Math Test Troubles Teachers in North Carolina

If you're facing a teacher shortage for math and a sizable number of potential candidates are failing a math test designed to check their expertise, what do you drop — the teachers or the test? That's the question faced by the Board of Education in North Carolina, where nearly 2,400 elementary and special education educators have failed the math portion of a licensing exam, as reported by The Charlotte Observer. A state standards commission has recommended dumping the test.

The exam is one of three in a suite of licensure exams developed and issued by Pearson for the state. In a December presentation made by the Education Policy Initiative at Carolina to the state's Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission and posted online by the newspaper's publisher, researchers found that the math test presented the biggest hurdles. While 79 percent of teachers passed a general curriculum exam on multiple subjects the first time and 77 percent passed a "foundations of reading" assessment, just 66 percent were successful on the first go-around for the math test. The report examined the results of 1,100 newer teachers with three or fewer years of experience. Those who passed the test on their first attempts were no more effective with their students in grades K-2 than the teachers who failed in that first effort.

According to at least one member of the standards commission, the math test is no "indicator of an effective teacher." Glenda Jones, an assistant superintendent in Cabarrus County Schools, was quoted as saying that she considers the test "a barrier to licensure and that trickles down to being vacancies in the classroom and a teacher shortage." Currently, the district is advertising for two math teachers, both for middle schools.

Jones added that the cost of the testing is coming out of teachers' pockets. They have paid $139 to tackle the three exams in a single sitting; but if they have to retake a test or try them separately, the expense is $94 for the math or multiple-subject tests.

According to the newspaper, the commission has recommended replacing the Pearson math test with an alternative from Praxis. The math portion of the assessment could be "phased out as early as February" if the state Board of Education goes along with that guidance. The commission also has suggested dumping the multiple-subject exam, which state law doesn't require.

Pearson makes a practice math test openly available along with a sample multiple-choice test online.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.