Almost three quarters of aspiring elementary-school teachers in Massachusetts have failed a new math section of the state's licensing exam—the first time teaching candidates' knowledge of the subject has been assessed on a separate test. Administered in March, the new assessment—which includes questions on geometry, statistics, and probability—is the result of efforts to raise standards in a subject in which, until now, teachers were not necessarily required to excel.
Mitchell Chester, the state's commissioner of elementary and secondary education, says the new assessment makes Massachusetts the first state to approve a math-specific test for elementary licensure, as opposed to a multiple-subject exam yielding a single composite score, as is common in most states.
In light of the high failure rate—only about 27 percent of the 600 teaching candidates who took the test passed it—and the state's critical shortage of special education teachers, a temporary measure has been enacted that allows those who just missed the mark on the math section to still obtain teaching licenses. The teachers then have five years to retake and pass the test.
The debate over the test results' significance is raising some sticky issues in Massachusetts education circles. But at a time when so many other states are lowering their standards in an effort to avoid sanctions and loss of federal funds under the No Child Left Behind law, the Bay State's effort to buck the trend is commendable. But making the licensure requirements harder is one thing. Producing teachers who can pass the tests—and lay the foundation for students' knowledge in the building blocks of mathematics—is another.