Almost 2,400 North Carolina elementary school teachers have failed the math portion of their licensing exams, which puts their careers in jeopardy, since the state hired Pearson publishing company to give the exam in 2013, according to a report presented to the state Board of Education Wednesday.
Failure rates have spiked as schools around the state struggle to find teachers for the youngest children. Education officials are now echoing what frustrated teachers have been saying: The problem may lie with the exams rather than the educators.
Teachers in Florida and Indiana have also seen mass failures when their states adopted Pearson testing, according to news reports from those states. Concern about the validity of the Pearson licensing exams is so pervasive that it was discussed at this year’s National Education Association conference, said North Carolina Association of Educators President Mark Jewell.
“I hope this doesn’t lead to a mass exodus of new teachers and exacerbate our shortages,” he said.:
The Board of Education, which last month granted beginning teachers an extra year to pass, plans to review the Pearson exams to see if the tests are actually measuring skills needed to teach elementary students effectively, or whether they’re gauging math that’s generally taught in higher grades.
Jamie Duda, who spent the past year teaching language arts in a Charlotte-Mecklenburg elementary school, believes it’s the latter. Two years ago, after getting her degree from the Arizona-based University of Phoenix, she passed her Arizona licensing exams on the first try. In North Carolina, she passed the reading and general curriculum portions. But she failed math.
Duda says she has one child who just graduated from high school and one in ninth grade. The older child “took honors and AP math classes and could not help me on some of the practice questions,” Duda said, while the younger said he didn’t expect to learn some of the material until 11th grade.
“I am confused as to why I am being tested extremely above the math level of my degree,” said Duda, who says CMS didn’t hire her for 2018-19 because of the failing grade, even though she got “great evaluations” during her first two years of teaching.
Before 2014, new elementary teachers had to pass state exams, known as the Praxis, before they could start work. Those pass rates hovered around 85 percent or higher, according to a presentation given to the Board of Education Wednesday afternoon. After that they had to take reading, math and general curriculum exams, all provided by the for-profit publishing company Pearson, and pass them by the end of their second year of teaching.
Math has proven to be a stumbling block, said Tom Tomberlin, director of school research, data and reporting for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. The first year only 65 percent of teachers passed the new “foundations of math” exam, falling to 54.5 percent by 2016-17, the most recent year reported.
During the first three years of the Pearson exam, that represented 2,386 failures.