Teachers unions suggest bar exam

Grace Murray

The American Federation of Teachers, a national labor union, proposed an update in teacher education standards, which could include a bar exam similar to that required of lawyers.

“All those involved in preparing future teachers must collaborate to ensure that the standards, programs and assessments are aligned to a well-grounded vision of effective teaching,” said Randi Weingarten, president of AFT, in a press release. “As in medical, law and other professions, all prospective teachers […] should meet a universal and rigorous bar that gauges master of subject matter knowledge and demonstrates competency in how to teach it.”

In addition to the bar exam, AFT’s “Raising the Bar — Aligning and Elevating Teacher Preparation and the Teaching Profession” report suggests three changes to improve teacher education standards:

• “All stakeholders must collaborate to ensure that teacher preparation standards, programs and assessments are aligned with a well-grounded vision of effective teaching.”

• “Teaching, like other respected professions, must have a universal assessment process for entry that includes rigorous preparation centered on clinical practice as well as theory, an in depth test of subject and pedagogical knowledge, and a comprehensive teacher performance assessment.”

• “Primary responsibility for setting and enforcing the standards of profession and ensuring the quality and coherence of teacher preparation programs must reside with members of the profession — practicing professionals in K-12 and higher education.”

Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, said the propositions made by AFT are still being discussed, and by no means are ready to be implemented.

“This is more of a conversation starter,” Cropper said. “We feel that, as we move into realigning standards for students and making curriculum more rigorous, we need to also look at setting different standards for those who are in the profession.”

Joanne Arhar, associate dean of the College of Education Health and Human Services, said she believes the union’s idea for a bar exam and raised standard stems from a common dissent arguing that teacher preparation programs accept poor students.

“One of the things people say is that we attract students with the lowest high school GPAs,” Arhar said, “so we actually looked. [Kent State is] actually attracting students from the top third of their high school graduating class.”

Similarly, Cropper said, “We’re in a culture right now where there is a lot of bashing of public education. Now raising these standards will add another layer to this, but we really do feel that it is important to attract the best and the brightest.”

James Henderson, Ed.D., a professor for Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Studies and co-coordinator for the Teacher Leadership Endorsement Program, said teachers, most importantly, need to be prepared to become educational leaders.

“There is certainly value to [the bar exam],” Henderson said. “However, the problem comes in that just because you do well on a standardized test, it does not mean you’re going to be an excellent problem solver.”

Henderson said he does not want to see teachers have to practice out of a sense of standardization, but a sense of practical reasoning.

Kent State’s current undergraduate student teachers are required to pass a pilot version of the education Teacher Performance Assessment often referred to as edTPA. However, beginning in the fall, Kent State students, along with all of the education students in the 51 teaching programs in Ohio, will be required to pass the official edTPA, said Arhar.

edTPA, according to its website, is a multiple-measured assessment system designed to guide student teachers in the development of curriculum and the practice of ensuring new teachers are able to teach effectively. The edTPA is comparable to other licensing exams such as medical licensing exams or the bar exam for lawyers, the site also states.

Arhar said the requirements for the edTPA include a range of materials such as student teacher’s reflections, assessments and video-recorded lessons.

“I think the most important piece is how you get to that bar exam,” Cropper said. “That means giving [student teachers] a lot more support throughout the process.”

Grace Murray is the student affairs reporter for the Daily Kent Stater.

Contact Grace Murray at [email protected].