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Are Florida colleges and universities preparing teachers to teach? A National think-tank says no

National Council on Teacher Quality report finds colleges failing teacher candidates
Posted at 3:58 PM, Feb 27, 2019

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released a reporton Wednesday that points blame at higher education for the reason so many aspiring teachers are failing their professional teacher licensing exam.

According to the recently issued report, College of Education programs are not providing elementary education students the basic knowledge needed to teach in a classroom thus, leading them to fail professional teacher licensing exams at “astonishingly high numbers,” according to the Council.

“We found absolutely no evidence they take any course work relevant to those tests,” said Katie Walsh, NCTQ President.

According to the NCTQ, elementary education teachers across the country are failing their professional teacher licensing exams on the first try at high rates and candidates of color are especially impacted, according to the Council's report.

In Florida, the latest state data shows 46% of examinees failed the elementary language arts and reading portion of the state test in 2016 and 2017.

The NCTQ examined copies of course requirements, syllabi and textbooks for elementary education programs around the country including Florida’s top 25 colleges and universities.

The Council found, overall, few colleges screened or diagnosed students when they entered education programs and according to the Council, few required students take courses in general content knowledge.

“They’ll let them take a course called chemistry and art restoration, that’s never going to come up in the course of teaching 3rd grade or 4th grade,” said Walsh.

But ask some Florida colleges and universities about NCTQ’s findings and their response not only raise issue about the results but the organization behind the entire report.

“They have targeted College of Ed programs for quite some time,” said Dr. Elizabeth Elliott, Department Chair of the Undergraduate Division at Florida Gulf Coast University’s (FGCU) College of Education. “Yea, it is kind of an eye roll for us,” said Elliott. However, FGCU acknowledges failure rates on Florida’s teacher licensing exam has been a concern since the state made the exam tougher in 2015,

The NCTQ has a history of issuing critical reports about higher education. Those reports have also been highly criticized by education leaders who question the thoroughness and detail collected by the NCTQ since most of the Council's reports are based on documents and information found online.

While some Florida universities and colleges we contacted told us they would not respond to the findings in the report, a spokesperson from the University of North Florida points to recent data from the Florida Department of Education that shows examinees who attend state-approved education colleges passed the General Knowledge portion of Florida's Teacher Certification Exam (FTCE) at rates up to 35% higher than those who don’t.

Still, Dr. Elliott admits failures on Florida’s test have many Florida education insiders asking why.

“I don’t believe the test is a true marker of a teacher’s ability to teach,” said Elliott.

The NCTQ disagrees.

“It’s a no-brainer. No other field neglects a large percentage of the preparation that the professional field needs and we can do better,” said Walsh of the NCTQ.

The National Council on Teacher Quality provided a copy of its latest report, "A Fair Chance: Simple steps to strengthen and diversify the teacher workforce" to the following Florida Colleges and Universities. We contacted each institution for its response to the report. Below are their responses.

Barry University
"We have no comment regarding the report."
- Jeremy Jones, Marketing & Communications

Saint Leo University
"The university does not have any comment on this report."
- Jo-Ann Johnston, University Communications

Southeastern University
I don't think certification exams should be abandoned because they are a necessary tool to determine content knowledge and pedagogical choices test-takers know and are apt to apply in their future classrooms. I do believe colleges/universities are accepting students who are under-prepared for General Knowledge exams. Students are under-prepared with the content on the exams as well as under-prepared with standardized, multiple choice, lengthy, and timed exams.
Our program closely aligns course work, curriculum, and field experiences to the competencies and skills assessed on certification exams. Additionally, our program works to educate the whole student as a model of what K-12 classroom teachers should be doing in their classrooms... we model the way.
Teacher preparation programs in contractual agreements with state departments of education are already held accountable for program quality. Programs are reviewed by outside agencies in collaboration with state departments of education. Perhaps the reviews could be conducted more frequently. As research points out, student demographics change every four years as new cohorts enter the university setting; perhaps program reviews could be conducted in a parallel timeline?
State-approved teacher preparation programs in Florida are also required to be in contractual agreements with local school systems (K-12 districts). School districts are aware of the programming/curriculum of teacher preparation programs, and collaborate with placing teacher candidates in field experiences. Thus, teacher preparation programs collaborate vertically (with feeder school districts and with state departments of education). To me, teacher preparation programming/curriculum is not the issue for low first-time pass rates on certification exams. It seems candidate readiness and the structure of the exams contribute to the pass rates.
· Remove the time limit on exams. If test-takers feel less time pressure to complete the exam, perhaps test anxiety will be reduced and test performance will increase.
· Vary the structure of test items. With the certification exams presenting only multiple choice items, many test takers respond incorrectly. The content on the exams could be assessed through various item types including short/extended responses, fill in the blank (with or without word banks), yes/no or true/false, matching, and so on. If test takers were offered varied item types, perhaps test performance would increase.
· Redefine how state-approval is awarded which could lead to a change in state-level certification processes. Teacher preparation candidates must complete the training program having passed all certification exams prior to graduating state-approved. Graduating state-approved indicates a program completer has successfully mastered course content, passed certification exams, and completed field experience/internship. If state approval could indicate eligibility for provisional certification, then after 2-3 years in the classroom during which time the exams could be completed, then a professional certification is awarded (based on state-approved provisional status, successful provisional teaching 2-3 years, passed exams), then perhaps pass-rates would increase?
- Dr. Amy Bratten, Associate Provost

University of South Florida
“The University of South Florida College of Education supports efforts to innovate and improve Educator Preparation programs, and we value the regular review of program curriculum and data on teacher candidate performance as an important part of the improvement process.
“We are very proud of the graduates from our college. Based on information collected through the 2018 Annual Program Performance Report, 97.5 percent of our students who complete the Elementary Education program were rated effective or highly effective on school district teacher evaluations.
“We do support the report’s call for diversifying the teacher workforce and we agree with the conclusions of the report that teacher certification exams may be flawed and may not completely or accurately reflect the knowledge or skills that teachers need to be successful in the classroom.”
- Robert C. Knoeppel, Ph.D., Dean of the USF College of Education

The following schools were contacted but have not provided us with a response:
Bethune-Cookman University
Chipola College
Daytona State College
Flagler College
Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University
Florida Atlantic University
Florida International University
Florida South Western State College
Florida Southern College
Florida State University
Northwest Florida State College
Palm Beach Atlantic University
Stetson University
University of Florida
University of Miami
University of North Florida
University of Tampa
University of West Florida
Warner University