Op-ed: Just Passing Tests Won’t Make Teachers Good

If the responsibilities of a teacher go far beyond academics, why isn’t that what we are testing teacher candidates on? writes Olivia Singer, a master's student in the teacher preparation program. (Getty Images)
If the responsibilities of a teacher go far beyond academics, why isn’t that what we are testing teacher candidates on? writes Olivia Singer, a master's student in the teacher preparation program. (Getty Images)

Olivia Singer, 22, of South Windsor, is a master’s student in the Elementary Education Integrated Bachelor’s/Master’s Program at the University of Connecticut in the Neag School of Education. Originally published in the Hartford Courant.

What type of writing system did the ancient Sumerian civilization use?

What structure is formed during the asexual phase of the moss life cycle?

Here are some test questions that are never asked and should be: ‘What do you do when faced with a child who wasn’t fed dinner last night?’ or ‘What do you say to a student who has just been bullied?’ — Olivia Singer

These are the types of questions that I am asked on the standardized tests I must take to become an elementary school teacher. Here are some test questions that are never asked and should be: “What do you do when faced with a child who wasn’t fed dinner last night?” or “What do you say to a student who has just been bullied?”

As a student teacher, I am aware of how important academics are. As a human being, however, I also know how important it is for students to learn life lessons about kindness and the world around them. Teachers need to know about more than that the Sumerian civilization used cuneiform as their writing system. Teachers spend about 1,000 hours each year with their students. They are more than just educators. They are role models, support systems and resources, especially to those students who don’t have support at home. If the responsibilities of a teacher go far beyond academics, why isn’t that what we are “testing” teacher candidates on?

In Connecticut, student elementary school teachers have to pass five exams in order to become certified. The exams cover English, science, history and math and cost a total of $380 — if you pass everything on the first try. The exams consist of 345 questions and two short essays over nine hours of testing. I have a 4.0 GPA, have spent the past four years during all school breaks volunteering in more than five elementary schools and have completed over 430 hours of student teaching — and yet I had to retake the history test three times.

Along with taking, paying for and passing the required tests, teachers also have to pay $200 to obtain a teaching certificate in Connecticut. However, this initial teaching certificate is only good for three years. When it expires, teachers have to complete 150 hours of professional development as part of a renewal program that earns them another certificate, which is good for an additional five years.

Starting Sept. 1, 2019, more than 40 states and 600 teacher prep programs will also require that student teachers complete edTPA, another teacher performance assessment. This assessment will cost students $300. If not passed, students will have to complete and resubmit the assessment.

The question is: What do these tests have to do with being a good teacher?

My experience in my teacher prep program included four clinic experiences, in urban and suburban placements, over 10 lesson observations completed and evaluated by teachers, principals and instructional coaches and more than 90 credits of education-focused courses. From my perspective, these hands-on learning experiences with students, educators and renowned faculty at the University of Connecticut were of much more value to me than any multiple choice test I could have taken.

Now, after jumping through all of those hoops, I am only qualified to teach in Connecticut, which is another problem. As of the 2017-2018 school year, there are teacher shortages across every state. We need more people to pursue the field of education. If we want to encourage them to do this, however, we need to think about how we license them, starting with state reciprocity. Why is it that graduates from rigorous teacher prep programs can’t move to different states? Depending on the year, some states may have a surplus of teachers, while others may have a shortage. If state reciprocity wasn’t such a challenge, would a teacher shortage still be as much of an issue?

All these tests and additional licensing requirements have little to do with being a good teacher. To me, being a good teacher is dependent on far more than test scores.