Board of Education Downgrades Qualifications for Science Teachers

by James C. Sherlock

“Every student succeeds” is the motto of the state education plan. Let’s take a look and see how this focus on “student success” is playing out in the day-to-day policy judgments of the Board of Education.

This column has reported that the Board of Education, in pursuit of “equity,” is actively reducing the qualifications of teachers for classroom instruction.

This one will explain how Virginia arrived at a passing score for the Praxis Middle School Science Teacher exam that allowed the applicant to get more than half of the questions wrong on the test and still step in front of your child’s classroom.

The Board process made no reference at all to students.

Background. Using one of the most professional review and decision processes you will ever read about, the Educational Testing Service published early last year a report recommending setting the passing score for its Middle School Science teacher qualifying exam.

The Multistate Standard-Setting Technical Report PRAXIS® Middle School Science (5442) Licensure and Credentialing Research published in January of 2020 is summarized as follows

To support the decision-making process of education agencies establishing a passing score (cut score) for the Praxis® Middle School Science (5442) test, research staff from Educational Testing Service (ETS) designed and conducted a multistate standard-setting study.

Panelists from 17 states (including two from Virginia) and Washington, D.C. were recommended by their respective education agencies. The education agencies recommended panelists with (a) experience as either middle school science teachers or college faculty who prepare middle school science teachers and (b) familiarity with the knowledge and skills required of beginning middle school science teachers.

ETS provides a recommended passing score from the multistate standard-setting study to help education agencies determine an appropriate operational passing score. For the Praxis Middle School Science test, the recommended passing score1 is 61 out of a possible 100 raw-score points. The scale score associated with a raw score of 61 is 152 on a 100–200 scale.

That recommended passing score represented the combined judgments of two panels of experienced educators. The full group included 31 educators representing 17 states and D.C (two were from Virginia nominated by the Department of Education).

Eighteen panelists were teachers, eight were college faculty, one was an administrator or department head, and four held another position. All eight of the faculty members’ job responsibilities included the training of middle school science teachers.

The test measures the knowledge and competencies necessary for a beginning teacher of middle school science.

The two and a half-hour assessment contains 125 multiple-choice items covering four content areas: Nature and Impact of Science and Engineering (approximately 17 items), Physical Science (approximately 38 items), Life Science (approximately 38 items), and Earth and Space Science

The 31 panelists each first took the test. They then were split into two separate panels. Each made two rounds of judgments, the first without discussion among them and the second with discussion. They ranked each question for degree of difficulty for a new science teacher.  Then, using those judgements, each panel developed recommended standards for a minimum passing grade. The Round 2 mean score is the panel’s recommended passing score.

The mean of each panel’s judgments were very close, 60.58 and 60.33 respectively. The were rounded up to the next whole number. The scale score (range of 100-200) associated with 61 raw points is 152. So, under that standard, barely above half of the questions answered correctly in that test will qualify a new teacher to start teaching.

Agree with it or not, the process by which they reached that conclusion was extremely professional.

Virginia. In Virginia…

This test will be required for individuals seeking initial licensure unless exempted by holding a full, clear out-of-state license with no deficiencies and can be taken and passed to add an endorsement in Middle Education 6-8 Science by individuals holding a valid renewable teaching license.

Virginia is setting the passing score at a raw score of 57 and a scale score equivalent (scale 100 – 200) of 147

. Why? They were quite honest:

This request supports the Board of Education’s Comprehensive Plan to … increase the number of candidates entering the teaching profession through the testing option for the add-on endorsement.

Increasing the number of science teachers by lowering the passing score.  The Board is doing the same for student testing. And school rankings.

As soon as the federal government lets them, progressives will do away with standardized tests to mask the results of their handiwork, reaching a progressive state of perfect happiness — regulations with no accountability.

The Board of Education speaks exclusively for progressive adults. There is not even a reference to the educational needs of children in such deliberations.

Who speaks for the children? The Board of Education certainly won’t. Whoever does needs to step up.

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24 responses to “Board of Education Downgrades Qualifications for Science Teachers”

  1. WayneS Avatar

    Hey, we need equity among the teachers as well as the students…

  2. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    I remember discussion/argument about the Praxis “cut scores” way back when I was covering Board of Education meetings for the newspaper, so early 1980s. Almost 40 years later, nothing has changed? It is still the case that there is reason to fear that the score itself determines how many graduates get teaching licenses, and it is a deeper impediment to minority students?

    I remember as well my wife telling me of a young colleague who could pass the math Praxis but was in danger of failing to get her permanent license because she couldn’t get the needed score on the English test. I wonder if that is still a general requirement for teaching licenses for teachers in other subjects?

    1. WayneS Avatar

      “I wonder if that is still a general requirement for teaching licenses for teachers in other subjects?”

      If it is not, then it should be. In this country, proficiency in English should be a requirement for being certified to teach any subject.

    2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      “It is still the case that there is reason to fear that the score itself determines how many graduates get teaching licenses, and it is a deeper impediment to minority students?”

      Answer is yes.

      The Board of Education needs no pressure from the General Assembly to do what it is doing, but it surely has GA support at the highest levels.

      Portsmouth’s Louise Lucas, Chair of the Senate Education and Health Committee, is a Norfolk State education undergrad. Norfolk State is the largest Virginia HBCU producer of teaching graduates, and its graduates have always had a hard time with Praxis.

      Roslyn Tyler of Southside, Chair of the House Education committee, graduated from Virginia State with an undergraduate degree in biology and an M.Ed., Education.

      I would like to think that improving the teaching of undergraduate education, starting with offering a well resourced (meaning math and science professors teaching the classes rather than education professors) minor with a focus on STEM teaching, to qualify more teachers would be the focus of the Board and the GA, but it is not.

      Instead they lower the qualifying scores.

  3. Wahoo'74 Avatar

    We continually hear about how lousy US students rank internationally in STEM scores. States and counties scream for more tax dollars to “fix the problem.”

    This is the solution? Lower minimum quality entrance standards for teachers?

    Perhaps those in charge should go back to college for remedial courses in Logic, if any are still taught.

    1. John Martin Avatar
      John Martin

      perhaps you should treat teachers with respect and pay them a decent wage. Otherwise, as we can see, the free market is telling you to go screw yourself

  4. Matt Hurt Avatar
    Matt Hurt

    Problem- we can’t find enough folks willing to go into the teaching profession who can meet the old standard. One way of solving that is lowering the standard. Any other ideas?

    Short of any other ideas, would you rather a slightly less capable person as measured by this standardized test be at the front of a classroom, or have the entire classroom taught by a computer program? The latter has been going on far too often.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      Slightly less capable? Got most of the test questions wrong?

      1. Matt Hurt Avatar
        Matt Hurt

        Better than a program, but certainly not optimal. I think a better plan is to offer significantly higher salary to recruit more talent into the field.

    2. Matt Adams Avatar
      Matt Adams

      Standardized Tests only tell you who’s good at taking tests, not progress or improvement.

      1. Matt Hurt Avatar
        Matt Hurt

        It depends on how well your standardized test measures for desired outcomes.

    3. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      The other idea is the contractor proposal I made. I got a note from Jim Lane, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, who told me that there was such a process available and he used it successfully as a superintendent of school districts in the Richmond area. News to me, and apparently to most school superintendents and the readers of this blog. He did not provide details. I asked him to publicize both the program and his successful use of it. Hope he does.

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        You are bending some ears Captain! Good job. Let’s hope reason can bubble up to the surface of policy decision makers.

    4. John Martin Avatar
      John Martin

      you have no goddamn idea what you are talking about

  5. Kathleen Smith Avatar
    Kathleen Smith

    Given that some virtual courses are rigorous, it my be more advantageous to contract with a private virtual vendor. However, that could prove quite expensive at a student load of 125 students per teacher. I think what Matt is saying makes sense. Usually the teacher in question has a provisional license, has been employed for three years, and has been able to prove he/she can teach the content and that kids are passing SOL assessments. Give that teacher the benefit of the doubt. If we say not all kids are good at taking tests, doesn’t the same apply to adults.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      I echo and expand my response to Steve Haner:

      Improving the teaching of undergraduate education courses is the best path forward.

      In my view, primary and secondary education degree candidates should be required to complete math and science classes in the Arts and Sciences school to learn the material as well as math and science education classes in the Ed school to learn how to teach it.

      UVa does it that way. All ed school candidates have to complete general studies requirements in their first two years including 3 credits of mathematics, 3 credits of data literacy and 6 credits of natural science in the College of A&S.

      For any candidate for a Bachelor of Science in Education: Elementary Education: each candidate in the third year must complete EDIS 4320: Mathematics in the Elementary School (3 cr.) and in year four EDIS 4330: Science in the Elementary School (2 cr.). So without a specialization in STEM, UVa B.S. Education grads have significant educational backgrounds to pursue STEM teaching.

      The Board of Education is lowering Praxis scores to get more minority candidates, but the HBCU’s are not helping.

      Norfolk State school of Education, the largest of the ed schools at Virginia’s four HBCU’s, specializes in Early Childhood Education, Physical Education and Special Education. I cannot find whether or not ed school undergrads are required to take courses outside the ed school.

      The only degree in STEM education offered at Norfolk State is a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies Education Certification Endorsement PreK-6 (Mathematics Concentration).

      So Norfolk State doesn’t attempt to provide teachers for the Middle School science positions discussed in the column.

      In 2019 it awarded more education degrees than any other Virginia HBCU ed school. But Virginia HBCUs as a group award very few education undergraduate degrees each year. The demand is not there.

  6. Great digging, Jim. No one else in Virginia is reporting this. No one else has reported the systematic lowering of standards, from SOL cut scores to the more arcane aspects of the educational system such as this, the testing of would-be science teachers.

    As for your conclusion, that the next step is dispensing with student testing altogether, I would not be the least bit surprised if you were correct. The collapse in learning will be so dramatic that Progressives will have no choice but to cover it up or face utter ruin at the ballot box.

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      Ruin at the ballot box? The voters don’t want their kids held to high standards. Maybe somebody else’s…. They want the Lake Woebegone Standard: All the children are above average.

  7. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
    Baconator with extra cheese

    The Parole Board should grant provisional STEM teaching credentials to their parolees… win/ win!
    We need STEM teachers and they need a job and have pretty much been deemed not a risk to society.

  8. Why should lower standards only apply to students…. this is true equity!!!!
    Long Live the down hill trend…. as home schooling soars and US Federal dollars to the state education coffers [based on student enrollment and attendance] continues to dwindle…..

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Which is actually competition to public schools and in my mind not a terrible thing though some folks realize that homeschooling and private schooling seldom provide the full range of opportunities and services that public schools do.

      But yes, by all means, if parents think they can do better for their kids at non-public schools, they should.

  9. L Paroni Avatar
    L Paroni

    Your assertion that “Virginia arrived at a passing score for the
    Praxis Middle School Science Teacher exam that allowed the applicant to
    get more than half of the questions wrong on the test and still step in front of your child’s classroom.” is itself incorrect.

    As explained in the Technical Report (see footnote 4 on page 3), “Twenty-five of the 125 multiple-choice items are pretest items and do not contribute to a candidate’s score.” Thus the recommended passing score for Virginia is 57 correct out of 100 scorable questions, not 125.

    While this fact may not alter your opinion or the arguments in your case in full, it is offered to set the record straight, and to head off potential misleading headlines.

    I anticipate further comments such as “Getting 57% correct would have been a clear Fail when I was in school,” but the whole point of the standard-setting procedure is to take into account the difficulty level of the test questions. Getting 57 difficult questions correct may indeed be the proper passing score, and can indicate competency more reliably than getting 80 easy questions correct.

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