Teacher Bar Exam? Recommendations Impact Teaching Candidates

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More rigorous “bar” exam recommended for teachers. Photo by Taliesin

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has issued new recommendations regarding new teacher preparation and certification that include something along the lines of a ‘Bar Exam’ for new teachers.

The idea is to ensure that all teachers are able to meet the demands of teaching which comes on the heels of the raising standards for students through the Common Core State Standards, but not all teachers agree that this is a good idea.

Teacher Preparation Programs: Why Changes Are Needed

Teachers, parents and administrators have long believed that if a student does poorly, it is the result the quality of teaching the child has received.

Numerous attempts to improve teaching quality have been proposed and implemented over the previous years; one of the most popularly discussed is that of merit pay.

Merit pay essentially rewards teachers financially for their students passing state tests, or for achieving a certain amount of increase in scores. The idea behind it is that teachers will be motivated to do better at their jobs when they know that they will be financially compensated for it, and thus will  improve the quality of teaching overall.

According to the AFT, teacher preparation is vitally important, and the task force alludes to the fact that improvements are needed given the high turnover rate of new teachers.  A survey of new teachers for the purpose of the report shows that one in three teachers feel unprepared on their first day of school, and that teachers feel there is a gap between their preparation and the realities awaiting them in the classroom. This implies that the teacher preparation program currently in place needs improving in order to allow all teachers to feel prepared and competent to teach their classrooms starting on the very first day of school.

More Prepared Teachers: New Recommendations

The first of three major recommendations that provide an overhaul of the teacher preparation program is for greater collaboration among the colleges and universities, K-12 educators, state certification agencies, higher education teacher educators and both the state and national policies. The system will work effectively by ensuring that each piece of the puzzle fits together smoothly. At the same time, they are not calling for standardization of every program because  they recognize the need for program diversity, meeting the diverse educational needs of those wishing to enter the teaching profession.

The second recommendation is for a sort of Bar Exam for teachers – a universal assessment for entry into the field that includes theory, subject knowledge, and what they refer to as a “comprehensive teacher performance assessment.” They call for higher entry standards for teacher preparation programs, as well as higher exit standards. The idea is that all teacher candidates must qualify for a teacher certificate by passing a rigorous and multidimensional bar. Recommendations include a minimum GPA, testing on fundamental and effective teaching practices, mastery of specific subject matter and pedagogy through a written exam, and success in a teacher performance assessment that looks at both instruction and reflection.

The third and final recommendation is to allow the responsibility for both setting and enforcing these standards to be given to practicing K-12 professionals. Pay, promotions and tenures at every level including college/university level must be changed to reflect this responsibility. Likewise, treating the teaching profession as a high quality profession, rewarding commitment, and providing financial support is critical in the transfer of responsibility. One specific suggestion is to make college affordable for those who wish to enter the teaching career and to prevent their education from causing financial hardship. Likewise, they also suggested to that those hired to work in the teacher preparation programs need to be fairly compensated rather than continually hired at lower salaries.

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