What NCTQ Gets Wrong about Testing Teachers of Color - Higher Education
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What NCTQ Gets Wrong about Testing Teachers of Color

by Emery Petchauer

In February, The National Council of Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released its report, A Fair Chance: Simple Steps to Strengthen and Diversify the Teacher Workforce. The extensive report focuses on how teacher licensure exams keep many aspiring teachers out of the profession –  especially aspiring teachers of color. While promising “a few small shifts” that can have widespread impact on teacher diversity, the report ignores insights from the people with the most to offer: teacher candidates of color.

A Fair Chance ignores every single study that tells us how aspiring teachers of color experience licensure exams. These studies show us there is much more to the story of licensure exams than NCTQ would have us believe. From aspiring teachers of color, we come to understand how taking the exams can become a racially-charged experience related to intelligence, character and test preparation.[1] We learn how different emotional states can hinder or support performance.[2] We get a peek into the unpreparedness of some proctors to facilitate this important exam.[3] Learning from candidates of color, we have known long before A Fair Chance how important it is to diagnose areas of need early on and build curricular supports around those needs.[4]

Aspiring teachers of color also show us how a strong ethnic identity and group solidarity can reduce the impact of negative factors.[5] We see how test wiseness – skills that use the test format against itself – can play into gaining a passing a score.[6] We come to understand how a lifetime of high-stakes test experiences stack up and shape how a person prepares for a licensure exam, or not.[7] Overall, we learn that there are a range of experiences among aspiring teachers of color. Many work through these additional layers of the testing experience in order to pass. Some do not. These are insights I learned from aspiring teachers of color for my book, Navigating Teacher Licensure Exams. I learned by assuming they had the most to teach me about this exam, not by ignoring what they had to say.

Dr. Emery Petchauer

Studies that provide these insights from teacher candidates of color do not make up a small fraction of the available evidence on this topic. They actually exceed the number of statistical studies on the topic – the only kind of studies that NCTQ draws from.

To be clear, this is not a grievance about research approach. A variety of approaches help us to understand this topic. This is a grievance about misrepresenting a topic by omitting perspectives of the people most affected, the people we have the most to learn from. These studies exist in publications that are widely available to NCTQ researchers. How do we know this? Because NCTQ leans upon other studies in these same databases and, in one instance, the same publication.

This omission is even more troubling when we consider another aspect of A Fair Chance. The report features short quotations from six teacher candidates speaking about their experiences with the exams or coursework. These teacher candidates are nameless and raceless in the report. We learn only which state they are from and if they passed their exam. Without much context, these quotations frame each of the report’s sections in attempt to justify its recommendations. These quotations from teacher candidates illustrate that NCTQ is not opposed to teacher candidates’ voices or even interview-based studies. It seems that NCTQ is only opposed to candidates’ voices when they are critical of the exams or do not support their recommendations.

By leaving out this important side to the topic, NCTQ places itself in the odd position of advocating for aspiring teachers of color yet ignoring their insights and direct experiences with the issue at hand.

This omission is supposed to direct our attention away from any problems with these exams, the companies that make and profit from them, or policies that states set around the exams. In my view, this is not a blame game. Complex problems have complex sources. But by limiting the scope of the issue, NCTQ would have us believe that the entire problem resides in teacher education programs because they haven’t wrapped their programs around these exams.

To be sure, teacher education programs have a role to play in this issue. But the role is not building a curriculum around exams that have an uncertain relationship with teacher effectiveness. It is also not simply critiquing the exams and leaving students to fend for themselves. The role is building the broad, powerful, transformative experience that creates teachers and, when necessary, building supports that generate from candidates’ needs. Of course, you can’t know these needs if you won’t listen to what aspiring teachers of color have to say.

With A Fair Chance, NCTQ missed an opportunity to contribute nuance and rigor to a delicate education topic. They position themselves outside the schoolyard, pointing fingers at the people working together on the inside. That’s not the way of education – at least not one with any future.

Dr. Emery Petchauer is an associate professor in the College of Education and College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University. He is the author or editor of four books, including Navigating Teacher Licensure Exams: Success and Self-Discovery on the High-Stakes Path to the Classroom (Routledge, 2019).

[1] Emery Petchauer, “Slaying Ghosts in the Room”: Identity Contingencies, Teacher Licensure Testing Events, and African American Preservice Teachers,” Teachers College Record 116, no. 7 (2014): 1–40.

[2] Emery Petchauer et al., “‘Since Feeling Is First’: Exploring the Affective Dimension of Teacher Licensure Exams,” Multidisciplinary Journal of Educational Research 5, no. 2 (2015): 167–195.

[3] Emery Petchauer and Kira J. Baker-Doyle, “‘Next Thing You Know, Her Hair Turned Green’: Absurdity and Uncertainty in High-Stakes Teacher Test Space,” Critical Studies in Education 60, no. 1 (2019): 19–36, https://doi.org/10.1080/17508487.2016.1234496.

[4] Christine I. Bennett, Lynn M. McWhorter, and John A. Kuykendall, “Will I Ever Teach? Latino and African American Students’ Perspectives on PRAXIS I,” American Educational Research Journal 43, no. 3 (2006): 531–75.

[5] Bennett, McWhorter, and Kuykendall; Petchauer et al., “‘Since Feeling Is First.’”

[6] Emery Petchauer, “I Will Not Fail: How African American Preservice Teachers Succeed on Licensure Exams After Initially Failing,” The Educational Forum 82, no. 4 (2018): 443–60.

[7] Petchauer.

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