehensive than the previous protocol and includes multiple evaluations and mentorships.

Prior to this change, Ohio teachers would obtain a two-year professional license before becoming eligible for a permanent license.

Michele Prater of the Ohio Education Association said, due to the fact that Ohio has a more stringent licensure process than many states, that she’s not sure if firming up requirements for new teachers with this proposed exam would be necessary.

“A test, alone, cannot prepare individuals for the intellectual and social rigors of teaching,” she said. “Continuous, coached practice in the classroom prior to, and during the initial years, builds effective teachers.”

Prater said the OEA advocates for field experiences and supervised induction programs during the first years of teaching.

“We strongly endorse Ohio’s four-year Resident Educator Program and the new Teacher Performance Assessment to be passed by teacher candidates prior to licensure,” she said.

Brian Cayot, president of the Centerville City Schools teachers’ union, said he didn’t believe the exam recommended by the AFT would be an apt barometer for success or longevity in the teaching profession.

“Are there some teachers who come in and teach and find this isn’t their cup of tea? Sure,” Cayot said. “But that’s true of every field.”

He added that basing a professional benchmark on one test can create an unfair assessment; similar to how teachers lobby against judging students’ performance by a single state test.

Ohio Department of Education spokesman John Charlton said “the bottom line is doing what’s best for students,” regardless of whether that means more testing or stricter standards for teachers.

He added that, if this recommendation is adopted, it would fit in with the overall education reform transpiring in Ohio.

“We have adopted new core curriculum standards, new report cards, new teacher evaluation systems, the third-grade reading guarantee and this mentorship program,” said Charlton, citing changes in the last few years. “We’re pretty good, but we can always do better.”

Harris said she did endorse the idea of improving partnerships between universities and K-12 educators, as would be a natural function of this exam. She said that teaching is about lifelong learning and development.

“It’s important for school districts to provide continuous professional development and make adjustments based on the data,” Harris said. “This idea is moving in the right direction, but we may need to refine its implementation.”

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