As would-be educators and the schools looking to hire them continue to explore alternative routes to teacher certification that can help speed the process, education publishing giant Pearson has announced a new pilot program that intends to provide a completely computer-based teacher certification system.
Pearson is asking teachers-in-training who are seeking a teaching license and need to take a licensure examination, as well as students in teacher-preparation programs and educators who have been recently licensed, to participate in its National Evaluation Series (NES) pilot program.
Pearson says it developed the NES program to help states make sure the educators they certify are prepared to teach effectively in 21st-century classrooms. William Gorth, president of Pearson’s Evaluations Systems group, said having a teacher certification exam that’s completely computer-based allows the company to use technology to develop new, authentic test questions. It also makes taking the test more practical, he said.
"I think the computer-based [test] allows candidates to have more flexibility in signing up when they’re going to be tested, and so they can test throughout the year rather than only six or seven different times throughout the year," he said. "[Also,] we’re able to score the reports and get the information back to students very quickly. For tests that are only multiple choice, candidates will be able to get their scores essentially when they leave the testing center."
The pilot program is scheduled to run through April. If it proves successful, Pearson plans to launch the official program on a state-by-state basis beginning next September.
"Each state defines what a person has to know in order to get a teaching license," Gorth said. "What we would end up doing is literally going to each state … and having those educators confirm that the test is measuring what the state says is important for teachers to know in that state."
Gorth said Pearson aims to take the core knowledge and skills in each of the 30 curriculum areas for which there are tests–and for which many state and national organizations already have set standards–and create a rigorous test that ensures educators know what they need to know in order to teach.
James Cibulka, president of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), agreed that NES, as well as other teacher-certification tests, should be aligned with rigorous standards. But he also said it should be just one of multiple measures of a candidate’s effectiveness.
"NCATE welcomes innovative approaches to assessing teaching candidates in pre-service programs, those seeking licensure, and recently licensed teachers, such as NEC is developing," he said. "Raising the bar for those entering the teaching profession is one important strategy if America is to succeed in raising K-12 student achievement and closing the achievement gap."
Gorth said a computer-based exam can be used to determine not only whether a teaching candidate knows the required content, but also how effective he or she might be at classroom management. For example, multimedia-based questions, such as a video that presents a classroom situation and then asks the candidate questions about how he or she would handle it, can help determine whether the candidate understands what is good or poor classroom communication, Gorth said.
"But as far as I know, there is no test that can guarantee that somebody who knows what to do will actually do it as a teacher in a classroom," he said. "…And that’s true of any testing program–it has that kind of limitation, I think."
The NES pilot tests will be delivered at Pearson’s secure computer-based testing centers around the country. Anyone interested in participating can register on the pilot program’s web site.