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NC Elementary Math Teachers May Get New Licensure Exam


North Carolina education officials are a vote away from offering a different licensure test for elementary math teachers. A high number of teachers have failed the test since it was changed five years ago. State board of education members are being urged to approve a new test, but they were also told this week that the tests results are not as bad as they seem.

In the 2013/2014 school year, 85 percent of the state’s elementary math teachers passed the exam they had to take in order to be licensed to teach in the state. The next year, only 65 percent passed a new test called the Pearson exam. The passage rate dropped to 55 percent in 2017.

“When we instituted the Pearson exam, there was a shift in state law that allowed teachers to enter the teaching profession without passing licensing exam up front, as long as they attempted that test in their first year of teaching and passed it by the end of their second year,” Tomberlin, a stat education official, said.

Tomberlin said state policy allows teachers to take the test as many times as they need to pass it within a two-year period. More than 2,000 elementary math teachers are failing the exam each year, but Tomberlin said that number does not tell the whole story.

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“If you only looked in a given year at how many failed, a whole bunch failed it," he said. "But looking at the life of the cohort, you’ll see that 86 percent went on to pass the test."

In other words, 86 percent of teachers hired in the 2014/2015 school year passed the test.

As for the recommendation that the board switch to the new text called Praxis CKT, Tomberlin said it’s not because the new test is easier but because it’s a better test. He said nearly all education department deans they consulted came to that conclusion as well.

“The Pearson assessment largely focused on if teachers can solve this problem, give me the right answer,” Tomberlin said. “What the CKT does is it frames the math in combining the knowledge of math with the ability to diagnose mathematical misunderstandings in our students."

"We all know how to divide by a fraction," he continued. "Very few could explain why you do it that way and that’s a harder skill than being able to flip the fraction and multiply."

Tomberlin said the new exam will test for middle school math concepts. Some high school level questions will be included, but not as many as some elementary teachers complained about in the Pearson exam. And at $74, the new exam will be $20 cheaper than the Pearson exam.

State board of education members are expected to vote on the new exam in March. If it is approved, teachers will have the option of taking either test for a time.