June 27, 2005

The new math means no math for Virginia teachers

Several Devoted Readers have sent in the news that the Virginia Board of Education is phasing out the Praxis I licensure exam for teachers. There is a new exam for these teachers that apparently doesn't contain any of the tricky math that was on the Praxis I:

Praxis I is a basic reading and math skills test that has been a hurdle for some teachers--especially the math portion.

Starting Jan. 1, the state will require teachers to take a new test for licensure. It will eliminate the math material of the Praxis I. Instead, it will require teachers to analyze readings, write an essay, interpret tables and graphs, and demonstrate knowledge of grammar and vocabulary, all "on a college level," said Charles Pyle, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education.

The Washington Post claims that VA teachers will now have to be more "literate and proficient in the subjects they teach," but those who don't intend to be teaching math need not worry about a standardized math test:

Kate Walsh, president of the Washington-based National Council on Teacher Quality, said she pushed for a new literacy test when she testified before a Virginia panel examining licensure requirements. Research has shown that the ability to read and speak effectively is the most reliable predictor of future success in the classroom, she said...

The Virginia board claims that the this new test actually represents an increase in standards, which makes me wonder - if the pass rate drops dramatically from the Praxis I rates, will Virginia stick by the new exam?

The Cranky Professor is skeptical:

What's not at all clear from the article is what the 'Instead, they will have to pass a new "literacy and communications skills" exam that will be introduced in January' is. Will it be a product of the ETS people, like Praxis? Will it be home-grown, in which case I dread the first 3 or 4 years of results and controversies.

I took the Praxis I a long time ago, by the way, and it really IS at the 8th-10th grade level (I was half-heartedly pursuing certification to teach high school Latin). If people can't pass it (the Post's anecdote has a PE teacher passing on her 6th attempt) they probably aren't capable of figuring their own grades.

Why is no one asking why so many teachers - who are, after all, college graduates - are having so much trouble with basic math skills? The Praxis I math test has only 40 items and takes only an hour - but calculators are not permitted. The sample items mentioned in the ETS link are not tricky, and most of them, quite frankly, could be done in one's head, or with a bit of pencil scribbling.

Do English and music and PE teachers need to know this much math? Not necessarily. I just find it fascinating that schools of education are apparently churning out college graduates who can't do this.

Update: This can't not be related to the observed dumbing-down and politicization of math instruction in schools. Joanne's comments on this article are not to be missed.

Also, Right on the Left Coast has much more to say.. He also quotes the excellent book Innumeracy on the astounding phenomena of how people who would be ashamed to admit they can't read have no problem admitting that they don't understand basic math. It's all about being a "people person" instead of a cold, impersonal number cruncher, don't you know.

Update #2: As always, Joanne cuts right to the point:

Thirty-five years out of high school, I can do these problems in my head. It's hard to believe there are people smart enough to teach who can't pass a basic math test. How are they going to average students' grades?

Why does Joanne assume that these math-phobic teachers will be assigning objective, numerically-based grades? My guess is anyone this terrified of Praxis math items will be giving "holistic" and subjective letter grades.

That's much more "personal" and "caring" than those nasty ol' averages, you know.

Posted by kswygert at June 27, 2005 01:35 PM