RALEIGH — State education leaders will consider requiring a new elementary teacher licensure test focused on strategies of teaching reading.
The test is considered more rigorous than the current exam, the Praxis II tests, which are subject tests for certification areas. The Praxis would be replaced by the Massachusetts Test for Educator Licensure if the State Board of Education approves. Prospective elementary and special education teachers, along with teachers who move to North Carolina from other states, would be required to take the MTEL in addition to a test of general curriculum.
The State Board is expected to vote in August on the switch, which would take effect in 2014. On Wednesday, the board heard a report from Department of Public Instruction officials who traveled to Massachusetts this spring to meet with education officials there. Massachusetts public schoolchildren lead the nation in reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
We asked them, To what do you owe your success? said Rebecca Garland, the chief academic officer for DPI. They said, This test.
If the State Board goes along with the requirement, new teachers would have to prove their competency in understanding the mechanics of reading and strategies to teach it. Teachers already employed in North Carolina would not have to take the Massachusetts exam unless they are rated ineffective in the states teacher evaluation process.
The focus is to make sure that teachers who teach reading know more than just childrens literature, that they actually know the process of how you teach a child to read, Garland said.
The plan dovetails with a bill that passed the state Senate this week on a package of education reforms, including ending the promotion of students who cant read well by the end of third grade. The House has yet to vote on the plan.
About 40 percent of third-graders failed the state end-of-grade reading test last year. Less than 3 percent, or about 2,500 students, had to repeat the grade, however.
There is a consensus and agreement that we have a problem, said Wayne McDevitt, vice chairman of the State Board.
DPI officials have already begun to meet with education deans at the states universities to discuss the potential change and to push for increased rigor in teacher training programs.
State Board Chairman William Harrison said hes in favor of the new test requirement, but insisted that the state wont get far if it then allows waivers for teachers who dont pass.
If were going to raise standards, lets raise standards, he said.
State Board member Patricia Willoughby agreed, saying Massachusetts had taken a tough stance on the test. Massachusetts is very clear, she said. There are no waivers. They are not in the waiver business.
But, she added, This is not meant to be punitive. This is meant, at the end of the day, to serve these children.
Ratcheting up the standards has to be accompanied by valuing teachers more, Harrison added. Teacher bashing has become too easy for some, he said, referring to actions in the legislature, including the Senate bill that ends teacher tenure, making it easy to fire veteran teachers.
Just as much a part of this conversation, he said, is how we treat our teachers.