North Carolina elementary teachers struggle to pass math portion of licensing exam

The Charlotte Observer reports that nearly half of newly hired teachers in North Carolina failed to pass the math portion of a licensing exam which is required for them to keep their jobs. Some teachers claim the problem isn’t with them but with the test itself which includes middle school and high school math problems. Last month the Board of Education granted new teachers on an additional year to pass the test:

Two years ago, after getting her degree from the Arizona-based University of Phoenix, [Jamie Duda] 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.

This seems to be an ongoing problem in several other states as well. In April, WTHR in Indiana reported that some teachers were choosing not to settle in the state because the licensing test was so hard to pass:

“Great school, great teachers, I loved the students,” [Alyssa] Nobbe said of her time in the Indianapolis Public Schools classroom. “I know I want to make a difference in kids’ lives.”

But her impact on kids will likely take place in Ohio – not Indiana – because Nobbe does not want to deal with Indiana’s CORE assessment exams for new teachers. The testing program has terribly low pass rates in several of its 60 content areas.

State data shows the Indiana CORE social studies exam has a pass rate of 58%. The mathematics test has a 19% pass rate. And the pass rate is 30% for elementary education — a subject area Nobbe would be required to pass to receive a state license to teach third graders. Thousands of teaching candidates have failed the exams, and some have yet to pass despite taking the tests multiple times.

A 19% pass rate is pretty awful for college educated people. Similarly, the state of Florida just fired 920 teachers who were unable to pass their state exam. Should this drama teacher have to pass a math exam to teach?

As for North Carolina, I believe this is the test in question. I was able to solve the first 4-5 problems but I had to think about them for a moment. Of course, I haven’t done any real math or test prep for years but I have at least a bit of sympathy for the teachers that claim this test is not a breeze. Still, what would these teachers say to their own students if they failed a math test the first time out and blamed the test rather than their own preparation? Shouldn’t educated adults be able to learn this material (assuming they didn’t know it already) and get through this test? Here’s a sample question:

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