Neetu Chandak

December 19, 2019

An education standards commission in North Carolina unanimously voted to phase out a portion of a teaching licensing test as about 2,400 teachers failed the math exam.

The commission voted to replace for-profit Pearson publishing company’s math test with a math exam from Praxis, created by nonprofit test provider Educational Testing Service (ETS). The standards commission consists of educators, administrators and those working in colleges, The Charlotte Observer reported Tuesday.

Those against the Pearson math test say the exam requires middle- and high school-level math skills, often not used when teaching younger kids. Pearson math test supporters, however, believe teachers need to understand higher-level math to prepare those in the lower grade levels, according to the Observer.

The standards commission will share its recommendations with the North Carolina Board of Education (NCBOE) in January. The option to take the Praxis math test instead of Pearson’s could begin as early as February if the guidelines pass with the NCBOE, the Observer reported.

“We’ve got teachers who are taking that same Pearson (math exam) over and over and over and are not passing, and the cost’s coming out of their pockets at $35,000 a year for a beginning teacher,” Glenda Jones, an assistant superintendent in Cabarrus County Schools and standards commission member, told the Observer.

Sample questions on the Pearson math exam for an educator's license. Screenshot/Courtesy of Pearson Education, Inc.

NCBOE discovered in August nearly 2,400 K-2 and special education teachers did not pass the math section of the exam, the Observer reported. K-2 and special education teachers must pass three exams to be licensed: math, reading and a multi-subject exam that includes social studies and science.

All three exams cost $139 if taken in one go. The math exam costs $94 when taken separately.

A study by Kevin Bastian of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Kristina Patterson of Georgia Southern University did not find a significant connection between teachers who scored higher on the math exam and better performance evaluations, the Observer reported. (RELATED: Math Scores Drop To A 14-Year Low As ACT Shows Many High Schoolers Unprepared For College)

Drew Elliot, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction communications director, told The Daily Caller News Foundation the data on teacher math exam performance and teacher effectiveness was “inconclusive.”

Elliot added the commission was more focused on moving to an exam that tests on “pedagogy” rather than on “content.”

“A content question might say, ‘Here’s an isosceles triangle, two of the angles are this, figure out the third angle,’” Elliot said. “A pedagogical question would say, ‘Tommy looked at this isosceles triangle and calculated an angle of 50. How would you approach Tommy into getting the right answer?’”

Elliot added teachers still have to understand the content, but the test would come from a perspective the commission believes better measures teacher effectiveness.

Pearson’s Director of Media Relations Scott Overland told TheDCNF over email the organization provides free study materials for those taking the licensing exams. Overland added passing test scores are determined by the state.

ETS did not immediately respond to The DCNF’s request for comment.